July 1, 2016 – Californians will have the opportunity to vote on an initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana this November 8th. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) has officially qualified for the ballot by collecting over 600,000 signatures and will appear as Proposition 64.
The major funder for AUMA is Napster founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker (pictured), and the measure is endorsed by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who convened a Blue Ribbon panel on legalization last year. It also has the support of the California Medical Association, California Democratic Party, California NAACP, ACLU of California, California Cannabis Industry Association, Drug Policy Alliance, MPP, Students for Sensible Drug Policy, and national NORML, among others.
Like similar initiatives in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska, AUMA offers an important, if imperfect, step towards legalization. While AUMA is an unusually lengthy and complicated initiative with numerous restrictions and regulations (see a detailed analysis), its basic thrust would be to (1) legalize private adult use and possession of one ounce or less of marijuana; (2) legalize cultivation of up to six plants for personal use in a private, enclosed space; (3) reduce penalties for cultivation, sale, transport, and possession with intent to sell from mandatory felonies to misdemeanors in most cases; (4) allow prior offenders to petition the court for dismissal of charges that have been decriminalized; (5) legalize, license and regulate the commercial sales and production of marijuana for adult use along lines similar to the state’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act; and (6) allow on-site consumption in specifically licensed facilities, unlike previous initiatives in Colorado and elsewhere.
AUMA would in no way detract from the existing rights of qualified Prop. 215 patients to possess and cultivate for personal use. It would protect the child custody rights of qualified patients, and prohibit localities from completely banning indoor cultivation. However, it explicitly does not interfere with the right of employers to discriminate against marijuana users—medical or otherwise—both on and off the job, nor require localities to allow legal safe access to medical marijuana.
Although AUMA would make it lawful for adults to consume marijuana, it forbids consumption in any public place except for licensed outlets when authorized by local governments. Cal NORML is concerned that this will reduce the locations where medical patients can inhale their medicine, as they can presently consume legally in streets and public areas where smoking is permitted. Compounding this problem is that AUMA defines vaporizing as smoking, despite compelling scientific evidence that smokeless electronic vaporizers pose no public health hazard. Violators would be subject to a $100-$250 ticket.
AUMA would raise up to $1 billion in state tax revenues by imposing a $9.25 per ounce tax on all commercially cultivated cannabis, plus a hefty 15% excise tax in addition to the existing sales tax and local taxes. Medical marijuana patients with a state ID card would be exempt from the existing 7.5+% state sales taxes, but not the other taxes. California NORML is seriously concerned that these taxes could be unduly burdensome to needy patients and promote illicit black-market trafficking.
The tax revenues from AUMA would be allocated to specific programs, as follows: $3 million would be sent annually to the CHP to establish driver protocols, $2 million to UCSD to study the “efficacy and adverse effects” of marijuana, and $10 million to study the implementation of AUMA each year. After that, 60% would go to youth drug education; 20% toward clean up of environmental damage, and 20% more to CHP and local government grants for training, law enforcement and public safety. These provisions could not be amended by the legislature until 2028.
Adult use sales would commence Jan. 1, 2018, contingent on local government licensing. As at present, local governments could prohibit any and all marijuana facilities, but they would stand to lose Prop 64 grants for law enforcement if they ban cultivation or sales.
Polls are showing good support for legalization in California. The Public Policy Institute of California reported 60% support when voters are asked if they think the use of marijuana should be legal. Support has risen 5% since PPIC asked the same question in March 2015, and 11% since May 2010.
Opposing the measure are the California Police Chiefs Association, California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Peace Officers Association, and California Hospital Association.
Existing small cultivators have expressed concern about AUMA’s provision for a Type 5 cultivator’s license above MMRSA’s limit of ½ acre indoors or 1 acre outdoors, although no Type 5 licenses are to be issued before 2023. Licensing priority must be given to applicants who can demonstrate compliance with the Compassionate Use Act since Sept. 1, 2016, and all licensees must be continuous California residents as of Jan. 1, 2015. (The residency restriction sunsets on Dec. 31, 2019.) While MMRSA limits vertical integration for commercial operations, AUMA would allow a single business to hold multiple licenses for cultivation, manufacturing, retail sales and distribution. AUMA also omits MMRSA’s transporter’s license, and adds a microbusiness license category. The state must investigate the feasibility of creating nonprofit license categories with reduced fees or taxes by Jan. 1, 2018.
Observers agree that a victory for legalization in California would be a powerful boost for marijuana reform both nationally and internationally; in contrast, a defeat would inevitably be interpreted as a major setback for marijuana legalization in general.
At a Cal NORML membership meeting on June 9 in Oakland, attendees unanimously indicated they would vote for AUMA, though many expressed misgivings about certain provisions. “AUMA is only a partial step towards complete legalization, which will require changing federal law,” commented California NORML director Dale Gieringer. “Even if it passes, we will still have our work cut out for us to strengthen and defend the rights of patients and consumers to use marijuana.”
“We have to keep our eye on the goal, which is ending marijuana prohibition and establishing a legal market where consumers can obtain their marijuana,” says NORML founder and legal counsel Keith Stroup. “We simply must not permit the differing views regarding some of the details of legalization to be used to divide us and maintain prohibition.”