A closer look at how Humboldt voters shot down Proposition 19
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.