Marijuana Legalization Is Heading to California Voters

Legal cannabis for all adults (over 21) is closer to reality in California, after the star-studded backers of a well-funded legalization campaign announced Wednesday that they have enough signatures to put the issue before voters in November.

Mostly bankrolled by tech billionaire Sean Parker, and publicly supported by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has made cannabis one of his cause celebres since other states beat California to the legalization punch in 2012, the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow six plants in their homes.

It would also weaken other laws currently prohibiting marijuana use, and allow for a commercial adult-use cannabis industry. Laws around medical marijuana, which just changed this fall after the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown, would not change further — and laws around every other drug, as draconian as they may be, would also not change. 

AUMA's backers are packaging their legalization, 61 detailed pages of regulations, as not necessarily cannabis-friendly. Instead, AUMA is being sold as parent-friendly, budget-friendly, and social justice-friendly.

“You do not have to be pro-marijuana to be pro-legalization,” said Newsom, who has publicly said he hates cannabis, personally (and said it again on Wednesday). “That is not what this is about.”

[jump] “This is not about creating a new Gold Rush,” he added. “Quite the contrary. I'm promoting this as a father, who's concerned, with four kids, about drug use and abuse.”

This is a reflection of the California electorate. Poll after poll has shown California voters are OK with halting the war on drugs — but only if the “liberated” drugs are strictly, strictly regulated. A free-for-all would never fly — and even strict regulations aren't a surefire winner.

A poll released Wednesday by the Bay Area Council revealed only 50 percent support for legalization, to 41 percent opposed. And this is in the Bay Area.

(Prop. 19, a legalization effort in 2010, was also sold as a “Tax and Regulate” measure before it lost, 47 percent yes to 52 percent no.) 

AUMA does not yet have any organized opposition. U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who opposed Prop. 19, has yet to offer comment.

There are still plenty of questions about AUMA, not the least of which what it will do for California's cannabis consumers and its producers.

Parker was not on hand on Wednesday, and has yet to publicly state why he's on board. Also absent were backers from WeedMaps, a Southern California-based “Google Maps for Pot” that, unlike Newsom, are absolutely interested in any new Gold Rushes that may result from recreational cannabis being legal.

So far, Parker has given AUMA $1 million, and WeedMaps has contributed $500,000, according to state campaign finance records.

AUMA needed over 400,000 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot. Paid signature gatherers have been out and about for the past few weeks — perhaps you met one at BART. Backers said they had collected over 600,000.

AUMA still has to be certified, given a title and summary, and assigned a proposition number by the California
Secretary of State. That could happen later this summer. 

The cannabis industry in California, worth over $1 billion in legal sales at dispensaries and as much as $12 billion in wholesale product, is already in a bit of turmoil over the medical regulations, on which AUMA is loosely based.

It's still not clear what the legal medical market will look like once those regulations go into effect on Jan. 1, 2018; it's likely some current medical marijuana businesses looking to comply with the medical regulations will instead try to become AUMA-compliant adult use businesses instead.

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