Californians have voted to join West Coast cousins Washington, Oregon and Alaska in legalizing marijuana, a result which will mean new highs for California’s marijuana industry, already the largest in the country. With California legalization and Canada set to legalize marijuana country-wide next spring, the “Weed Coast” super-highway will soon stretch from Nome, Alaska down through B.C. and all the way to the Mexican border.
Yesterday, the state of California passed Proposition 64, which will allow residents 21 years and older to buy and possess up to one ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and to grow up to six marijuana plants for personal use. The new measure will create an environment for state-licensed businesses to set up retail marijuana sales. With a proposed 15 per cent sales tax, the state is expected to take in an added $1 billion in tax revenue from legalization.
“We are very excited that citizens of California voted to end the failed policy of marijuana prohibition,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, in conversation with the Los Angeles Times. “Proposition 64 will allow California to take its rightful place as the center of cannabis innovation, research and development.”
Proposition 64 passed by a margin of 55.8 per cent in favour and 44.2 per cent against. Nevada and Massachusetts also voted yesterday in favour of legalization, while Arizona’s pot proposal was defeated and Maine’s is at the moment still too close to call. Altogether, the percentage of Americans living in states where smoking weed is now legal has grown from five per cent to over 20 per cent.
California’s pot market is poised for further expansion, as marijuana companies are now buying up large tracts of farmland and setting their sights on the interstate market, according to the New York Times. Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor who now sees an opportunity for West Coast states to “coordinate and collaborate” on marijuana issues, in particular, in applying pressure on the federal government to relax its ban on the interstate sale of cannabis.
While a 65 per cent majority of polled Republicans were against the legalization measure, support among Democrats, which polled at 72 per cent in favour of legalization, effectively carried the day.
California’s vote could have large ramifications for the trade in B.C. bud, a $6 billion (CAD) industry, where B.C. growers currently send an estimated 95 per cent of their crop south of the border. The result will certainly impact California’s own weed producers, who up until now have been operating illegally. California supplies about two-thirds of the U.S.’s illicit trade in marijuana, with an estimated 4,000 to 10,000 growers in Humboldt County, Northern California, alone.
Legalization advocates across the country see California’s move to be a watershed moment in the U.S.’s long and fraught war on drugs. “I think it’s the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana United States,” says Newsom. “I think it will have repercussions internationally, particularly in Mexico and Latin America. And there are a million people who tomorrow can begin the process of clearing their records.”
In April, comments from Canada’s Minister of Public Safety Ralph Goodale signaled that marijuana legalization was closer to becoming a reality than previously thought.
“The preset regime with respect to marijuana has obviously failed and failed miserably because Canadian teenagers are among the heaviest users of marijuana in the Western Word, yet there has been no timeline set by the federal government,” Goodale told the CBC. “Municipalities and provinces want to be involved in how this is structured and how this is done. They want it to be done right and they want to be engaged in doing it right. That task force involving the provinces and municipalities will be announced very shortly. We’ll have a detailed announcement coming in the next several weeks.”