These days, just about wherever you are on the political spectrum, following the news can be exhausting at best, and truly depressing at worst. Many of us have gone so far as to avoid the news entirely. However, if you’ve been ignoring the news in the last few months you may have missed developments in the one area where momentum seems to be on the side of the forward-thinking, common sense outcome. Unthinkable ten or twenty years ago, public opinion – nationally too, but especially in California – has shifted towards the majority of citizens supporting the legalization of recreational cannabis. Since the last vote on legalization in 2010, support among Californian voters has increased to 55 percent of likely voters. Fascinatingly, even 44 percent of California Republicans now support legalization, and for the first time, a majority of Californians older than 55 think cannabis should be made legal. These signs indicate that support for legalization has moved beyond the demographics that traditionally partake in cannabis use themselves, and seems to be spilling over into groups who see the harm and impracticality of prohibition and the ‘war on drugs’.
This November, Californians will have the chance to vote on the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). The legalization measure has acquired enough signatures to be placed on the ballot in November, California’s secretary of state announced last month. Supporters of the measure have raised more than 3.53 million dollars, which is almost 31 times the amount raised by opponents of legalization. Only about 37 percent of ‘likely voters’ oppose the measure, and that number could shrink if a large number of pro-cannabis “unlikely voters” turn out as well.
What are the specifics of the proposed law?
The measure would allow adults over 21 to buy up to an ounce, and to raise up to six plants. AUMA would impose a 15 percent tax on cannabis sales, and cultivation taxes of 9.25 dollars per ounce of flowers and 2.75 per ounce of leaves. Local municipalities would have the option to ban recreational cannabis businesses in their jurisdictions. If some of these measures don’t sound ideal to you, it is important to remember that the prospective tax revenue, along with the option to ban businesses for certain towns, may silence some of the would-be staunch opposition. If voters in the conservative suburbs know they have the option to keep cannabis out of their communities, they are less likely to turn out in huge numbers to oppose the measure altogether. Certainly the short drive up the coast from Orange County is a worthwhile price to pay for the end of prohibition. Furthermore, tax revenues estimated to range up to 1 billion annually, along with up estimated 100 million saved annually from enforcing prohibition, provide further incentive for non-smokers to support the measure. According to lawmakers, some of the revenue from cannabis taxes would be spent on specific purposes such as substance abuse disorder education, prevention, and treatment.
The prospect of the measure passing has already sparked a rush of investment in ‘big cannabis’. Legal cannabis sales in the US doubled from 2013 to 2015, estimated to reach a total of 4.5 billion this year, making it one of the most lucrative industries. Cannabis retailers can expect to make about $974 in annual sales per square foot – as opposed to the average revenues per square foot for Whole Foods ($930) and the average department store ($180). Notably, this data is self-reported from about 1000 cannabis retailers – but clearly cannabis has the potential to become one of the biggest industries in the country. In California, it is already a 2.7 billion-dollar industry in 2016, and is estimated to grow to $6.4 billion by 2020, with the Adult Use act. With California, the industry is already showing signs of entry into the big leagues of California industry. Over a million dollars have been raised for the legalization effort from Sean Parker, a former president of Facebook and founder of Napster. Desert towns in southern California have begun to create large-scale cultivation applications and ordinances, in hopes of attracting jobs and greater tax revenue.
With legalization in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska having been largely considered successful since California’s last vote on the matter in 2010, many are expecting AUMA to pass smoothly. Investors are gearing up, and localities are positioning themselves to get the most out of the new industry. The economic success in places such as Colorado has created high expectations for the economic aspects of the new industry. However, AUMA passing successfully is not a foregone conclusion. The proposal has met with opposition from various police organizations and some healthcare groups. If you support legalization, now is the time to get involved – or at least make sure you’re registered to vote, and aware of how to go about voting in your area.
How to vote for AUMA
AUMA will be on the November 8th, 2016 ballot as an “initiated state statute.” A “yes” vote will support legalization. The deadline to register to vote in California for the November election is October 24th. Registration can be done by mail, online, or in person. California is one of 8 states to be voting on legalization or cannabis reform this November, including Arizona, Nevada, Maine, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Michigan. Above all these though, California is widely considered to have a real shot at passing legalization this year. Passing AUMA would allow California to join the rest of the West Coast in legalization, and to reassert California as one of the most forward-thinking states in the union when it comes to cannabis law. Despite all the understandable reasons one might bury their head in the sand this political season, it may be worth coming out to the polls to support AUMA. This could be the moment generations of cannabis enthusiasts have waited for – and could help set a standard for the rest of the country to seriously consider legalization.