From America’s mid-term elections, two noteworthy comparative results. A modestly funded ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in California drew 300,000 more votes than a billionaire businesswoman who spent well over $140 million of her own money to try to become the state’s governor. Both lost.
The hotly debated marijuana ballot measure attracted 3.4 million yes votes. Meg Whitman drew 3.1 million voters. It’s not clear whether she will run again but proponents of the marijuana measure, Proposition 19, are already planning to make another attempt in 2012. They think the California vote shows legalization is a matter of when, not if, never mind that this time they fell more than half a million votes short of success.
Proposition 19 would have allowed Californians over 21 to grow up to 25 square feet (2.3 sq metres) of marijuana and possess up to an ounce for personal consumption. It would have turned California, America’s most populous state, into the world’s first jurisdiction to formally legalize marijuana. (Not even the Netherlands, which has a system best described as schizophrenic pragmatism, has gone that far).
Legalization would have brought California state law in conflict both with federal law and the international treaty that underpins the global war on drugs, the 1961 United Nations Single Convention on Narcotics Drugs. It placed marijuana alongside powerfully addictive drugs such as heroin, a wrong-headed classification which became U.S. federal law in 1970.
Backers of Proposition 19 gave little thought to the international ramifications of the measure, which was closely followed in Latin America and particularly closely in Mexico, where more than 30,000 people have been killed since President Felipe Calderon declared war on the country’s drug cartels in 2006.