By Allen St. Pierre and Russ Belville


Despite falling short – 54 to 46 percent – on Election Day, California’s historic Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 (better known as Prop. 19) came closer than any effort in history to legalizing cannabis for all adults. It also helped push our movement forward in five distinct ways:


1) Prop. 19 helped launch a nationwide discussion and debate about legalizing cannabis that will continue when states like Colorado, Washington and Oregon launch their legalization initiatives in 2011 or 2012 (as well as when Californians vote on legalizing cannabis again in the future).


2) Law reformers made great strides in cannabis coalition building, with major unions, civil-rights groups, Democrats and former law-enforcement officials finally coming on board to support an end to prohibition.


3) Prop. 19 inspired a number of young multibillionaires to step out of their smoky closets and acknowledge their stakeholdership in cannabis-law reform, primarily by making large financial donations and supportive public statements. Also, it was the “ganjapreneurs” and cannabusinesses of Oakland who launched this initiative, rather than the marijuana-law reform groups that have traditionally raised the “big money” required to run pro-reform initiatives.


4) Every major newspaper in California came out against Prop. 19, but they did so while at the same time acknowledging the failure of cannabis prohibition and the need for basic reforms.


5) While opponents of Prop. 19 chiefly attacked the “how” of legalization, albeit with made-up or distorted concerns (e.g., cannabis being used in the workplace, increased incidents of driving while impaired, the use of cannabis in front of children), the great public debate in California bypassed, for the most part, the old Reefer Madness claims of cannabis being a “gateway” drug that causes amotivational syndrome, criminality or addiction.


So what were NORML’s top 10 lessons learned from Prop. 19?


1) Reformers need to make clear that legalization enhances, not detracts, from patient access to cannabis as a medicine.


2) People from 18 to 25 years of age make up the biggest group of stakeholders in this struggle, and we can’t overpenalize them to appease our opponents.


3) We must find ways to integrate current illegal growers into a new legalized market.


4) We won’t win until people are more scared of cannabis prohibition than they are of legalization.


5) We must stop painting cannabis as a bad thing that needs to be highly controlled.


6) We have to be realistic about what legalization can and cannot accomplish.


7) We need to legalize cannabis first and then deal with secondary issues like drug testing later.


8) We can’t treat cannabis like alcohol unless we have roadside tests like we have for alcohol.


9) We can’t commercialize cannabis cultivation and sales without consistent statewide regulations.


10) We must recognize that medical cannabis has reached its political peak and is now inextricably linked to the overall legalization effort.


Allen St. Pierre is the executive director of NORML, and Russ Belville is NORML’s national outreach coordinator. The above was adopted from a more comprehensive and graphically intense NORML blog post available at