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Will Marijuana be Legal in California in 2016?

Updated: Aug 01, 2015 16:47
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Marijuana may be legal for everyone in California the morning of January 1, 2017. You wouldn’t even need a referral card — any Californian over 21 would be able to legally purchase, possess and carry cannabis from the delivery service or dispensary of their choice, just like Colorado, Washington and now Oregon. Dispensaries would automatically turn into recreational stores open to anyone 21 and up, and getting a bag of weed would become easier than calling for a pizza.

54% of Californians are in favor of legalizing marijuana, according to the Public Policy Institute of California. That makes marijuana more popular in California than Hillary Clinton (53%) the “six Californias” plan (25%) or Jeb Bush (11%). But just because Californians favor legal weed doesn’t mean that weed will become legal in California. There are a whole number of pratfalls, variables and countervariables that can make the California cannabis legalization effort fly sky high or go up in smoke.



Image:Remi Noyon via Flickr

This could get ridiculous at the ballot box. There are currently five different legalization measures submitted to the state Attorney General for inclusion on the 2016 California ballot. To keep it short, let’s call them this one,  this one, this one, this one, and this one.

All these “this ones” create a serious problem. Voters don’t like confusing, competing, contradictory measures on the same ballot, and tend to just vote them all down. In the eyes of voters, competing ballot measures make the sponsors seem shady or like they just don’t have their shit together. It’s better to have one unified proposition on the ballot to keep things simple.

Drug Policy Alliance marijuana law & policy manager Amanda Reiman is confident that a single measure will emerge.  “It is true that several initiatives have been filed and a few more will join the bunch, it is unlikely that more than one initiative will be on the ballot,” she told “Filing only costs $200 and anyone can do it.”

“To get on the ballot, the group must collect over 360,000 signatures. This process costs upwards of $500,000, closer to $1 million,” Ms. Reiman continued. “Many of the initiatives have been filed by groups who have no intention on collecting signatures, but wanted an analysis from the [Legislative Analyst’s Office] to further understand the impact of various policy options for regulating marijuana.”

The likeliest survivor of these proposals is the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project and Reform CA. They’ve lined up the support of NORML and all the big cannabis lobbies and they are working their language to satisfy Gavin Newsom’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy to get his support and endorsement. Yes, Gavin Newsom matters again.



Images: Keith Kissel and Shiny Things via Flickr

Whether your Democratic Presidential Nominee is Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders or Broke-Ass Stuart, you can expect a higher California voter turnout with a younger, less-white electorate on Election Day 2016. This was not the case when the marijuana legalization effort Prop. 19 failed in an off-year, low-turnout election in 2010.

Additionally, Gavin Newsom has taken up marijuana legalization as his cause du jour for 2016. (Maybe you’ve received an email or two from him.) Gavin is not running for governor until 2018, but he’s already running and he’s auditioning hard for the loyalty of cannabis-using voters. You may not appreciate Newsom’s baggage or commitment to high-end hair product, but he is damned effective at building consensus among law enforcement, labor and other important but fussy trade groups and prominent lobbies.

Furthermore, Washington, Colorado and Oregon have already legalized recreational marijuana use. There is a building national sentiment that did not exist in 2010 indicating  many of the 2016 legalization efforts will benefit from this momentum.



Image: 666isMONEY ☮ ♥ & ☠ via Flickr

This will not even be close. The exploding legal cannabis industry in California is awash in venture capital money and many startup investors stand to get crazy rich from full CA legalization. No one gets crazy rich off the defeat of CA legalization. Guess which side will get larger campaign donations.

But a consensus effort will have to include the endorsement of small-scale growers as well as big-deal tech investors. “Legalization in CA will look very different than CO and WA in terms of cultivation. It has to,” Ms. Reiman said. “We have a huge community of small farmers who have been producing world renowned marijuana for decades. These folks are the small batch bourbon, craft beer, Opus One of the marijuana world. To cut them out of the regulatory scheme would be short-sighted and insensitive.”

“The goal of legalization should be to lift up as much of the current marijuana trade as possible and regulate it,” she said. “That is everything from the small farm in Mendocino to the warehouse in Oakland.”

If you’d like to get involved with the 2016 California legalization effort, the Marijuana Policy Project has a list of ways that you can take action.


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Joe Kukura- Millionaire in Training

Joe Kukura- Millionaire in Training

Joe Kukura is a two-bit marketing writer who excels at the homoerotic double-entendre. He is training to run a full marathon completely drunk and high, and his work has appeared in the New York Times and Wall Street Journal on days when their editors made particularly curious decisions.