Is Washington State the New California?

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/erikjaeger/883358706/sizes/z/">Eric Jaeger</a>/Flickr

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The old truism, “As goes California, so goes the nation,” might be due for a rewrite. From today’s San Francisco Chronicle:

If you believe the polls…then Washington voters are poised to legalize two things Californians haven’t: same-sex marriage and marijuana.

That’s right, the home of the Castro and the Emerald Triangle is about to get upstaged by a state best known for its banana slugs. What happened?

Well, first off, all the crazy hippies got priced out of San Francisco and opened up yoga retreats, third-wave espresso shops, and organic farms in and around Seattle and Portland. I exaggerate only slightly.

Second, and more important, Washington state has fewer churchgoers than California, and especially fewer conservative ones. When the Catholic Church supported Prop. 8, California’s gay marriage ban, it could count on its message being heard by the 29 percent of Californians who are Catholic. Catholics account for less than 12 percent of Washingtonians.

And then there’s the reefer. California has lots of it, perhaps a surfeit. In 2008, majorities of voters in Mendocino, Humboldt, and Trinity counties, the so-called Emerald Triangle, rejected Prop 19, not because they didn’t like tokers, but because they worried that legal weed would decrease margins for the area’s pot farmers.

In the case of both ballot issues, Washington has learned from California’s mistakes. Gay-rights advocates have framed marriage as a universal family value rather than just a civil right. And pot activists have neutralized opposition from law enforcement by including a provision that bans driving with high blood levels of THC, a rule absent from California’s Prop. 19.

So has Washington stolen California’s thunder? Maybe, but at least it’s not raining down here.

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