Calif.'s Proposition On Legal Marijuana Fails

California's Proposition 19, the controversial ballot measure that would legalize recreational marijuana, was rejected by voters Tuesday.

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Opponents of California's Proposition 19 have a chance to celebrate this morning, although we know there is one thing they will not legally be doing to celebrate. That's because the proposition that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana was defeated. NPR's Richard Gonzales reports from Oakland.

RICHARD GONZALES: A few hundred pot-smoking supporters of Prop 19 gathered at Oaksterdam University in downtown Oakland, a trade school for medical marijuana entrepreneurs and the headquarters for the campaign to legalize recreational pot. But when the polls closed and the first returns came in, one could feel the party deflate.

Jeff Jones, a spokesman for the Yes on 19 campaign, claimed a moral victory, even as he conceded that this battle was over for now.

Mr. JEFF JONES (Spokesman, Yes on 19 Campaign): And we can't sit idly by as California adults are being treated as felons and criminals for simply doing something now that doesn't seem to be worth the priority of our police. Because we still believe in the tenet of what we were trying to do, win or lose.

GONZALES: Prop 19 would've allowed residents to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana for personal use. It also would've allowed cities and counties to tax and regulate commercial cultivation. Supporters claim that taxing pot would raise more than a billion dollars for state coffers.

Mr. ROGER SALAZAR (Spokesman, Public Safety First): Despite the proponent's claims that it would regulate, tax and control marijuana, it didn't do any of those things.

GONZALES: Roger Salazar is a spokesman for a group called Public Safety First. They're mostly law enforcement and business leaders who opposed Prop 19.

Mr. SALAZAR: And California voters said the risks of legalizing this drug outweigh the potential benefits, and certainly there were no guarantees of any of the benefits in Prop 19.

GONZALES: A few weeks ago, Prop 19 appeared to peak with 49 percent support. But campaign insiders admit that support was soft. Then U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder warned that federal anti-drug laws would still be enforced, regardless of what Californians decided on Prop 19. Even some supporters of medical marijuana turned against the measure, says Roger Salazar.

Mr. SALAZAR: They were warned by their own supporters, folks from the Drug Policy Alliance and big legalization supporters said this is not the way to do it. We, you know, we don't want you to - we want you to wait until 2012. They ignored that advice because they wanted to push this initiative. They thought that they could sort of use the economy as a way to sneak this past the public, and it just didn't quite work.

GONZALES: Prop 19 didn't work for voters, like David Miller, a Tea Party activist in the suburb of Pleasanton.

Mr. DAVID MILLER: You know, the propositions are always crazy in California. Of course, the marijuana proposition keeps coming up, which is just totally crazy, in my mind.

GONZALES: But the purported economic benefits of legalizing and taxing marijuana resonated with other voters, like Dave Granvold of Oakland.

Mr. DAVE GRANVOLD: Eventually, it will be legalized everywhere in the U.S., and it's less harmful than alcohol and it should be regulated and taxed. You know, I think it's definitely the way to go.

GONZALES: But Granvold's spouse had a different take. Heidi Garcia says she didn't vote for Prop 19 because she knows many people who use medical marijuana who don't seem to be ill.

Ms. HEIDI GARCIA: So, I don't know, I'm a little biased, I guess, rather not it - have people being potheads around. So it's a bit judgmental, but I just wasn't ready for it. But I have a feeling it'll happen, and I know it will go that way. I don't - I just don't think I'm personally ready for it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GONZALES: Pro-legalization activists are counting on that sense of inevitability. They say they'll be back soon with another initiative or a bill to push through the legislature.

Richard Gonzales, NPR News, Oakland.

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