Voters in five states–Arizona, Maine, Nevada, Massachusetts, and California–will decide on cannabis legalization today.
I’ve been on the cannabis beat full-time since 2010, when I drove across the country six times to report for A New Leaf: The End of Cannabis Prohibition. With the potential for a dramatic shift in the cannabis landscape after tonight, I thought I would share my experiences covering the Proposition 19 legalization vote in California six years ago. (At the end of this post, see some of the photos I took around that time.)
The mood in Oakland on that cool November day was divided. Many growers that I talked to were adamantly against legalizing cannabis for recreational use, because they were afraid of how regulation and competition would cut into their bottom line. Some seriously ill people thought that legalization would raise prices for their medicine, or somehow make it less accessible.
During the day, Oakland was buzzing. It was the first U.S. city to tax medical cannabis, and was starting to see the benefits. The informally-named Oaksterdam neighborhood was full of cannabis businesses that brought money to an otherwise economically depressed area. People honked as they drove by the Proposition 19 campaign headquarters. Some advocates took to the streets to try to garner support, and phone bank calling was constant.
Outside of Oaksterdam University, a “school” that offers training for those looking to enter the cannabis industry, the crowd never got as big as I expected. Toward the end of the night, the supporters thinned and minutes passed and it became clear that the initiative failed.
In some senses, that vote feels like a lifetime ago. Legalization was not yet a reality, but a still controversial idea. No one was particularly surprised that the initiative failed, but that it came so close to passing. At the end of the night, the conversation turned to Colorado two years down the line, and it turns out they were right–2012 would be the year that voters would legalize cannabis for the firs time.