LOS ANGELES (BP)–One week from Election Day, a string of new polls indicates a California initiative that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana is now a toss-up, just as both sides air their first ads.
For months, the high-profile Proposition 19 race has been a surprisingly low-money race, with California’s gubernatorial and U.S. Senate races apparently swallowing most potential donations. But the Los Angeles Times reports the Yes on 19 campaign is putting up its first ad Tuesday on Los Angeles cable stations in a $170,000 buy, while the California Chamber of Commerce is spending $250,000 in radio ads that first aired Friday encouraging voters to oppose the proposal, which if passed would make California the first state to legalize the growth, sale and recreational use of marijuana. Individuals would be able to grow their own marijuana in an area not larger than 25 square feet and possess up to one ounce of it. Local governments would be able to tax it; the state would not collect any money.
“Imagine coming out of surgery, and the nurse caring for you was high, or having to work harder on your job to make up for a coworker who shows up high on pot,” the radio ad states. “It could happen in California if Proposition 19 passes…. Employees would be allowed to come to work high, and employers would be unable to punish an employee for being high until after a workplace accident.”
Neither ad buy is significant when compared to the millions spent in a typical political campaign media blitz, but it does show each side views the race as winnable.
The No on Prop 19 side trailed for most of the race but leads in two of three new polls:
— A Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) poll of 1,067 likely voters Oct. 10-17 showed Prop 19 losing, 49-44 percent, with 7 percent undecided.
— A Los Angeles Times/USC Poll of 441 likely voters Oct. 13-20 had Prop 19 losing, 51-39 percent.
— A SurveyUSA poll of 621 likely voters Oct. 15-18 showed Prop 19 winning, 48-44 percent, with 8 percent undecided.
It is anyone’s guess as to which poll is correct, but the fact that opponents of Proposition 19 have a legitimate chance of defeating the proposal is a change from September, when every poll had Prop 19 ahead. A PPIC poll last month showed Prop 19 winning, 52-41 percent.
Gauging likely voter turnout on Prop 19 is tricky because it could bring out voters who never go to the polls and who normally would be screened out of most polling organization’s likely voter models.
“There are good reasons to think the polls could either be overestimating or underestimating Proposition 19’s support,” wrote Nate Silver of the polling analysis website FiveThirtyEight.com. “In spite of the recent trends against Proposition 19, therefore, I would be inclined to take the recent polling at face value, which suggests that the measure has about even odds of passing.”
The No on Prop 19 campaign has benefited from a slew of free publicity. Every major newspaper in the state, including the Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle and San Diego Union-Tribune, has come out in opposition to it, as have statewide officials such as California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and most law enforcement officials.
The Yes on 19 side, too, has received a boost in recent days, including a $1 million donation from George Soros, $200,000 from Progressive Insurance CEO Peter Lewis, $170,000 combined from Facebook founders Dustin Moskovitz and Sean Parker, and $50,000 from Men’s Wearhouse founder George Zimmer.
But even if it passes, it may not be enforceable.
U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder noted that Prop 19 would conflict with federal law, which prohibits marijuana possession. Holder said the Justice Department “strongly opposes” Prop 19 and will “vigorously enforce” federal law if it passes. President Obama’s drug czar, National Drug Control Policy Director Gil Kerlikowske, told the Associated Press that the Justice Department is considering all its options, including suing California if Prop 19 passes.
Prop 19 opponents warn its passage would endanger the public by leading to an increase in drugged drivers and marijuana users, especially among teens and young adults. Most studies — including one in the journal Nueropsychopharmacology in 2001 — show that marijuana usage significantly slows reaction time.
The text of the initiative prevents employers from screening for marijuana usage. That alone, opponents say, could lead to drugged employees driving buses or trains or even flying airplanes.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca, an opponent of Prop 19, has been emboldened by the federal government’s stance and says his department will continue to make marijuana arrests even if voters OK it.
“Proposition 19 is not going to pass, even if it passes,” Baca said, pointing to federal law prohibiting pot possession.
Walter Price, president of the California Baptist State Convention, said Christians in the state have plenty of reasons, including biblical ones, to oppose Prop 19 and marijuana usage.
“Since marijuana is a mind/mood altering drug, it is easy to see why Christians would be opposed to its use,” Price, pastor of Fellowship in the Pass Church in Beaumont, Calif., told Baptist Press. “The Scripture says that we are to do all that we do to the glory of God and that our minds should be continually renewed by the Lord and His Word. Deliberately impairing one’s faculties surely seems to run counter to that biblical teaching.”
One of the state’s top pro-family groups, the Campaign for Children and Families, launched a website (www.MarijuanaHarmsFamilies.com) with downloadable church bulletin inserts and an 85-second web ad. Bumper stickers also are available on the website.
Opponents of Prop 19 say its passage also would:
— create a black market for cheaper marijuana.
— allow residents to grow marijuana plants in their back or front yards, all with the protection of state law. An individual’s marijuana crop must be no bigger than 25 square feet.
— increase drug trafficking elsewhere, particularly into other states where marijuana is not legal.
— increase the amount of in-state crime and necessary law enforcement. Police officers opposed to Prop 19 say that as the number of marijuana users increases, crime by those under the influence will increase. They also say they will be required to enforce new laws: whether an individual possesses more than one ounce and whether an individual’s marijuana crop falls within state limits, for instance.
— increase the number of teen users. After Alaska’s Supreme Court ruled in 1975 that individual possession of marijuana was legal, teen use of pot rose to more than twice the national average, despite the fact teens still were prohibited under law to smoke it. This year, the federal government’s annual National Survey of Drug Use and Health showed that teen marijuana usage was up in 2009, with 7.3 percent of teens (ages 12-17) saying they had used marijuana in the past month, compared to 6.7 percent in 2008. The report also said the overall drug usage rate was up — a stat it said was driven largely by an increase in marijuana usage.
Michael Foust is an assistant editor of Baptist Press. Learn more about the No on Prop 19 campaign at www.NoOnProposition19.com or www.MarijuanaHarmsFamilies.com.