Will California be the next to go?
Many drug-policy experts say yes: The Golden State is primed to become the next to legalize pot. And it could happen as early as next year.
Two states, Colorado and Washington, have already voted to make weed legal. More are likely to follow suit in coming years, including Alaska, Nevada and Oregon. But marijuana advocates are increasingly looking to California as the next battleground over cannabis.
Why California Might Be Next To Legalize Marijuana
There are a number of reasons California stands out as a ripe target for reform. For one thing, it has long been home to medical marijuana dispensaries – as have Washington and Colorado. That has likely served to reassure voters that a legal pot system can operate peacefully in the community.
For another, public support for legalization of recreational pot is about as strong in California as it is in those two states – 60 percent of likely voters, according to a recent poll by the Public Policy Institute of California. A similar attempt to make recreational marijuana legal failed in 2010, but public support has grown considerably since then.
There are other reasons to make California the next priority. It’s the most populous state in the nation, and if reform prevails there, almost 16 percent of the American public will live in places where weed is legal and regulated by the state.
Not only would a much larger chunk of the populace live under legalization, but the Obama administration would be faced with a much larger wave of reform, threatening the integrity and efficacy of federal anti-drug laws – not to mention the priorities of the DEA.
The State Is Already Headed Towards Legalization
California is already well on its way to legalization, another reason it’s at the top of the list. Possession in the state is a simple civil offense, with no jail time or other criminal penalties. The only punishment is a $100 fine.
Voters here approved medical marijuana in 1996, making theirs the first state to do so. And the single biggest complaint against their MMJ system – that it’s heavily abused by recreational users – may work in favor of reform.
That’s because Californians already have a breathing example of how a recreational system would work. The single greatest change legalization would bring would be more regulation, something residents, law enforcement, and even pot advocates have long asked for.
So what’s on the ballot?
There are currently three ballot initiatives in the works. The first two, slated for the 2014 election, would tax and regulate weed much the same as alcohol. That’s similar to what Colorado and Washington already do. Proponents of the first initiative are collecting signatures, while backers of the second are awaiting state approval to do so.
The third effort, which aims for the 2016 ballot, has attracted more money and more supporters, largely because the most recent attempt was only three years ago. Advocates of this approach, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the ACLU, will spend the next two years researching the issue with a panel of experts.