Twenty years after California voters made the Golden State the first in America to permit marijuana’s use as medicine, state voters on Tuesday night passed Proposition 64 to legalize pot for adult recreational use.
The passage of Proposition 64, leading by 56 to 45 percent Tuesday night, underscores a changing generational trajectory for marijuana in politics and culture and stands to invigorate California’s teeming medical marijuana economy – already the largest cannabis marketplace on the planet from medical marijuana alone. The Associated Press declared the initiative a victor shortly after polls closed at 8 p.m.
Under the initiative, adults 21 and over can legally consume marijuana, regardless of medical need, and possess up to an ounce of pot or 8 grams of cannabis concentrate. Many also can begin planting up to six marijuana plants at home, indoors or in enclosed structures, though local governments can ban outdoor cultivation and set rules for indoor gardens.
The biggest impact of the vote may occur as soon as 2017. Retail sales of recreational marijuana are expected to begin in the months leading up to Jan. 1, 2018 when Proposition 64 is due to go fully into effect.
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With 19 new business licenses for marijuana cultivators, pot product manufacturers, distributors and retailers, the state’s legal pot industry is expected to soar beyond the medical cannabis economy, which is valued as high as $2.7 billion by two firms specializing in attracting marijuana industry investments. New Frontier Data of Washington, D.C., and the ArcView Group of Oakland predict Proposition 64’s passage could lift the California market to $6.5 billion by 2020.
“History has now been changed,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association. “The industry in California is going to help make the state a leader in research and development for this product. We are expecting a robust, growing industry that will be one of the biggest employers in California. … We are transitioning from a prohibited market to a regulated market.”
The initiative imposes a 15 percent excise tax on all retail sales, though localities can ban marijuana sales in their jurisdictions. An analysis for the California Department of Finance said recreational pot sales could generate from “the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually” in total tax revenue.
Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, expressed disappointment over Proposition 64’s passage. “The self-serving moneyed interests behind this marijuana business plan prevailed at the cost of public health, safety, and the well-being of our communities,” he said in a statement.
Law enforcement groups opposing the measure vowed to continue to push for legislation to establish enforceable stoned driving standard in California and restrict the ability of pot entrepreneurs to get business licenses in multiple categories, such as cultivation, distribution or retail sales, that could allow the biggest operators to dominate the market.
“We’re going to do everything we can at the Capitol to prevent Big Tobacco 2.0,” said Lauren Michaels, legislative advocate for the police chiefs.
Opponents of Proposition 64, some medical marijuana advocates and small cannabis farmers, had expressed fears of a Big Pot takeover of the state’s marijuana industry, with corporations and wealthy investors dominating cannabis commerce and corrupting state politics with pot lobbyists.
Supporters of the initiative, led by Napster co-founder Sean Parker with $7.3 million, raised more than $16 million in contributions, compared to $1.6 million by opponents, including law enforcement groups and Pennsylvania anti-drug crusader Julie Schauer.
The California vote comes decades after the 1980s AIDS crisis spawned the modern medical marijuana movement in San Francisco as young men wasting away from the disease turned to cannabis to relieve nausea and pain, pushing doctors at San Francisco General Hospital to seek new generation studies into marijuana as medicine.
In 1996, California voters passed Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act, America’s first medical marijuana law. Since then, 24 other states legalized medical use and four others – Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska – approved recreational uses.
In addition to California, recreational marijuana initiatives were winning in Massachusetts, leading in Nevada and Maine, and losing in Arizona.