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Up In Smoke A Closer Look At How Humboldt Voters Shot Down Proposition 19


Nug of the Month: Aug 2008
There was at least one place on the November ballot where the liberal bastion of Southern Humboldt voted more conservatively than Fortuna -- Proposition 19.

The initiative to legalize, tax and regulate marijuana cultivation and sales in California went up in smoke on Election Day, falling about 700,000 votes shy of passing statewide and garnering 46.5 percent of the vote. To the surprise of many -- and the anger of some -- the percentages in Humboldt County fell in line with those of the state.

A Times-Standard analysis of the precinct-level results indicate that no matter how pot-friendly Humboldt County's reputation may be, its voters widely rejected the measure on Nov. 2. The county's vote was received as a sign of betrayal in some pro-legalization circles, and was noted in numerous national news accounts of Proposition 19's failure.

Comments on some national stories and blogs turned ugly, with posters talking about boycotting Humboldt County marijuana and even taking their machetes to the hills in an effort to punish "greedy growers."

A careful look at the precinct-level results, however, indicates it was far from only growers that shot down Proposition 19 in Humboldt County. In fact, the county's population centers were fairly unequivocal in their rejection of the legalization initiative, with two notable exceptions.

In Eureka, 52.8 percent of voters opposed the measure. That number jumped to 59.2 percent in the Willow Creek and Hoopa area, 62.9 percent in Fortuna and a whopping 65 percent in Southern Humboldt.

The vote was closer in McKinleyville, where 51 percent of voters opposed the measure.

The anomalies came in Arcata, where Proposition 19 won nearly every precinct and was supported by more than 57 percent of voters, and Trinidad, where 58 percent of voters favored the measure.

Humboldt State University politics lecturer Kathleen Lee said she wasn't surprised that Proposition 19 lost, largely because voters had many reasons to oppose it, whether it be that they don't believe in legalizing any drugs, they didn't like the wording of the initiative or they are a marijuana farmer and worried the proposition would deflate market prices that have long been held up by marijuana's illegality.

When it comes to ballot initiatives, Lee said people make their decisions based largely on four factors: ideology, knowledge of the issue, demographics and self-interest.

Looking at illegal growers who are making money hand over fist on the black market, Lee said it's hard to imagine them risking their livelihood to vote for legalization.

"Sometimes ideology will trump self-interest, but not very often," she said.

As a deputy director for the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws and a Redway resident, Ellen Komp has her thumb firmly on the pulse of the pro-legalization community in Humboldt County. Consequently, she said the election results didn't surprise her. Like Lee, Komp said voters had a host of reasons for shooting down the initiative.

"It was such a mixed bag," she said. "There were certainly people who voted against it because of economic self-interest, but there were plenty of other reasons bandied about.

But with Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties -- the so-called Emerald Triangle because of the counties' abundant pot production - all voting against the measure, Komp said the perception is the counties voted based on greed.

"I really think the Emerald Triangle took a black eye by voting against the measure," Komp said.

However, the perception that the three rural Northern California counties somehow killed the legalization initiative is purely myth. Statewide, the measure lost by almost 700,000 votes -- more than seven times the number of combined voters in the three counties.

"It would not have put (Proposition 19) over the top," said Michael Whitney, a spokesman for the marijuana legalization group Just Say Now. " There were much deeper issues involved."

Nonetheless, Komp said that for a community that is currently discussing the prospect of " branding" its chief agricultural product, bad press is bad press.

"This is not the kind of publicity you want," she said.

Moving forward, the pot legalization community is already looking toward 2012, Whitney said, adding that people are currently poring through polling data on Proposition 19 and trying to learn from its mistakes. Early signs, Whitney said, indicate that the next legalization initiative has to do more to get buy-in from all the various stakeholders in the issue.

"The key thing here is we need to consult all the stakeholders, which is something that didn't happen this time around," Whitney said. "Whether it's the growers in Humboldt, the dispensary owners or the marijuana activists -- they need to be involved in the very conception of an initiative."

It seems if marijuana is ever going to be legalized through the ballot, that much-talked about but ever-illusive youth vote needs to materialize as well.

Back at HSU, Lee said anecdotal evidence suggests lots and lots of young people turned out to vote in Arcata -- where Proposition 19 ran about 11 points higher than the state average. But polling data indicates the 18- to 24-year-old demographic was largely a no show in most areas of the state.

Komp said that needs to change.

"If people want legalization -- if marijuana smokers want their full rights -- they're going to have to participate in the process and show up to vote," she said.

NewsHawk: Ganjarden: 420 MAGAZINE
Source: Redwood Times
Author: Thadeus Greenson
Contact: Redwood Times
Copyright: 2010 Redwood Times
Website: Up in smoke A closer look at how Humboldt voters shot down Proposition 19
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