Aaron Kahn sauntered into the Proposition 19 headquarters in Oakland on Monday afternoon with an appetite for democracy and lunch. His timing couldn’t have been better.
Kahn, 20, was handed a sandwich, a script and a phone, everything he needed to help get out the vote for the initiative that would make California the first state to legalize the sale of marijuana. “This is Aaron with the Yes on 19 campaign,” Kahn said. “We’re just making sure you have plans to vote, because it’s a really, really close election.”
The low chatter of volunteers at clunky computer monitors filled the bright storefront office as a documentary film crew spoke with a reporter for an Indian magazine. The initiative has captured worldwide attention, and reporters churned through the door on Monday.
With the election a day away, the pro-legalization campaign said its volunteers had made more than 188,500 calls to voters and hoped to hook 125,000 “Yes on 19” door-hangers on the homes of likely supporters, including young male Democrats and members of the Green and Libertarian parties.
“These people have shown in the past that they want to make society a saner place,” said Boomer Shannon, a political activist who was directing canvassing crews in Arcadia. Shannon said he hoped to leave at least 15,000 reminders to vote for Proposition 19 dangling from doors.
The initiative would dramatically change California’s drug laws. It would allow adults 21 and older to grow up to 25 square feet of marijuana and possess up to an ounce for personal use, and allow cities and counties to set up commercial cultivation and retail sales, and impose taxes.
The campaign’s message was, win or lose, the initiative has stimulated widespread debate and shown that the nation’s ban on marijuana is destined to fall. “Millions of people will vote for Proposition 19,” said Stephen Gutwillig, the California director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “We will never go back to a time when marijuana reform was outside the realm of thinkable thought.”
Proponents said the state’s drug laws fail to curb use, waste police resources and create violent black markets, and should be replaced with a system to control sales and bring in new tax revenue. But opponents said the initiative was riddled with flaws and would lead to more teenagers trying pot and more buzzed Californians on the roads and in the workplace.
The opposition campaign was running largely on autopilot, relying on radio ads throughout the state. But the consultants who have run the campaign were still doing numerous interviews with media outlets.
“We’re just getting out there that way, the same as before,” said Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the No on 19 committee, which has been outspent by more than 10 to 1.
Salazar suggested the late surge of money was triggered by polls that show the measure well behind. “The only reason I would put money in like this at the last second is to try to make sure this thing doesn’t get so embarrassingly defeated,” he said. “If this thing is a blowout, then they probably set their cause back.”
But the measure’s supporters predict new voters, young voters and infrequent voters will be lured by the chance to vote for marijuana legalization. “This is something tangible in their hands that they can do tomorrow that will have immediate impact,” said Dale Sky Jones, a spokeswoman for the Yes on 19 campaign.
If a noon rally at UC Berkeley was a measure of that excitement, the campaign is in trouble. A dozen or so demonstrators showed up as scores of students wandered by, unmoved. “Every single person here has to make a commitment,” begged Kat Murti, Bay Area regional director for the Yes on 19 campaign. “Everyone here knows someone who uses cannabis!”
Across Sproul Plaza, Zainab Hossainzadeh, was unimpressed. Sitting at the Muslim Student Assn. table, the 19-year-old sophomore shook her head at the sign-waving rally and smiled.
“It is very small,” she said. “Especially for Berkeley.”
Jonathan Perri, with Students for Sensible Drug Policy, shrugged off the tiny showing. He said the organization’s chapters were still calling young voters and planned conga lines, sidewalk-chalk markings and other reminders to encourage college students to vote.
“They’re all really excited,” he said. “We’re going to be working up until 8 o’clock.”
LaGanga reported from Oakland and Berkeley; Hoeffel reported from Los Angeles.
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