BY MALENA HANSEN
This year marks California’s second attempt at a ballot measure which aims to legalize recreational use of marijuana. This initiative, also known as Proposition 64, or more formally as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), has several key points. This measure would legalize marijuana possession, transportation, and use for recreational purposes. However, there are restrictions. For example, Prop 64 only allows individuals that are 21 or older to purchase marijuana and only permits licensed firms to cultivate and sell marijuana. The measure also provides for a 15 percent excise tax which will most likely be passed on to the consumer. Moreover, the amount one can possess is regulated: under Proposition 64, adults will only be allowed to handle “one ounce of marijuana and eight grams of marijuana concentrates…” in addition to growing up to six plants. These restrictions allow the state to perform substance control when previously there has been none, yet there still remains opposition to the proposition. While taking into account California’s history of attempting to legalize marijuana, as well as precedents set by other states that have already done so, one can observe the extent to which the population either accepts or rejects the recreational use of the substance.
Nearly twenty years ago, California legalized medical marijuana, and the change in its status illustrates how the fight for recreational legalization has been shaped up until today. Proposition 215, also known as the Medical Use of Marijuana Act, was passed in November of 1996 on the general election ballot. Although the measure succeeded, complications have arisen since its passage. The first to note is that the measure only passed by a relatively thin margin: 56 percent of California citizens voted “Yes” while the remaining 44 percent voted “No.” There is a large portion of the population who did not support the measure, or doubted it enough to vote “No.” In addition, the passage of this act spurred several court cases which led to further regulation, such as the adoption of a statewide card identification program. Despite more regulations, there were still discontinuities between state and federal law, the latter which is much more strict on the regulation of the substance.
After the passing of Proposition 215, another ballot measure followed. In 2010, California citizens voted on Proposition 19. This was the first attempt to legalize recreational use of different forms of marijuana, with restrictions much like those included in Proposition 64, such as on age of the user, amount of the substance, and where it can be used or grown. However, this attempt failed, as Prop 19 was defeated by a thin margin of 54 percent of the population voting “No” and the remaining 46 percent voting “Yes.” Again, we see that the population is split almost evenly. In response to the wavering margin, the opposition has increased its campaign spending just before election day, bringing their total spendings to nearly $420,000, which likely influenced the voting results. This issue has historically been incredibly controversial and the failure of Proposition 19 more than half a decade ago reminds us of this as voters face Proposition 64 this November.
If passed, Proposition 64 would arguably help the state in many ways. According to the official website, Yes on 64, the measure aims to bring the issue of marijuana use “out into the open,” much like the attitude towards safe consumption of alcohol. Safe regulations would decriminalize the substance in California and this, in turn, would lead to decreased incarceration rates of otherwise responsible adults who consume the substance. Proponents of the measure agree that this will create safer and more educational rhetoric surrounding the use of marijuana. Additionally, supporters emphasize the fact that legal recreational marijuana would produce more revenue for the state of California. Extra funds created by taxation of the product would lead to organizing drug prevention and treatment programs, helping local police recognize DUIs, and uplifting communities that are negatively impacted by strict prohibition of the substance. Proposition 64 accommodates these programs and its passage will ensure education on marijuana and its effects.
The movement against Proposition 64, however, is ready to fight back against legalization. According to No On Prop. 64, one of the largest concerns is the lack of a DUI, or Driving Under the Influence, standard set by Proposition 64. The opposition cites examples in both Washington and Colorado, states that have passed measures similar to Prop 64. However, these states have since enacted policy that carefully regulate DUIs, such as THC blood testing and a layered penalty system. It is also a concern that there will be negative repercussions on children and teenagers who view advertisements related to recreational use of the substance, especially in its edible form. Opponents of the measure argue that this will foster a sense of curiosity in young adults who will then find it more socially acceptable to smoke, thereby harming their health. Nonetheless, supporters of the proposition are also concerned with harmful effects of the substance and that is why Proposition 64 aims to decriminalize marijuana and devote more resources to education on drug use, mainly in young teenagers. If the responsibility of the state is to protect the safety of its people, we will find that the provisions afforded in Proposition 64 are more likely to establish a culture in which drugs may be used, but carefully and in moderation by responsible adults. rather than a culture of criminalizing a substance and penalizing young people for simply not knowing any better.
On November 8th, the citizens of California will determine whether or not to adopt Proposition 64. The margin of votes matters in this situation. As seen in prior examples, a thin margin of voters decided to legalize medical use of marijuana in Prop 215, but a thin margin also refuted the legalization of recreational marijuana in Prop 19. If Proposition 64 passes this fall, but by a thin margin, it can still be questioned whether or not this massive policy shift will have an effect on federal laws concerning recreational marijuana, despite its effects at the state level. If the proposition passes with a plurality of support, the federal government will most likely take notice of the shift in public opinion because California is the most populous state in the union. Representatives will then have the floor to promote this issue in Washington D.C. using California as evidence to back a policy shift on marijuana. Despite the lack of certain provisions included in the measure, the discourse generated by Prop 64 will hopefully lead to a more substantial and productive conversation about the effects of recreational marijuana on users, businesses, and communities.