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Prop. 19 opponents say the measure's flaws led to its defeat

November 4, 2010 |  8:21 pm

The political consultants who ran the campaign against Prop. 19 said Thursday that the undecided voters who swung their way on election day were susceptible to arguments for legalizing marijuana, but were ultimately convinced the measure was flawed.

Wayne Johnson, the strategist for the No on 19 campaign, said these voters reacted negatively to "reefer madness" arguments that marijuana was inherently dangerous or was a gateway drug. And he said they were not going to be swayed simply by law enforcement opposition.

"Our best opportunity to beat it was on the merits of 19 itself," he said in a post-election teleconference with reporters. "We wanted to isolate it, make it its own issue and fight it out largely over the terms of the initiative."

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The claim that the measure would raise billions of dollars in taxes was the most persuasive argument, Johnson said.

"There were lot of people that thought, 'Yeah, let’s tax the stuff, whether we like it or not,' " he said. But these voters were disappointed to learn there was no way to know how much would be raised. "When that went away, they went away," he said.

Prop. 19 would have left the decision on whether to allow marijuana to be sold and taxed up to cities and counties. Several analyses noted that even if marijuana were taxed statewide, the revenues would not be in the billions of dollars. The state tax board estimated the potential statewide revenue at $1.4 billion, but other studies concluded it would be less.

The initiative would have allowed adults 21 and older to grow and possess marijuana, but it also included a number of obscure provisions the opposition campaign assailed.

The No campaign said the initiative would prevent employers from firing workers who were high unless they caused an accident, a claim proponents disputed. And opponents pointed out the measure did not establish a standard, such as there is for alcohol, for driving under the influence of marijuana. The measure’s proponents countered that the police have no trouble enforcing the law now through sobriety tests. But the No on 19 campaign argued the initiative would lead to stoned school bus drivers.

"People did not believe that they would be irresponsible were Prop. 19 to pass," Johnson said, "but they were susceptible to the argument that other people might be irresponsible."

Johnson said the campaign also believes undecided voters were influenced by the cavalcade of newspaper editorials denouncing the measure.

"This was one of those races where the print media in particular was very, very important in communicating to voters," he said.

-- John Hoeffel

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