SACRAMENTO -- When California voters head to the polls in November, they will decide whether the state will make history again - this time by legalizing the recreational use of marijuana for adults.
The state was the first to legalize medicinal marijuana use,
with voters passing it in 1996. Since then, 14 states have followed
California's lead, even though marijuana remains illegal under
"This is a watershed moment in the decades-long struggle to end
failed marijuana prohibition in this country," said Stephen
Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance. "We
really can't overstate the significance of Californians being the
first to have the opportunity to end this public policy disaster."
California is not alone in the push to expand legal use of
marijuana. Legislators in Rhode Island, another state hit hard by
the economic downturn, are considering a plan to decriminalize
possession of an ounce or less by anyone 18 or older.
A proposal to legalize the sale and use of marijuana in
Washington was recently defeated in that state's legislature,
though lawmakers there did expand the pool of medical professionals
that could prescribe the drug for medicinal use.
And a group in Nevada is pushing an initiative that marks the
state's fourth attempt in a decade to legalize the drug.
The California secretary of state's office certified the
initiative for the general election ballot Wednesday after it was
determined that supporters had gathered enough valid signatures.
The initiative would allow those 21 years and older to possess
up to one ounce of marijuana, enough to roll dozens of marijuana
cigarettes. Residents also could grow their own crop of the plant
in gardens measuring up to 25 square feet.
The proposal would ban users from ingesting marijuana in public
or smoking it while minors are present. It also would make it
illegal to possess the drug on school grounds or drive while under
Local governments would decide whether to permit and tax
Proponents of the measure say legalizing marijuana could save
the state $200 million a year by reducing public safety costs. At
the same time, it could generate tax revenue for local governments.
A Field Poll taken in April found a slim majority of California
voters supported legalizing and taxing marijuana to help bridge the
state budget deficit.
Those who grow and sell it illegally fear legalization would
drive down the price and force them to compete against corporate
Other opponents view marijuana as a "gateway drug" that, when
used by young people, could lead them to try other, harder drugs.
They worry that legalization would persuade more people to try it,
worsening the nation's drug culture.
"We are quite concerned that by legalizing marijuana, it will
definitely lower the perception of risk, and we will see youth use
go through the roof," said Aimee Hendle, a spokeswoman for
Californians for Drug Free Youth.
The initiative is the second proposal to qualify for the
November ballot. The other is an $11.1 billion water bond measure
championed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger and the state Legislature.
California Voters to Decide Whether to Legalize Recreational Pot
Governments' budget crises may help the measure's prospects, some say.
Watch Jade Hernandez' report