- On November 8 the State of California will vote on Proposition 64, which aims toe legalise cannabis for recreational purposes.
- This initiative would legalise the possession and consumption of up to 28.5 grams of the plant, the private cultivation of up to six plants, and the sale of cannabis by expressly licensed businesses.
- California has allowed the use of therapeutic cannabis for two decades and, as the state with the largest population in the entire country, passage of this legislation would mark an important leap forward in the recognition of consumers' rights.
- We break down the details of the measure, its implications, and the current situation in terms of support and opposition.
Only a few days are left until California voters decide on the economic and political future of their state, and the legalisation of recreational cannabis use. On the 8th of this month a referendum will be held, Proposition 64, which proposes the legalisation of cannabis use for those over the age of 21.
Although there are nine states that will soon be voting on the same issue, whether for recreational or medical use, the decision in California will have a particularly important impact throughout the country because the "Golden State" is the nation's largest.
An encouraging fact is that consumption for medical purposes has been legal since 1996, so the new measure seems to be a logical step, permitting cannabis cultivation and consumption by adults. If approved a license would be established for those who grow, transport and sell the plant. In addition to benefiting consumers, the California Department of Revenue has estimated that approval of the measure would mean taxes on the cannabis market bringing in 1 billion dollars in revenue, and the industry would triple in size. According to the consulting firm Cowen & Company, the sector could be worth 50 billion dollars by 2026.
Economic issues aside, Proposition 64 includes other details and consequences that we will look at below:
What exactly does Proposition 64 entail?
If passed, the initiative would allow Californians over the age of 21 to possess, transport and consume up to 28.5 grams of marijuana (8 grams, if concentrated) for recreational purposes, in addition to growing up to six plants, provided that it is in a private location hidden from public view.
The proposal also states that Californians will be able to smoke in their homes, or businesses having the proper license, but this practice will continue to be illegal for anyone driving a vehicle, anywhere where smoking (in general) is prohibited, and in public places. Its possession or sale, regardless of the amount, will remain illegal at or near schools or childcare centres.
As for commercial activities, those businesses involved in the sale of cannabis will have to acquire a state license, although local authorities may also require an additional permit. In this regard the measure includes a 15% tax on the sale of cannabis, and another on its cultivation: $9.25 (about 8.36 euros) on each 28.5 grams of flowers and another $2.75 (about 2.5 euros) on the same amount of leaves, with exceptions in the case of plantations for medical purposes. The funds raised would be earmarked for research on medical cannabis, youth awareness programmes, and the prevention of environmental damage from illegal production of the plant.
If approved, would marijuana be a legal substance in California?
Although it seems like a contradiction, at the federal level cannabis is actually considered an illegal substance, in the same category as heroin and LSD, according to the US Controlled Substances Act. Nevertheless, states have the power to decide whether to consider the cultivation, transportation and consumption of small amounts of marijuana a crime. Still, the country's government continues to have the authority to enforce the law in California, even if Proposition 64 is approved, but it does not consider intervening a priority in cases of small amounts, especially in those states that have enacted their own legislation.
In cases of major crops or large operations, the federal government would, theoretically, retain the power to enforce the law. However, its leaders have stated that they do not intend to interfere in those states that have legalised the plant's consumption for recreational purposes and adopted firm measures to prevent abuse, especially with regards to sales to minors.
However, there are penalties for violations of the requirements established by Proposition 64: those under the age of 21 who break the law, by possessing or consuming cannabis, will be required to attend a drug education programme and perform community service; and selling marijuana without a license is punishable by up to six months in jail, fines of up to $500 (about 452 euros) or both.
The new proposal would also enact a change to sentences for marijuana-related criminal convictions, reducing the penalties for its illegal sale from four years in prison to six months.
Does it impact anything beyond the plant's trade, consumption and cultivation?
One of the most controversial points of the proposal is that it opens the door for companies in the cannabis industry to advertise their products on television, provided that the messages are not aimed at minors. However, the Federal Communications Commission, responsible for regulating advertising in both television and radio at the federal level, strictly prohibits this type of advertising. Thus, in other states where the recreational use of cannabis is already legal, channels have chosen not to accept these ads, in order to avoid problems with national justice authorities.
If approved, when would the law take effect?
The initiative would enter into force the day after the vote: November 9. From that day forward Californians would be able to possess and consume up to the maximum amount established. However, the state has until January 1, 2018 to develop a system of licenses to be granted to growers and those who transport and trade in cannabis for recreational purposes. Supporters of the measure state that the law could allow the issuance of temporary permits before the emission of the official ones, but, even so, this aspect of the law would not take effect until at least the middle of next year.
The current scenario: supporters and opponents
Thus far the main campaign in favour of the proposition, "Yes on 64," has raised more funds than its rival ("No on 64"): as of October 28 the former had obtained 22 million USD in contributions, while the latter had just 2. One of the advocates for the "Yes" campaign is Sean Parker, the founder of Napster platform and current president of Facebook, who has contributed 5.6 million dollars to the cause. The state's most important newspapers, the Los Angeles Times and San Francisco Chronicle, have also come out in favour of the measure. On the political side, while the state's Democratic Party favours Proposition 64, Republicans oppose it.
Finally, if we look at the figures, the latest polls show support ranging from 51 to 71%; even based on an average of the two, the controversial measure should pass. Within a few days we will know the final results of the vote and whether California will join the handful of US states that have already legalised marijuana use for recreational purposes. Its passage would constitute a giant step towards the recognition of the rights of cannabis users globally.