In recent years, voters in Colorado and Washington have approved legislation to legalize the recreational use of marijuana under state regulation. Coloradans may begin purchasing pot at stores in 2014.

Unsurprisingly, the attitude of Californians toward legalizing marijuana also has evolved over the years. In a Field Poll released in December, nearly 55 percent of state residents favor its legal use compared to only 13 percent in 1969.

This is the first time since The Field Poll has been conducting these surveys that a clear majority of Californians supports legalizing marijuana use.

On the heels of this poll, the California secretary of state’s office has announced that signatures will be collected to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot. The group has until May 23, 2014, to collect just over 500,000 valid signatures from registered voters to qualify the proposition for the ballot.

The proposed initiative legalizes, under state law, marijuana use, growth, cultivation, possession and sale. It creates a commission to regulate and provide business licenses for marijuana cultivation, sale, and distribution.

A retail sales tax would be applied to marijuana transactions, unless exemptions for medical or dietary uses apply.

The proposal allocates these revenues equally among education, health care, law enforcement/fire, drug abuse education/treatment and the commission’s expenses.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office and the director of finance estimate its approval and implementation might save hundreds of millions of dollars annually, which state and local governments spend to enforce marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system, and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders.

In September, another initiative was cleared for signature collection. This one would decriminalize marijuana use and require the legislature to enact laws to implement its legal use and taxation. The signature deadline is Feb. 24, 2014.

In 1996, California was the first state to legalize the possession and use of marijuana for medical purposes. But the plant remains illegal under federal law.

Governors of both Washington and Colorado have been negotiating with the U.S. Department of Justice on how federal law will be enforced in those jurisdictions. Colorado has already issued 136 licenses for marijuana stores and 178 licenses for cultivation facilities. Local jurisdictions must approve these businesses before they may begin operation.

California’s top courts have ruled that the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, which allows marijuana to be used for medical purposes, does not obviate local laws. Therefore, without local approval, compassionate use or cultivation of marijuana remain illegal.


J.P. Crumrine can be reached at [email protected].