In California's battle to legalize marijuana, former Mexican President Vicente Fox has picked a side, announcing in a recent radio interview that he favors Prop. 19.
"How great it would be for California to set this example," he said, speaking to the W radio network on Wednesday. "May God let it pass. The other U.S. states will have to follow step."
The quote was first snagged stateside by McClatchy Newspapers.
The former president also criticized his successor's violent campaign against the drug cartels, suggesting that the country's path has been ultimately destructive.
"Violence never resolves violence," he said.
In Mexico -- where as little as a kilogram of marijuana can sell for just $80 and generate nearly $7,000 in profits when resold north of the border -- at least 28,000 people have died since President Philippe Calderon launched his campaign against the drug cartels, just three and a half years ago.
The comments come amid fever-pitched grassroots campaigns in California, for and against legalization. With just days to go before the election, a polling average calculated by Talking Points Memo shows prohibitionists leading by a growing margin: 49.6% to 43.7%, at time of this writing.
A campaign against Prop. 19 by the US Chamber of Commerce, which fallaciously claims that employers would not be able to discipline stoned workers if the proposition becomes law, was once of the most high profile sectors of opposition. Similarly, all of the Democrats running for statewide office in California oppose legalization, as does Mothers Against Drunk Driving. They argue -- also fallaciously -- that police officers would not be able to pull stoned drivers off the road until an accident happens.
"Consuming marijuana at home and then showing up to work impaired by its effects would still be banned under Proposition 19, just as employers can punish their employees for arriving to work drunk," a recent Los Angeles Times op-ed noted, knocking down the Chamber's talking point. "Further, because Proposition 19 would maintain prohibitions on using marijuana in public, employees would also be forbidden from consuming pot during their work breaks. Employers have and will maintain the right to establish, develop and enforce any policy they choose that does not violate any existing statute after Proposition 19 passes, just as before."
The paper added that "the Legislative Analyst's Office was equally clear that passage of Proposition 19 will in no way alter or undermine the ability of cops to target and prosecute DUI drivers or marijuana use on school grounds. The analyst found: 'The measure would not change existing laws that prohibit driving under the influence of drugs or that prohibit possessing marijuana on the grounds of elementary, middle and high schools.' Driving under the influence of marijuana is already illegal in California, and these offenses are vigorously prosecuted. Proposition 19 would not change these facts."
In spite of all the politics, even if California passes Prop. 19, marijuana will still be illegal. US Attorney General Eric Holder has promised that the federal government will still enforce drug laws, regardless of what west coast voters decide.
Still, many critics have point out that Holder's promise is somewhat hollow, in that the federal government does not employ enough drug enforcement agents to police a single major city, let alone one of the most populous states in the nation.
While polls appear to be trending negatively for drug law reform advocates, there's still hope for their cause: Some professional survey-takers have noticed that some voters will answer differently depending on whether a human or computer is asking the question.
"It's reminiscent of 1982, when state voters told pollsters they wouldn't have any problem supporting Tom Bradley as the state's first African American governor," The San Francisco Chronicle noted on Friday. "But when they entered the voting booth, enough of them voted instead for George Deukmejian that Bradley lost as a result of what has been dubbed the 'Bradley Effect.'"
That means it may be impossible to draw an accurate bead on which way California will go on election day.
Nation-wide, sentiment favoring legalization reached an all-time high this week, according to the Gallup polling firm. In a survey released Thursday, 46 percent said marijuana should be legal for adults to use recreationally, while 50 percent remain opposed. Numbers in support of ending prohibition are up from last year's Gallup poll, which found 44 percent favored legalization.
A full 72 percent of liberals favor legalization, and many Democratic consultants have speculated that marijuana legalization could become a progressive cause célèbre in 2012 if California passes Prop. 19 with a significant number of young and minority voters.
When Gallup asked about medical marijuana, which cannot be obtained without a doctor's recommendation, support among likely voters skyrocketed to 70 percent, which was down from 78 percent in 2005.
Nation-wide support for legalizing marijuana sat at just 30 percent in the year 2000, according to Gallup figures.
Marijuana is currently decriminalized in California. By decree of the governor, adults over 21 who are caught in possession of up to one ounce are given a ticket for a $100 fine and released. The state does not collect tax dollars off the product, but Prop. 19 would change that.
Annual sales of marijuana in California alone top $14 billion, making it the state's most valuable cash crop. Initial estimates suggest the state could net up to $1 billion in sales taxes in the first year after regulating the substance.