Recreational marijuana use likely to become legal in California

In all likelihood, California could be the very first state in the union to legalize the recreational use of marijuana this November.  After legalization activists submitted nearly 700,000 signatures for a proposition to legalize marijuana, California’s Secretary of State Debra Bowen certified a ballot initiative earlier this week to legalize the cultivation, possession, and sale of marijuana in the state of California for recreational purposes.

The initiative will go on the ballot this November, and it needs only a simple majority to pass and become law (just as if the legislature had passed it and the governor had signed it), which should be a breeze considering that state-wide polling shows that 56% of California’s registered voters support legalizing and taxing marijuana.

One can only guess at how many new registered voters California might see in the following months as formerly apathetic California residents become energized and activated by proponents of the new marijuana initiative.

With reasonably good odds of becoming law, Californians might want to know what’s in the proposition. Its sponsors summarize the “Tax Cannabis” act on their website:

The Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010 will:

Regulate cannabis like alcohol: Allow adults 21 and older in California to possess up to one ounce of cannabis

Give local governments the ability to tax and regulate the sale of cannabis to adults 21 and older

Generate billions of dollars in revenue to fund what matters most in California: jobs, healthcare, public safety, schools and libraries, state parks, roads, transportation, and more

So what will happen if the ballot initiative passes? As far as California is concerned, adults 21 and older would not be prosecuted by state authorities for marijuana use pursuant to the new law. But the Federal government still considers marijuana use a crime.

In fact, White House Drug Czar, Gil Kerlikowske made it very clear earlier this month, that the White House has a tough position on marijuana legalization, despite earlier signals that Federal officials would no longer be prosecuting the medicinal use of marijuana in states where it is legal.

Kerlikowske said: “Marijuana legalization – for any purpose – is a nonstarter in the Obama administration.” When I called the California Attorney General’s office to ask if they would interpose to protect a California resident from Federal prosecution if California legalized marijuana, they had no comment.

Only time will tell if the new California ballot initiative to legalize marijuana will pass into law, but if it does, the controversy over drug legalization will merely give way to a much larger, much older, much more contentious controversy- that of the proper relation between the States and Federal government.