California’s initiative to legalize marijuana failed to win a majority at the polls Tuesday. Prop 19, which received 3.3 million votes but lost 54 percent to 46 percent, would have would have legalized possession and cultivation of marijuana and authorized cities and counties to regulate and tax commercial marijuana production and sales.
Exit polls showed supporters were mostly young—under 25—while voters over 40 were mostly opposed.
The Obama administration had publicly opposed the initiative. Attorney General Eric Holder promised to enforce federal law that criminalizes marijuana possession and sale even if they became legal under California law.
All the statewide Democratic candidates opposed the measure, starting with Jerry Brown and Barbara Boxer. All the big newspapers opposed it.
The measure had a huge advantage in funding: the “yes” side raised $4 million, including $1 million from George Soros, while opponents had only $311,000, according to the LA Times.
Many high-profile celebrities campaigned for a "yes" vote—I got a robocall from Susan Sarandon on election day, and Bill Maher plugged the measure on his HBO show on Friday night. Other outspoken advocates included Sting, Willy Nelson, Danny Glover, Danny DeVito, Melissa Etheridge and Zach Galifianakis, who lit up a (fake) joint on Bill Maher’s show.
Supporters also included the California NAACP and the ACLU, along with most of the big unions—including the SEIU and the AFT.
Defenders of the bill argued that legalization would "decapitate drug cartels in Mexico," allow the police to pursue real criminals instead of pot smokers, keep tens of thousands of young, mostly nonwhite people out of jail, and raise billions in tax dollars for cities and counties.
But only the San Francisco Bay Area had a majority in favor of Prop 19. It failed in Los Angeles County, 54 percent to 46 percent, according to exit polls, and 59 percent to 41 percent in the rest of Southern California.