Saturday, November 7, 2020
What a difference a decade makes: recalling marijuana reform efforts in 2010 California and now in 2020 South Dakota
Talking to one of my favorite people about the greatness and unpredictability of democracy in the USA, I realized that it is worthwhile to put the amazingly consistent pro-reform marijuana election results of 2020 in a bit of historical context. For now, I will leave it to true historians to write on a broader canvas, as I just want to highlight what a difference a decade makes.
The first very significant and well-funded campaign for statewide marijuana legalization took place in deep blue California in 2010. Then and there, California Proposition 19 lost pretty badly with 53.5% of California voters being against legalization, and only 46.5% being in favor. Notably, among the folks in avowed opposition to this reform were US Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein, then-Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown, then CA Gov Arnold Schwarzenegger, then-Democratic Attorney General Candidate Kamala Harris, and then-Prez Obama's Attorney General Eric Holder and his drug czar Gil Kerlikowske
Fast forward only 10 years, and we have seen extraordinary political, legal and social developments on so many fronts related to marijuana prohibition, and perhaps this is no more clear than the results in deep red South Dakota in 2020. This year the voters in South Dakota considered both Initiated Measure 26 to legalize medical marijuana, which passed by a vote of 70% for and only 30% against, and a state constitutional amendment for full legalization, which passed by a vote of 54% for and only 46% against. To my knowledge, there were precious few political figures who spoke out in avowed opposition to either of these reforms, and I am certain that Prez Trump's Attorney General did not weigh in on these state marijuana reform ballot measures.
This is a truly remarkable political and legal story, though perhaps even more remarkable is that we have seen no formal federal legislative reforms in this arena even over a decade of extraordinary change. I will (not-so-boldly) predict that we will see some form of federal statutory reforms over the next decade, but I am not at all confident about just when or what these reforms might look like. I will predict that 2010 CA Democratic Attorney General Candidate Kamala Harris, who is now in 2020 Vice President Elect Kamala Harris, might end up having a lot of impact on this matter.