By Alex Kreit, Assistant Professor of Law & Director of the Center for Law and Social Justice, Thomas Jefferson School of Law. Kreit is also Chair of the City of San Diego's Medical Marijuana Task Force & President of the San Diego Lawyer Chapter of ACS.
Judging by the early election season news coverage a California ballot initiative to tax and control cannabis -- for recreational, not just medicinal, uses -- is poised to be one of the most closely watched races of the cycle. So, just what would this ballot initiative do and how likely is it to pass? This post will provide a primer on the law and politics of California's marijuana legalization initiative.
The aspect of the ballot initiative that I've found catches most folks by surprise is what it won't do: make the sale of marijuana legal in the state of California. That's right, despite being billed in media reports as a vote on marijuana legalization, the proposal would not directly legalize the commercial sale, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana. Instead, it would allow local governments to enact ordinances to tax and regulate the commercial sale of marijuana.
In other words, Amsterdam-style marijuana coffee shops would be legal only in cities or counties that wanted to permit them. And, in the cities and counties that did not take up the ballot measure's invitation, buying and selling marijuana would remain illegal. In the near term, it is likely only a relatively small percentage of localities would decide to opt-in and so marijuana would remain illegal to buy and sell in most of the state even if the initiative were to pass.