Vote Yes on 19 poster from 1972

Yes on 19 Marijuana Legalization Campaign Poster. (Bolerium Books/LA Weekly)

This weekend the California Democratic Party’s executive board will decide if the party should endorse Proposition 19, the state’s ballot initiative for marijuana legalization. Despite the ballot initiative’s clear positives for the party, it’s unclear where the party will fall. While there’s an outside chance the CDP could vote to throw its weight against Prop 19, the real debate will be whether the party should endorse the initiative, or stay neutral.

No matter what the party delegates voting this weekend think about the merits of the initiative, they should vote to endorse Prop 19. Here’s why.

Economic Benefits to California

Marijuana legalization will almost certainly be a boon for the state’s economy; one study predicted California could raise $1.4 billion annually from tax revenues from marijuana. Tens of thousands of jobs will come out of the shadows and into a legitimate economy, leading to more taxable income. Unions are already starting to organize employees of dispensaries, and thousands more jobs could be improved through organizing efforts. Those Californians can have their wages raised, get access to affordable health care, and have increased job security. Police departments can stop wasting money on enforcing marijuana laws and on battling the Mexican drug cartels. Those cartels will see their primary revenue stream – the sale of marijuana – dried up.

Political Benefits to California Democrats

From a political perspective, Prop 19′s presence on the ballot alone will help Democratic candidates. Marijuana legalization could easily do for Democratic turnout what anti-gay marriage initiatives did for Republicans at the ballot last decade. Some Californians tried to vote for legalization in the state’s June primary election, but were disappointed to learn it wouldn’t be on the ballot til November. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to get people to vote in a primary?) With the backing of the California Democratic Party, Prop 19 will have a better chance as the Party’s resources go to helping turnout.

About half of all Californians support Prop 19; the most recent poll from SUSA shows Prop 19 winning by 10 points, while some other polls show the state split. No matter what individual polls say about the state, one thing is clear from recent polls on marijuana legalization: California Democratic voters overwhelmingly favor legalization. A Field Poll last week that found the state split also found Democrats supporting legalization 53% to 38%; the aforementioned SUSA poll also found Democrats favoring legalization, 56% to 32%.

Some Democrats Organizing Against Prop 19 Endorsement

But opponents of Proposition 19, including Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown and Senate candidate Barbara Boxer, are going to be pressuring executive board members of the CDP to vote against endorsing. While there have been a number of excuses made by Democratic opponents of Prop 19, two seem to be the most prominent:

  1. The excuse many Democrats use for opposing Prop 19 is that while they support the idea of marijuana legalization, they say they are concerned that the initiative on the ballot is “flawed,” “full of loopholes,” and “poorly written.”
  2. The reality of why some Democrats oppose Prop 19  is they fear Democratic candidates in red and purple districts – as well as Brown and Boxer – will have to “explain away” their party’s support for marijuana legalization, leaving open a political vulnerability.

Let’s look at the first excuse. Democratic Prop 19 opponents say that they fear the initiative isn’t worded correctly, and that could present vulnerabilities in how the law is implemented. They say they prefer other methods of legalizing marijuana, either through a better-worded initiative in the next election cycle, or through a bill introduced in the state legislature. But this argument doesn’t hold water: if you actually support marijuana legalization, let voters in the state decide this November. If the initiative has problems with implementation, the legislature can easily fix it with legislation. If you really support legalization, support this legalization now in order to shift the conversation from prohibition to legalization.

The second excuse has its foundation in typical chickenshittery of the Democratic Party: by running away from the base and towards the mushy middle in fear of “political independents,” the party sacrifices its core beliefs for voters who might only marginally support the party’s platform. Instead, if the party votes to endorse legalization, you can flip that dynamic on its head. The CDP’s support for Prop 19 could lead to a new era of the Obama model of turning out new voters. By turning out new, young voters excited about marijuana legalization, you will inevitably drive more votes to Democratic candidates across the state.

Indeed, marijuana legalization may be the only hope for Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer.

The choice should be clear for the California Democratic Party. If the party votes to endorse Prop 19 and marijuana legalization, the state and the party can only gain from its benefits. If the party votes against endorsing Prop 19, it is embracing the same failed strategy of abandoning the base for the “political center,” and will have only itself to blame if its candidates lose in November.