Could California’s Prop. 19 Lead to Pot Legalization Across the U.S.?

Mario Anzuoni / Reuters

Adam Cohen

The cult movie Reefer Madness, released in 1938, warned of the horrors of marijuana — or, as a movie poster put it, “the torturer that never stops.” The film was an extreme portrait, full of death and rape and depravity, but it was only an exaggerated version of the real fears America long had about marijuana. Yet in recent years, as medical use of marijuana has gained acceptance and the backing of the law, that century-old national consensus has slowly broken down. And now, this election season, it could completely shatter, starting in California.

Next month, Californians will vote on Proposition 19: the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010. Prop 19 would make recreational use of marijuana entirely legal — and allow cash-strapped cities to raise funds by taxing it. Completely legalizing pot may sound like a radical idea, but not to the people who are actually going to decide: the latest Public Policy Institute of California poll found that 52% of likely voters support Prop 19, with just 41% who oppose it. (See pictures of cannabis conventions in California and Colorado.)

In fact, Prop 19 is polling better than Senator Barbara Boxer or her Republican opponent, Carly Fiorina. It is also outpolling the gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Jerry Brown and Republican Meg Whitman. It is gaining support as the election grows nearer — and it has the backing of the state Service Employees International Union, perhaps the state’s most powerful union.

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