The Long Strange Prop 19 Campaign

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A week out from the midterm elections, California Democrats are bummed out. Nancy Pelosi could lose her job. A Tea Party sympathizer could replace a liberal Senator. Someone could buy the governorship. Bad shit’s pretty much guaranteed to happen. And that could be why so many of us on the Left Coast have turned our attention to such a seemingly trivial cause: Proposition 19, the ballot measure that would legalize recreational pot smoking. Because if you’re going to be ruled by the Tea Party, you at least deserve tea that’s strong enough to make you forget how screwed you are.

Close followers of Prop 19 can’t decide how worried they should be about it losing. Polls on the measure have been clouded by all the marijuana (medical, of course) that everyone’s already smoking. Just look at the schizophrenic numbers from last week: On Thursday, a major human-conducted poll showed Prop 19 trailing 49 to 44 percent; the next day, Yes on 19’s internal robo poll had it winning 56 to 41 percent. The only logical explanation is that 7 percent of Californians are paranoid that the pollster on the line is a DEA agent or a friend of their mom but trust pollster robots (which aren’t programmed to suss out potheads). This stoner Bradley Effect has also been noted by Nate Silver, who calls it the “Broadus Effect” after the given name of Prop 19 champion Snoop Dogg.

Perhaps all of this is why the Prop 19 campaign has been reduced to stating the obvious. “Moms say controlling and taxing marijuana is good for families,” reads a Yes on 19 press release from last Tuesday. And here I thought that Nancy Botwin was just a character on Showtime. But on Thursday I learned that Dena Price, a 46-year-old mom in Ukiah, was busted for keeping her 15-year-old son home from school so that he could help harvest the 7-foot-tall cannabis plants in their backyard. Given the nature of the economy in Ukiah, I’m surprised that they don’t teach bud trimming in high school.

Probably more influential in the Prop 19 debate are cops, who as a group tend to oppose legalization as a capitulation to the bad guys and maybe a threat to their job security. (A notable exception is San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, who just cut a TV ad in which he proclaims that Prop 19 “will put drug cartels out of business.”) On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported that a man had called the police to report that he’d been sold bad marijuana. “It was nasty,” he said. (But probably not as nasty as the revelation that he was being charged with a crime). This dude’s cluelessness could translate into brilliance in California. If the cops are worried about losing their jobs eradicating marijuana, why not just change the job description and have them eradicate criminally awful schwag? Now that would really put the Mexican cartels out of business.

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You just sent an incredible message: that quality journalism doesn't have to answer to advertisers, billionaires, or hedge funds; that newsrooms can eke out an existence thanks primarily to the generosity of its readers. That's so powerful. Especially during what's been called a "media extinction event" when those looking to make a profit from the news pull back, the Mother Jones community steps in.

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