The Corner

Can’t We All Just Get a Bong?

Every California election brings with it the question of the “Bradley Effect”.

That’s a reference to the late Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley, who twice ran for governor in the 1980s. In pre-election surveys, voters would say they intended to go with Bradley, who was black. However, that support didn’t materialize on Election Day — the assumption being that the electorate couldn’t quite bring itself to vote for a black candidate, despite what voters told pollsters.

There was a brief discussion about the Bradley Effect in the 2008 presidential campaign, as well as during California’s 2003 recall election (the theory was that voters might not be willing to admit they actually liked the idea of Governor Schwarzenegger).  Watch for it in 2012 with Sarah Palin.

And it’s alive in this election with Proposition 19, which aims to legalize marijuana possession.

Polls show Prop 19 trailing. But are voters afraid to tell pollsters what they’re really thinking?

It wouldn’t be a shocker if the initiative passed. Forty years ago, another Prop 19 was on the ballot, also proposing marijuana legalization. It got crushed — not a great surprise , since it appeared amidst a time of campus unrest and great social unease in California (a driving force behind Ronald Reagan’s rise to public office).

But a lot has changed in the past four decades. Newer generations of voters obviously are more comfortable with the drug. Here in Northern California, it’s not unusual to smell it late at night (marijuana being to California backyard hot tubs what alligators are to Florida ponds). Even Josh Hamilton caught a whiff last night while patrolling central field in Game 2 of the World Series in San Francisco.

All of this said, I think Prop 19 is going down. Here’s why:

First, marijuana legalization is still not politically mainstream acceptable — not even in California. Not a single major player in the statewide contest supports Prop 19, and that includes San Francisco district attorney Kamala Harris, the Democratic attorney-general nominee.

Second, it’s a foul-mood electorate. And in California, disgruntled voters just aren’t wild about feel-good initiatives; their default position is “no.” Of the nine initiatives on Tuesday’s ballot, I’d be surprised if as many as three passed.

Third, if you apply an ounce of common sense, it’s obvious that Prop 19 isn’t practical. The idea is to limit personal harvesting to 25 square feet. Seriously, I ask you: in times of budget-strapped law enforcement, who’s going to enforce that? Moreover, who’s going to stop the new underground economy, should Prop 19 pass. If I had the resources and the criminal guile, I’d grow a big crop, enlist a network of kids to sell it for me on college campuses at sub-market prices, and the state wouldn’t see a dime of my profits.

Fourth and final point: revenue is at the heart of Prop 19’s sell, and it’s a clever pitch. It avoids the moral equivalency argument of marijuana vs. tobacco vs. alcohol. But if you legalize pot in the name of government spending (“more grass, better public schools”), what’s next: broad-scale gambling, legalized prostitution, pay-per-view executions?

This is California, not West Nevada.

 – Bill Whalen is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution.


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