The hard-hitting campaign over Proposition 19 pitted the state’s political and law enforcement establishment against determined activists seeking to end the drug’s prohibition.
It was by far the highest profile of the 160 ballot measures being decided in 37 states. Other topics included abortion, tax cuts and health care reform.
California’s marijuana proposal would have allowed adults aged 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, consume it in non-public places as long as no children were present, and grow it in small private plots. It would have authorised local governments to permit commercial cultivation, as well as the sale and use of marijuana at licensed establishments.
Proponents pitched it as a sensible experiment that would provide much-needed revenue for the cash-strapped state, dent the drug-related violence in Mexico by causing pot prices to plummet, and reduce arrests that they say disproportionately target minority youth.
However, every major newspaper, both political parties, the two candidates for governor and all but a handful of leading politicians came out against it.
“Today, Californians recognised that legalising marijuana will not make our citizens healthier, solve California’s budget crisis, or reduce drug-related violence in Mexico,” said White House drug czar Gil Kerlikowske.
Instead, he said, legalisation would lead to more addiction, driving accidents and emergency room admissions.
“It’s still a historic moment in this very long struggle to end decades of failed marijuana prohibition,” said Stephen Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Project.
“Unquestionably, because of Proposition 19, marijuana legalisation initiatives will be on the ballot in a number of states in 2012, and California is in the mix.”