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PROPOSITION 19: The Vote May Be Over For Now… But The Conversations Have Just Begun

By now, we all know that Proposition 19 – the California proposition to legalize marijuana – was narrowly defeated on Election Day.   With such a small margin of defeat (with 54% of California voters voting no and 46% voting yes) it’s clear that although the proposition ultimately will not go into effect, the proposition was effective in accomplishing something perhaps equally as important: encouraging an open, mature and rational dialogue about not only the issue of marijuana legalization, but paving the way for evidence-based discussions of a number of other key issues and the law.

Back in 2009, California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger noted that “I think it’s time for a debate.  And I think that we ought to study very carefully what other countries are doing that have legalized marijuana and other drugs, what effect it had on those countries, and are they happy with their decision.”  And while the debate did continue – culminating in Proposition 19 making its way onto California ballots this past November — many are now pointing to recent actions as playing a role in the proposition’s ultimate defeat.

Some point to the fact that, with voting on the issue only a month and a half away, Governor Schwarzenegger signed a law that reduces possession of an ounce or less from a misdemeanor to an infraction, with a maximum punishment of a $100 fine.   Some look at this 11th hour “less than a misdemeanor” law as playing a significant role in the proposition’s ultimate defeat; the Governor himself has said that he suspects Californians voted against legalizing recreational marijuana use because the law he signed this year has all but decriminalized smoking pot.  However, during a recent appearance on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno” after the election, the Governor also added that “This Proposition 19 went a little bit too far, I think, and it was written badly.”

Whether it was the recent decriminalization law going into effect, or the issue of how Proposition 19 was worded  — or the idea that many who are anti-prohibition just thought it was a bad model – the reality is that, at least for now, the measure simply failed this time around.  But, as many others have also pointed out, on another level the proposition really didn’t fail at all.  It succeeded in getting people in California, and beyond, thinking — and talking — about the issue in a rational way based on facts and evidence.

And that’s what’s really important.  It’s not just about discussing the issue of marijuana legalization.  It’s about discussing the wide variety of social, economic and political issues weighing heavily on our nation today, and doing it with a spirit of openness and respect for a diversity of views.  After all, just because a policy is entrenched in tradition doesn’t mean it’s the best solution. Everyone benefits when objective, evidence-based discussions occur between the government, public officials, various special interest groups – and the voting public.  After all, however you may feel about legalizing marijuana or about any other controversial social policy issue, we all benefit from talking to each other.

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