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California’s Recreational Marijuana Measure Qualifies for November Ballot

California’s recreational marijuana initiative, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, receives approval for placement on the ballot this fall.

As goes California, so goes the nation. Or least when it came to medical marijuana, this was true. Passed in 1996, California’s medical marijuana program sparked a landslide of legalization that hit 25 medical marijuana states earlier this year.

Cannabis advocates across the country are again eyeing California as the state is on the threshold of creating the largest recreational marijuana market in the U.S. with the approval of their legalization initiative for the vote this fall.

Jason Kinney, spokesman for California’s Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), said in a statement, “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.”

The measure comes on the heels of a failed bid in 2010 to legalize recreational marijuana, which would have made California the first U.S. state to have recreational cannabis. Instead, Colorado and Washington would take the honor in 2012.

Whether intentionally or serendipitously, California’s legalization measure was given the designation of Proposition 64. Amendment 64 was the successful legalization initiative in Colorado that passed in 2012, giving California lofty ambitions to live up to.

Backers of the measure, including Lt. Governor of California Gavin Newsom and Sean Parker, cofounder of Napster and the first president of Facebook, didn’t wait long after the 600,000 signatures were collected this spring to place the Adult Use of Marijuana Act on November’s ballot to start a campaign to build voter support.

“This November, California voters will finally have the opportunity to pass smart marijuana policy that is built on the best practices of other states, includes the strictest child protections in the nation and pays for itself while raising billions for the state,” Newsom said in a statement.

Proposition 64 permits adults aged 21 and over to possess and transport up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational use. Individuals would be allowed to grow up to six plants for personal use. The measure would also add a 15% sales tax.

Safety concerns are also built into the initiative. Driving while impaired would still be illegal. Store fronts would have to be located at least 600 ft from a school, and edibles would have to be packaged as not to appeal to children.

A highly regulated system, the initiative will create 19 separate business licenses within the industry: covering everything from cultivation, transportation, testing, and retail. According to the California Secretary of State, the measure would reduce costs to local and state governments by about $100 million, while adding over $1 billion in licensing fees and tax revenue.

The measure is supported by the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, California Cannabis Industry Assn., and the national chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML). The California NAACP is for legalization because it will help combat what many see as discriminating enforcement practices under current drug laws that target minorities.

The California Medical Assn. said in a statement that it supports the measure because “the most effective way to protect the public health is to tightly control, track and regulate marijuana and to comprehensively research and educate the public on its health impacts, not through ineffective prohibition.”

Despite wide support, the measure has developed opposition from organizations like Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana and the California Police Chiefs Association. Some opposition groups use the talking point that legalization will make it easier for children to access marijuana. However, comprehensive studies out of recreational states prove this to be untrue.

“It’s a total lie, damn it,” says Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML. “There are a number of studies that say youth use has gone down. It’s really unambiguous. To claim anything else is ignorant.”

The teamsters union is also against the measure, but this is mostly based on the distribution model being suggested in the initiative. A shift to distribution similar to alcohol would draw their support.

Opposition has also come from inside the cannabis industry as well. Steve DeAngelo, founder of Harborside Health Center in Oakland, the largest dispensary in California, has come out against Proposition 64. He claims that the tightly restricted legalization effort will wedge out small businesses in favor of large corporations, hurting the small grower. The California chapter of Norml also hasn’t fully endorsed it, voicing concerns over certain stipulations, including cultivation limits, taxation, licensing, and the continuing existence of the state’s medical marijuana program, as early as last year.

According to Ballotpedia, Proposition 64’s supporters have raised $6 million to further legalization efforts, while opponents have only raised $135,000. Over $1 million of the funds raised by the coalition pushing for legalization came from Sean Parker, giving him substantial interest in the measure passing.

Indeed, the initiative is largely expected to pass. Recent polls show that Californians support marijuana legalization. According to a poll conducted last month by the Public Policy Institute of California, “a majority (60%) of likely voters say that, in general, marijuana use should be legal, and 37 percent say it should not be legal.”

California joins Arkansas, Florida, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada in having medical marijuana or recreational measures approved for the November 8th ballot. A full list of the initiatives seeking a vote in November is available here.