California Secretary of State Alex Padilla announced Tuesday that a new initiative to legalize the recreational use of marijuana has enough signatures to appear on the November ballot. If passed, the ballot initiative would allow adults 21 and older to legally possess, transport, and buy up to one ounce of marijuana and to grow up to six plants for recreational use. According to the Secretary Padilla, California could save upwards of $100 million per year by not having to enforce marijuana-related drug laws.
Given California’s recent $147 million budget deficit, the extra tax revenue from legal marijuana could stabilize state revenue streams. Colorado, along with Washington, was the first state to legalize marijuana back in 2012. In just three years, the Centennial State’s marijuana industry has exploded so quickly that it made almost a billion dollars in tax revenue just last year. Secretary of State estimates California would raise a similar amount, and the initiative’s language requires the additional revenue to be spent primarily on “substance use disorder education, prevention and treatment.” This spending likely has the potential to reduce law enforcement costs elsewhere by tackling addiction to other drugs as a health problem rather than a crime.
Legal marijuana may help alleviate California’s overcrowded prisons as well. In 2011, the United States Supreme Court ordered California to release 30,000 prisoners as overcrowding reached critical levels. Since then, the state of nearly 40 million has struggled to find capacity for its burgeoning prison population. Removing marijuana offenders from the prison population may help. According to the National Organization for Reforming Marijuana Laws (NORML), California’s drug offenders, particularly those with marijuana-related charges, make up a significant portion of the state’s inmates. While new marijuana arrests have declined in recent years, there are still roughly 14 times more marijuana offenders in California prisons than there were in 1980. As of 2010, the most recent year NORML reports data, California had almost 25,000 marijuana prisoners, of whom 8,600 were serving time for possession alone.
Legalizing marijuana can help achieve what the drug war has failed for almost 50 years– undermining actual organized crime. There’s evidence from California and other states already that legal pot has harmed drug cartels by reducing the need for the black market they supply. Italy’s lead anti-mafia prosecutor even argues that legalization could undermine groups like ISIS which rely on drug trafficking as part of their finances.
So far, the initiative looks off to a good start. The measure has the support of the California NAACP, ACLU, Democratic Party, and Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom. Former Facebook President and Napster co-founder Sean Parker is providing major financial backing as well. The initiative has already raised $3.53 million, more than 31 times their opponents, which include the California Republican Party, the Teamsters Union, and interest groups representing police chiefs and hospitals. California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, but its voters rejected a 2010 ballot initiative to make it the first state to allow recreational use. After legalization victories in Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Colorado in recent years, proponents of the measure hope that voters will feel less uncertain about following suit in California given the relatively successful roll-outs in other states. The initiative’s backers may be right–a poll conducted last month by the Public Policy Institute of California puts support for legalization at 60 percent, with only 37 percent opposed.
Should California voters legalize marijuana this November, perhaps Afroman himself will congratulate them on April 20th, 2017.