California Voters to Consider Marijuana Legalization

When Californians head to the polls on Nov. 8, they won’t only be helping to determine who the next president of the United States will be. They will also be deciding if California will become the fifth U.S. state to legalize the sale, possession, and use of marijuana by adults.

The combination of California’s size, financial strength, and cultural clout suggests that the vote to legalize marijuana could be a watershed moment in the ongoing national debate over how to control what has for decades been one of the most commonly abused recreational substances.

Proposition 64, which is referred to as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), will appear on ballots under the headline “Marijuana Legislation Initiative Statute.” According to California’s Official Voter Information Guide, passage of the proposition would lead to the following outcomes:

  • Legalization of marijuana under state law, for use by adults 21 or older.
  • Designation of state agencies to license and regulate the marijuana industry.
  • Imposition of state excise tax of 15% on retail sales of marijuana, and state cultivation taxes on marijuana of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves.
  • Exemption of medical marijuana from some taxation.
  • Establishment of packaging, labeling, advertising, and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products.
  • Prohibition on marketing and advertising of marijuana directly to minors.
  • Permission for local regulation and taxation of marijuana.
  • Authorization of resentencing and destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions

Though the legal changes included in Prop 64 will only impact the state of California, experts are confident that the impact of this proposition’s passage would be felt throughout the nation.

For example, in a July 5 article on the Rolling Stone website, Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said that a decision by Californians to legalize marijuana would be a “total dynamic change” that would energize efforts to achieve nationwide legality for the controversial substance.

An Aug. 19 Los Angeles Times article noted that the size of the California economy would enable the state to collect a windfall of tax money from a newly legal marijuana industry. According to that article, it is estimated that legal marijuana would contribute up to $1 billion in annual taxation within a few years. For purposes of comparison, Colorado’s legal marijuana industry accounted for about $135 million in tax revenue in 2015.

On Aug. 24, a report issued by market research firms The Arcview Group and New Frontier estimated that, if Prop 64 passes in November, a legal marijuana industry in California could expect to reach $6.5 billion in annual revenue by the year 2020.

While most experts appear to agree that the measure is likely to pass, the opinion on the effect of this legislative change is far from universal.

In an Aug. 24 Mercury News article, John Kaiga of New Frontier predicted that the passage of Prop 64 will lead to California becoming “the new epicenter of cannabis,” which will in turn prompt “professionalism of the industry [and] an emphasis on innovation.”

This positive view is countered by, among others, several prominent individuals within the California law enforcement community. Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens told the Orange County Register that legalization of marijuana “would be a terrible move for California to make,” while San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos said that passing Prop 64 “will do nothing to curb black-market activity in California.”

On Aug. 20, about 12 weeks before Election Day, polls showed that Proposition 64 was favored by 55 percent of Californians. When the polling was restricted to likely voters, support rose to 60 percent.