California Democrats Stay Neutral on Marijuana-Legalizing Prop. 19

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Supporters of Proposition 19 -- the Control and Tax Marijuana 2010 initiative -- can be forgiven for feeling a little paranoid these days. After the move to regulate marijuana like alcohol was lambasted by state politicians ranging from Sen. Dianne Feinstein to Mayor Gavin Newsom to Kamala Harris, the California Democratic Party's Executive Board yesterday failed to endorse Prop. 19 and will remain neutral following a 101-85 vote. This, by the way, after  party chair John Burton singled out "pot" as the one thing that could re-energize the party and attract young voters in droves.

Bummer. But Richard Lee -- the president of Oaksterdam University who crafted Prop. 19 and has supported it with millions of his own dollars -- says the party is far from over.

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Oaksterdam U.
Richard Lee
"I think we're going to win, just like we won with Prop. 215 [which legalized medical marijuana in 1996]," he said. "Dianne Feinstein came out against medical marijuana then -- and now she's for it. On this issue, the voters lead the politicians."

Both Lee and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano -- who has attempted to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana via the legislative route -- described yesterday's decision to stay neutral not as a condemnation of the concept of legalizing pot, but a political move.

"Nobody trashed it. Everyone said it was a good thing and they were going to vote for it," Ammiano told SF Weekly. "But they felt, strategically, because so many candidates came out against it, it would put them on the spot. Everyone was worried about the Whitman phenomona."

Or, as Lee summarized it, "That's politics."

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Tom Ammiano
He didn't fail to point out that the latest poll on the matter -- executed by Survey USA and funded by CBS 5 -- spotted Prop. 19 a 50-40 lead. An earlier Field Poll -- that showed the proposition trailing 48-44 -- was tainted by bad methodology, claimed Lee. "They over-sampled Republicans," he says. "All the other polls have shown us eight to 11 points up."

With the state Democratic Party's netural stance, local Democratic County Central Committees are free to endorse as they so choose. Lee is also touting two big unions on his side: The Communications Workers of America and the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union.

That's right: The folks who bring you late-night TV and munchies.

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