Local Cannabis Ballot Measures Lead to Licensing



Californians are voting on 38 ballot measures addressing cannabis in 36 cities or counties across the state on the November 2020 ballot. Most measures would allow local officials to impose taxes on cannabis businesses, ranging from 1.25% up to 10%. For cultivation, most localities seek to place a square footage tax ranging from $0.5 – $25. Trinity County, by contrast, seeks to tax by weight of flower and leaves, while Calaveras voters will decide whether to move from a weight-based tax to a square footage-based one.

Many of the jurisdictions considering measures currently do not allow cannabis businesses, or all types of them, and a tax measure is often the first step towards licensing cannabis businesses, since locals can only tax by voter mandate. Cal NORML supports only limited local taxation, recognizing that most measures allow flexibility by using the language “up to” in the tax rates.

See a list of local ballot measures, part of Cal NORML’s “Smoke the Vote” guide to federal, state and local elections. 


There have been over 200 ballot measures addressing cannabis in local elections in the past decade; around 90% of them have passed.

When Prop. 19 (recreational marijuana legalization) was on the ballot in 2010, ballot measures to tax medical marijuana passed overwhelmingly in nine cities, while voters in Santa Barbara and Morro Bay rejected initiatives to prohibit dispensaries. Long Beach voters approved a recreational marijuana tax by 72%, but the measure didn’t take effect because Prop 19 failed.

Eight cannabis measures were on local ballots in November 2012, 17 in November 2014, and 12 in June 2016, most of them passing. There were 14 measures in June 2018, again most of them gaining enough votes to pass. In November 2016, when Prop. 64 to legalize adult marijuana use passed by 57% of the vote, 53 mostly successful cannabis measures appeared on local ballots.

The peak came in November 2018, when city and county voters considered 94 local cannabis ballot measures. Most passed by large margins. In the March 2020 primary, only one of seven local cannabis measures on the ballot carried in the state. This isn’t necessarily reversing the trend: primaries tend to draw more conservative voters.

Cal NORML has published a Local Action Toolkit to assist locals in advancing cannabis business licensing and marijuana consumers’ rights in the 58 counties and 482 cities across the state, only 1/3 of which have begun to license cannabis businesses. We urge all of our supporters to vote in the upcoming election, using Cal NORML’s “Smoke the Vote” guide to learn about cannabis-friendly candidates and measures.

California Cannabis Voter Guide to November 3, 2020 Election

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