- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 5, 2016

A measure that aims to make recreational marijuana legal in California will appear on the ballot during November’s election, two decades after voters there approved the first medicinal marijuana law in the country, Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday.

Mr. Newsom, a supporter of the initiative who also plans to run in next year’s gubernatorial race, said that proponents of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act had managed to collect hundreds of thousands of signatures more than what’s required to guarantee a spot on the upcoming ballot.

“We are north of 600,000 signatures. That is beyond what is needed. We need a little less than 400,000. You can rest assured this will be on the November ballot,” he said. 

If a majority of Californians vote in favor for the act come November, then the state will let adults over the age of 21 posses up to an ounce of marijuana for private recreational use and harvest upwards of six plants. The measure would also put in a place a system for localities to license, regulate and tax marijuana sales, and a 15 percent excise tax would be applied to all retail sales. Individuals caught with more than an ounce would face a maximum fine of $100, while cities and town across the state would be allowed to establish their own rules and regulations with respect to commercial operations within their borders. 

While California became the first state in the country to allow the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes following the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, a measure that aimed to legalize recreational weed in 2010 proved unsuccessful. Colorado, Washington state, Oregon, Alaska and Washington, D.C. have each passed laws that allow for recreational marijuana use in the interim, however, and a poll conducted last year by the Public Policy Institute of California concluded that more than half of likely Californian voters support full legalization. 

“This November, California voters will finally have the opportunity to pass smart marijuana policy that is built on the best practices of other states, includes the strictest child protections in the nation and pays for itself while raising billions for the state,” Mr. Newsom said in a statement.

“California will be asked to do something that will change the debate nationally in terms of failed drug policy. California is a game changer in this debate. It’s significant what’s happened in Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon, but it will pale in comparison to the decision the taxpayers, the voters of this state will be asked this November,” he said. 

According to Mr. Newsom, more cannabis is grown in California than anywhere else in the country, and establishing a system for legal, retail sales could earn the state plenty. Around $1 billion in recreational and medicinal cannabis was sold just within Colorado last year, Mr. Newsom acknowledged, and The Washington Times reported previously that upwards of $5.4 billion in marijuana was legally sold across the U.S. in 2015. 

Even still, critics were quick to condemn the Adult Use of Marijuana Act’s newfound support, regardless of the likely boost California’s economy could expect upon passage. 

“This is bad for our communities. This is bad for our youth and it’s a broad commercialization [of drugs], a for-profit, money-making model,” Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, told the Los Angeles Times this week.

Despite being approved for medicinal purposes in 24 states and Washington, D.C., the Department of Justice still considers marijuana a Schedule 1 drug on par with heroin. 

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