It’s official: California voters will decide in November whether they want to legalize marijuana.
State election officials cleared a legalization petition for the Nov. 8 election, declaring in June that the initiative was backed by enough valid voter signatures to make the statewide ballot. Support for the idea is high, meaning legal cannabis is now highly likely in the Golden State.
The office of California Secretary of State Kamala Harris announced June 28 that a group of high-profile reform advocates had gathered the signatures required to qualify for the ballot. The state checked a random sample of the 600,000 signatures submitted by supporters and found enough were valid.
The group pushing for legalization is led by Sean Parker, the Silicon Valley billionaire who once served as president of Facebook. He has given more than $1 million to the cause and plans to donate much more.
Adult Use of Marijuana Act
Parker’s plan, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), would make it legal for adults over 21 to buy, possess, and use up to one ounce of marijuana. California residents would also be allowed to grow up to six pot plants at home.
“Today marks a fresh start for California as we prepare to replace the costly, harmful, and ineffective system of prohibition with a safe, legal, and responsible adult-use marijuana system that gets it right and completely pays for itself,” said Jason Kinney, a spokesman for the AUMA.
Four other states – Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska – allow recreational marijuana use, as does the District of Columbia. But legalization in California would instantly create the largest legitimate cannabis market in the world.
Legalization proposal has broad support
Activists have raised nearly $4 million to push their campaign through November, though much more is anticipated. Parker, the Drug Policy Alliance, and a fundraising committee connected to Weedmaps are among the biggest contributors so far.
The Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, a group that includes the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Hospital Association, oppose the AUMA but has raised far less money than Parker and has minimal political backing. Reformers, on the other hand, have compiled a long and growing list of big-name endorsements from the California Medical Association, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, and the state’s branch of the NAACP, among many backers.
A spokesman for the opposition predicted his group would block legalization just as a similar coalition did to Prop. 19 in 2010. That referendum would also have legalized recreation pot, but under different terms than those proposed by Parker and his fellow reformers.
“This campaign will be very similar to that of Proposition 19,” opposition spokesman Tim Rosales said. “They have the money, and we have the facts.”
But that optimism is likely misplaced. As marijuana activists note, the AUMA takes greater strides to regulate the drug at the state level rather than leaving the rules to local officials. California’s medical marijuana system, adopted in 1996, was long considered lawless because municipal regulations varied widely across the state.
A more uniform approach should win more votes, advocates argue, especially since 2016 is a presidential election year. Presidential races attract large numbers of young liberals, the voters most likely to legalize weed.