SANTA ANA, Calif. — It’s official: Come Nov. 8, Californians will be voting on whether to legalize recreational marijuana.
An initiative that would allow adults to consume cannabis became eligible for the ballot Tuesday, after election officials verified it had received more than the required 365,880 valid signatures.
If it’s approved by voters, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act will allow Californians 21 and older to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis and up to six plants.
The citizen-driven initiative for California legalization builds on the state’s new medical marijuana regulations, with provisions for licensing, testing, labeling and advertising.
The campaign has raised more than $3.5 million so far. That includes funds from Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker and Irvine-based Weedmaps, plus other legalization supporters.
A key opponent, the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, has raised $116,000 from law enforcement and some hospital groups. And some members of the state’s entrenched medical marijuana community are also torn over whether to offer support.
However, polls have shown that 60 percent of California’s likely voters in the November presidential contest favor legalization.
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“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,” legalization campaign manager Brian Brokaw said in a statement.
As soon as the measure made the ballot, the campaign immediately reached out to online supporters asking them to contribute funds for what’s predicted to be a tough fight.
“The next few months are going to take a lot of work,” Brokaw said. “We’re going to be ramping up our grassroots campaign more than ever, talking to voters, organizing in communities and reaching out to Californians across the state online to make sure we have every single vote we need to end marijuana prohibition.”
So what would California look like if recreational pot is legalized? Here are answers to some common questions.
Q: Will people be walking down the street smoking joints?
A: Not legally. The 62-page initiative says it would still be illegal for Californians to consume marijuana in public unless it’s in a space licensed for use. The act also specifically bans smoking marijuana any place where tobacco is prohibited and within 1,000 feet of a school or youth center while children are present.
Q: So where will people be able to use it?
A: In their homes and yards plus other private property, with two caveats: the property owner must be OK with it and smoke can’t be detectable at any nearby schools or childcare facilities.
The California initiative also says cities or counties can allow adults to consume marijuana in shops where it’s sold, so long as access is restricted to people 21 and over, it’s not publicly visible and no alcohol or tobacco is sold there. So far, out of the four states that have legalized recreational marijuana, only Alaska has agreed to develop regulations to allow for “cannabis cafes.”
Q: Will pot shops open in every city?
A: Local governments would still have full authority to regulate or ban marijuana-related businesses in their borders, just as they do now for medical marijuana.
The initiative would create a detailed licensing program for all marijuana businesses, with requirements for background checks, inspections, reporting and more.
In order to get a state license, though, owners would first have to get the OK from their local government.
The only thing cities and counties couldn’t block under the law is personal use of marijuana on private property.
Q: Won’t more people start using marijuana if it’s legal? Especially teens?
A: Based on what’s happened in Colorado, more adults will likely consume marijuana if it’s legal, with around a 5 percent increase since the state legalized recreational use.
But the latest survey from the state’s Health Department shows no increase in teen use, with Colorado teens using marijuana at about the same rate as the national average of 21 percent and at lower rates than they did in 2009.
Q: What would be the penalty for violating the new laws?
A: The California initiative lays out a range of penalties for violating the proposed marijuana laws, from community service up to possible jail time.
If someone under 18 is nabbed with marijuana, for example, they’d be required to attend drug counseling and complete community service hours. Adults caught smoking in public would face a $100 fine. And anyone 18 or over who’s caught with more than 1 ounce of marijuana can be fined $500, go to jail for up to six months or both.
Q: Won’t there be more car crashes by stoned drivers?
A: The jury is still out on this one.
A survey of accident data from France showed drivers with cannabis in their system were twice as likely to be involved in a crash as sober ones. The same study found drivers who’d drank alcohol were nine times more likely to crash, and drivers with both alcohol and cannabis in their system were 14 times more likely to be in an accident.
However, a 2015 study from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration found that after controlling for factors such as age and alcohol consumption, the data “did not show a significant increase in levels of crash risk” for drivers with cannabis alone in their systems. The agency even notes that many motorists who’ve consumed marijuana actually overcompensate, driving more slowly and cautiously than sober drivers.
Colorado didn’t start tracking marijuana-related citations until it allowed recreational pot sales in 2014, making it impossible to compare before and after numbers.
Fatal crashes involving drivers who recently used marijuana doubled in Washington after the state legalized the drug in 2012, according to research released in May by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety. And Colorado has seen a similar spike in this statistic.
California is partnering with Dr. Igor Grant at UC San Diego’s Center for Medical Cannabis Research Center to study how pot impacts motor skills. And an Assembly bill introduced in February would establish a legal driving limit for marijuana users at 5 nanograms per milliliter of blood – the same as controversial limits imposed in Colorado and Washington.
Q: What about work? Will workers be able to get in trouble for having marijuana in their system even if it’s legal?
A: They might. The initiative states that both public and private employers would still have a right to maintain a “drug and alcohol free workplace.” That means businesses would still be able to make hiring and firing decisions based on marijuana use, just as they can now.
Q: Will we see pot shop billboards and commercials on TV?
A: Possibly, but with a number of restrictions.
The initiative states that all advertising – on TV, radio, print and online communications – could only be displayed “where at least 71.6 percent of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older, as determined by reliable, up-to-date audience composition data.” That means there might be commercials during late-night TV shows, but not during Saturday morning cartoons.
Q: Won’t this generate a lot of new tax revenue?
A: The measure would tax marijuana sales at 15 percent and cultivation at $9.25 per ounce for dry flowers or $2.75 per ounce for leaves. The Legislative Analyst’s Office anticipates revenue from those taxes could top $1 billion annually.
Cities or counties could also opt to add their own taxes on top of the state taxes.
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