Oct 312010

Days before a landmark ballot decision on marijuana in the Golden State, California voters appear to be changing their minds about legalizing pot for recreational use.

A new California Field Poll shows Proposition 19 is losing 49 percent to 42 percent, less than a month after a September survey showed it winning by the exact margin.

The reversal in attitudes comes after U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced his opposition to the measure and said the Justice Department would “vigorously enforce” federal marijuana laws in California if voters approved it.

Proposition 19 would make California the first state to legalize marijuana beyond medical use
, Peter Hecht reports in the Sacramento Bee. It would permit adults over 21 to possess up to an ounce of pot and to cultivate small amounts of marijuana at home. It also would allow cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales.

Holder’s contention that the mere act of paying taxes on sales of nonmedical marijuana would constitute an admission of a federal crime has challenged proponents’ assertions that Proposition 19 could potentially generate billions of dollars in revenues for California and local communities.

“Voters in September were toying with the idea of approving this,” said Mark DiCamillo, director of the California Field Poll. “I think they just got cold feet. The federal government coming out and saying they were going to prosecute vigorously probably dampened some of the enthusiasm.”

Recently, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed legislation reducing simple pot possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction with a $100 fine, meaning marijuana will be significantly decriminalized regardless of the outcome of Proposition 19.

The initiative has come under fire from business groups. A radio ad blitz paid for by the California Chamber of Commerce raises the specter of a stoned work force.

The ballot measure has gotten a late $1 million infusion from philanthropist George Soros, who argues that Proposition 19 could turn the tide on failed drug war policies. The Yes on 19 campaign is targeting younger voters with ads on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with Jon Stewart” and “The Colbert Report” and was seeking to draw attention to Proposition 19 at Stewart’s satirical Rally to Restore Sanity and/or Fear on Saturday in Washington, D.C.

Democrat Monica Correia, 47, of Stanislaus County has decided that legalized pot is the last thing California needs.

Correia went to UC Berkeley in the 1970s and is the daughter of a liquor salesman. Reflecting on her college years, she said she concluded marijuana renders too many people overly “laid back and stoned” and “takes away ambition.”

The fact that she is a junior high teacher cemented her decision to vote against the measure, she said.

Proposition 19 retained support from Dean Becker, a U.S. Air Force veteran and independent voter in Yolo County. Becker has already voted “yes” for the initiative by absentee ballot. Though he doesn’t use marijuana, he said it should be legalized because “so many people do it” that it is impossible to stop.

Becker said he wasn’t deterred by Holder’s remarks because “I know we have medical marijuana and the feds don’t like that either.”

While California voters were having second thoughts about the marijuana initiative, they remained consistent on two other ballot measures, the poll showed.

Proposition 23, which would suspend the state’s crackdown on greenhouse gas emissions, was losing 48 percent to 33 percent. And Proposition 25, which would allow a majority vote in the state Legislature for passing a budget, was leading 48 percent to 31 percent. Poll results for both measures were only marginally changed from September.

The strongest opposition to Proposition 19 came from Republicans, who opposed the measure 65 percent to 25 percent.

Democrats favored the measure 51 percent to 39 percent, and it led among independent voters 57 percent to 35 percent.

Robert Woten, a Republican who owns a pizza business in Sutter County, said he is already suspicious California’s legal medical marijuana industry is being abused by people seeking pot with little or no medical need. He said Proposition 19 would make things worse.

“I feel like legalizing it would really cause problems,” he said. “I have a business myself. It just makes everything difficult in terms of controlling your employees and in discipline or firings. It’s just too complicated.”

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