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California’s Proposition 64: Marijuana Legalization

Sunday, October 16, 2016 21:43
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Voter Guide: 2016 California Ballot Initiatives

Prop 64 legalizes possession and use of marijuana by adults 21 or older in California. State agencies are required to license and regulate the marijuana industry and put a sales tax on all marijuana sales except medical marijuana. Local governments may impose local sales taxes on marijuana as well. It imposes standards and restrictions on packaging, labeling and advertising of marijuana products and prohibits advertising directly to minors. It allows for people already convicted of marijuana offenses to be resentenced and have the conviction removed from their record.

Fiscal Impact:

Additional tax revenues ranging from high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually, mostly dedicated to specific purposes. Reduced criminal justice costs of tens of millions of dollars annually.

Proponents’ Arguments For:

Proponents of Prop 64 argue that marijuana is available nearly everywhere in California, but in a dangerous black market. Prop 64 would create a safe, legal and comprehensive system for adult use of marijuana while protecting our children. It incorporates the lessons learned and best practices from states that already legalized marijuana and closely follows the recommendations of California’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, which included law enforcement and public health experts.

They say under Prop 64 adults over 21 will be allowed to possess small amounts of nonmedical marijuana, and to grow small amounts at home for personal use. Sale of nonmedical marijuana will be legal only at highly regulated, licensed marijuana businesses and those under 21 are not even permitted to enter. Sales will not be allowed in bars, liquor stores, etc. Since drug dealers don’t ask for proof of age when selling marijuana, Prop 64 will bring the same type of protections against underage purchases used for alcohol and tobacco. Additionally, it bans advertising directed at children, requires clear labeling and independent product safety testing, and does not allow marijuana businesses next to schools.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office estimates that Prop 64 will both raise revenue and decrease costs. Sales taxes from marijuana will bring in over $1 billion of revenue every year, and it could save tens of millions of dollars in reduced law enforcement costs. Prop 64 will stop ruining people’s lives over marijuana, ending the 8,800 annual felony arrests and prison sentences for growing or selling marijuana in California.

The revenue from sales taxes on marijuana don’t go into a slush funds for politicians but must be spent on afterschool programs that help kids stay in school, job placement, job training, mental health treatment, drug prevention education for teens, treatment alcohol and drug addiction, and training and research for law enforcement to crack down on impaired driving. Over the next decade, these programs would receive billions in revenues.

Opponents’ Arguments Against:

Opponents of Prop 64 argue that the measure gets marijuana legalization wrong again. They make five key arguments against the measure:

1. It will increase highway fatalities. The AAA Foundation for Highway Safety reports that deaths in marijuana-related car crashes have doubled since the State of Washington approved legalization. Prop 64 does not include a DUI standard for marijuana.
2. Individuals are allowed to grow their own marijuana indoors—up to six plants, which is a lot—even if their house is next door to a school, playground or park.
3. Legalizing marijuana will increase black market and drug cartel activity. Organized crime has increased in Colorado since marijuana legalization.
4. While tobacco ads are banned from television, Prop 64 will allow marijuana smoking ads on prime time TV and other programs with children and teenage viewers.
5. Prop 64 does not limit the number of pot shops that can be opened in poor neighborhoods adding to their existing problems of alcohol and drug addiction.

They argue that Prop 64 is radically different from legalization measures in other states, and would repeal countless consumer protections just passed last year by the legislature.


Marijuana use is a personal decision that does not merit the current war against its use—a war that is an utter failure, since marijuana is readily available and ever cheaper in spite of it. That failed war costs approximately $8 billion in government expenditures nationwide each year.

It is not obvious that Prop 64 would make marijuana any more available than it already is, but it would certainly move the overwhelming majority of marijuana consumption into legal market or personal transactions. It is the black market, with its excess profits and violence that cause most of the problems associated with marijuana trade. A legal market removes most of the incentives for crime around marijuana use.

Applying sales taxes to marijuana has the virtue of putting it on the same footing as the buying and selling of other commodities. If Prop 64 passes, the legislature should cut other taxes, but that is unlikely to happen.

The taxes may incentivize a small remnant of a black market to avoid taxes, such as California has with cigarettes to avoid tobacco taxes. But by making it legal to grow your own, the incentive for a black market is even more diminished. Opponents’ assertion that black markets increase in a legalized market are unsubstantiated and frankly ludicrous.

Likewise, opponents’ arguments about DUIs are misleading to outright false. They complain that Prop 64 includes no DUI standard for marijuana, but this law is not the place for that. The legislature needs to establish rules for impairment similar to that for prescription drugs based on observed driving behavior and field sobriety tests evaluated by the court. Also, there is no evidence that legalizing marijuana has increased accidents or fatalities. Indeed, in Colorado traffic safety is close to an all-time best since marijuana legalization. We don’t ban alcohol because of drunk driving, instead we try to stop drunk driving. The same approach is appropriate for marijuana as well.

Voter Guide: 2016 California Ballot Initiatives


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