California voters rejected a ballot measure on Tuesday that would have made it the first US state to legalise marijuana for recreational use.
The “no” vote on Proposition 19 had 56% of the vote to 43% for “yes,” with 20% of precincts counted. CNN projected the measure’s failure.
The nation’s eyes were on Prop 19 because legalizsation would have put the state at odds with federal drug laws and the Obama administration said it would continue to prosecute individuals in California for possession or growth of pot.
A maverick move by California could also have inspired other states, as has been the case with medical marijuana.
California in 1996 led the nation with a ballot measure approving cannabis for medical purposes and 13 other states have since followed suit.
Passage of Prop 19 would also have had a financial impact because it cleared the way for local governments to regulate the “business side” of pot, including commercial cultivation and taxation.
Prop 19 supporters argued that ending prosecutions of marijuana possession would free up strained law enforcement resources and strike a blow against drug cartels, much as repealing prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s crushed bootlegging by organised crime.
They also asked voters to consider that marijuana generates an estimated $14-billion in sales annually in the state, revenue they considered ripe for taxation, especially at a time of deep budget deficits in California.
Critics of Prop 19, including many in law enforcement, warned of various social harms of legalising cannabis, from declines in production and academic achievement to a rise in traffic and workplace accidents.
US Attorney General Eric Holder said last month that he would “vigorously enforce” federal drug laws in California if Prop 19 passed.
That problem seemed to loom large over voters on Tuesday.
“The legalisation of marijuana I approve of, but my only issues is that the federal government won’t recognize what the state of California does,” said Elaine Ricci (56) a paralegal in San Francisco.
“So I wish we could go to the federal level on that instead of just the state level.” - Reuters.