Prop. 64. That is now the official name and number of a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in the November election.
California elections officials announced in June that backers of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) had gathered enough signatures to put legalization before voters Nov. 8. If Prop. 64 passes, it would make it legal for adults over 21 to buy, possess, and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreation.
The law would also allow California residents to grow up to six marijuana plants at home and would impose taxes and regulations on a new legal weed industry. Public opinion polls suggest the idea is likely to succeed by a wide margin.
California is hardly alone in acting on reform this year: Arizona, Nevada, Maine, and several other states are likely to vote on legalization in November. But the Golden State is the most populous in the country, and if pot is made legal here, it would become the largest legal marijuana market in the world.
The AUMA was initially just one of several competing initiatives to legalize pot, but it was ultimately the only one capable of raising enough money to reach the ballot. The initiative is headed by tech billionaire Sean Parker, who has raised more than $3 million for the campaign.
So why should you vote to legalize marijuana? If you’re reading this, you probably support the idea, but it’s important to know the reasons why reform matters.
Addressing racial disparities in arrest rates
First, legalization would drastically reduce the state’s arrest rate for simple, non-violent marijuana offenses. Since these arrests disproportionately impact people of color, especially young black men, reform could remove lifelong barriers for oppressed minority groups.
This is why the NAACP of California supports the cause. It’s also a driving concern for other public figures who have endorsed Parker’s effort, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Medical Association, the state’s Democratic Party, and the ACLU.
Helping the economy and environment
Second, a state-regulated cannabis industry would cause less damage to the environment, less risk of accidental poisoning, and less waste of scarce police resources. Legalization would also help workers on the black market, who currently have no job protections, no benefits, and no legal recourse if they are mistreated by growers, smugglers, or dealers.
And then there’s the fact that a regulated system could provide effective protections for children and adolescents. This is especially true when it comes to manufacture, packaging, and labeling of edibles and other products infused with THC.
Further, a legal marijuana industry would bring California a tax windfall worth billions of dollars over the next few years. That money would pay for law enforcement, youth substance abuse treatment, environmental restoration, scientific research, local government projects, and programs to help devastated communities recover from the drug wars.
There are many other good reasons to cast a yes vote for legal marijuana this fall. But the most important may simply be that potheads have rights, too.