LOS ANGELES (AP) — California voters evaluated Tuesday whether it was high time or a dopey idea to make their state the first to legalize recreational marijuana use and sales.
Proposition 19, a state ballot measure also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act, would allow adults 21 and over to possess up to an ounce of pot, to consume it in nonpublic places as long as no children are present and to grow it in 25-square foot private plots.
It also would authorize local governments to permit commercial pot cultivation, manufacturing of cannabis-infused products and the sale and use of marijuana at licensed establishments.
Proponents have pitched the initiative as a sensible, if historic experiment that would provide much-needed revenue for the state, dent the drug-related violence in Mexico by causing pot prices to plummet and reduce nonviolent marijuana arrests that they say disproportionately target minority youth.
The state branches of the NAACP and the League of United Latin American Citizens have endorsed it, along with several retired police chiefs and narcotics officers. At least nine California cities have companion measures on their local ballots that would tax retail marijuana sales if the measure passes.
“The arc of marijuana reform is long, but it bends toward justice,” said Dan Newman, strategist with the Yes on 19 campaign. “Prop 19 represents a watershed moment — a tipping point — in the progress toward the inevitable end of our failed war on marijuana.”
Popular support has been hampered, however, by opposition from some medical marijuana activists, growers and providers, who say they fear the system they have created in the 14 years since California became the first state to legalize medical use of marijuana would be taken over by corporations or lose its purpose.
Every major newspaper, both political parties, the two candidates for governor and all but a handful of leading politicians also have come out against it.
Despite what would have seemed like its natural appeal in a state where the drug already is easily available at storefront medical marijuana dispensaries, Proposition 19 was behind in public opinion polls heading into the election.
Critics maintain the amendment was too loosely crafted. They say leaving it up to counties and cities to decide if they want marijuana sold like alcohol or enjoyed at neighborhood “smoke-easies” would create an enforcement nightmare in neighboring communities.
Federal officials, meanwhile, have said they plan to continue enforcing laws making marijuana possession and sales illegal and have not ruled out suing to overturn the California initiative if voters approve it.
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