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Proposition 19: Backers of legalizing marijuana say 'the world is watching'

November 2, 2010 |  1:02 pm

They came not to bury Proposition 19 but to praise it. They left having done a little bit of both.

The final election-day news conference on behalf of legalizing marijuana in California was an odd amalgam of get-out-the-vote effort and wake. There were hopeful exhortations and picket signs, but the polls looked bad, and everyone was clad in somber black.

A yes vote, legalization activists urged from the steps of Oakland City Hall, would create jobs, end racism, make the streets safer and ignite a revolution. “Make no mistake,” said a radiant Dale Sky Jones, executive chancellor of Oaksterdam University, “the world is watching.”

But as speaker after speaker stepped up to the lectern, the comments took an elegiac turn.

“Today is a watershed moment in the decades-long history to end failed marijuana policies in this country,” declared Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Proposition 19 has impacted the national debate on marijuana policy, firmly placing marijuana legalization itself squarely in the mainstream of American politics.”

Oakland City Atty. John Russo, speaking to activists “from the heart,” told the small assembly gathered in the bright autumn sunshine that “even if we are cheated out of a win today, we have changed the debate from licentious hippies versus straight-arrow cops to one that recognizes this issue in all of its complexity.”

Remember, he said, “like other issues where people are working and have worked for justice and common sense, sometimes it takes a longer road than we would like.”

Richard Lee, founder of Oaksterdam University and the major force behind the measure, didn’t even address the crowd -– although he was billed as a main speaker. After the news conference and rally ended, he raced away from reporters and enthusiasts, only to be briefly stymied in his escape by the locked doors of City Hall.

If the measure loses, he was asked, what will be your take-away?

Lee: “Not enough people voted for it.”

Was it a worthwhile effort?

Lee: “Yeah, we changed the debate.”

Is that enough?

Lee: “Uh huh.”

Will you continue working for legalization?

Lee: “Uh huh.”

And if it wins?

Lee: “Let’s move on to the next battle, ultimately changing federal law.”

Will you be at the forefront of that too?

Lee: “We’ll see.”

-- Maria L. La Ganga in Oakland

Photos: California heads to the polls

Photos: The nation heads to the polls