This past week the California Adult Use of Marijuana Act ("AUMA") officially takes its place on the November ballot as Proposition 64. The measure qualified for the ballot earlier this week. Prop. 64 will allow adults 21 and older to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes.
Californians around the state have been crying out for change this year. There is more public support for reform than ever before with polls showing a majority of the state, and the rest of the country, in favor of legalizing marijuana. More than 10 voter initiatives related to marijuana were filed with the Attorney General for this election year, but only Prop. 64 will be on the ballot this November.
The pressing need for marijuana reform and legalization in California brings together a broad and diverse coalition of politicians, public health organizations, businesses, community leaders, and civil rights organizations to advocate for smart policy. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Medical Association, the California NAACP, the California Democratic Party, and the ACLU of California, among others, have come together to urge Californians to vote Yes on Prop. 64.
The wide-reaching desire for marijuana reform in California makes sense. Despite decades of prohibition and aggressive enforcement of criminal laws, marijuana remains widely consumed and universally available. The prohibition of marijuana and the war on drugs are both widely recognized as failures.
Devastation has followed these failures--black and Latino communities are disproportionately targeted, incarcerated and damaged by discriminatory enforcement of marijuana laws; state lands, rivers, and streams are ravaged by illegal and unregulated marijuana grow operations; responsible adult users of marijuana risk exposure to possible chemicals, toxins, and unknown potency from unregulated products; law enforcement wastes scarce resources better spent on ensuring public safety; and employees in an unregulated and illegal industry are exploited.
Regulating marijuana through the smart policies of Prop. 64 will bring this booming and unregulated market under the rule of law to protect the most vulnerable in the state. Moving marijuana purchases into a system with strict packaging, labeling, and advertising standards protects consumers and youth. Statewide regulations mandating environmental regulation, enforcement, and restoration protects the state's natural resources. And reducing and eliminating criminal penalties for marijuana offenses reduces the detrimental impact of discriminatory criminalization.
New tax revenue from the retail sales of marijuana, estimated to be up to one billion dollars each year, will be allocated to pay for the enforcement of the new law and will fund substance use treatment for youth, environmental restoration, research on implementation and medical marijuana, local governments, and reentry programs in communities harmed by the war on drugs.
Californians have had the opportunity to learn from Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska, which have already legalized the responsible adult use of marijuana. Prop. 64 builds on the successes of those states using the lessons learned, but also paving a thoughtful and bold new way forward.
A victory on Prop. 64 will be a huge triumph for California. Smart policy, hundreds of millions in new revenue, and protection for the state's youth, environment, and communities of color will follow.
Joy Haviland is a staff attorney at the Drug Policy Action.