Election preview: Proposition 19 would legalize, tax marijuana

September 27, 2010

Note: This is one in a series of brief analyses of the propositions on the November ballot.

Proposition 19

What it would do

Legalize possession for personal use of small amounts of marijuana, and allow the state and local governments to allow, regulate and tax the cultivation, distribution and sale of marijuana.


This measure would legalize marijuana under California law, although possession and distribution of pot would remain illegal under federal law. Just as it did after California legalized medical marijuana in the 1990s, the federal government could and probably would continue to enforce the federal prohibition on the possession and distribution of pot.

Currently in California, penalties for marijuana crimes vary from misdemeanor for possession of less than one ounce to a felony, with state prison possible, for selling the drug. Under Proposition 19, Californians age 21 and older could possess and share up to one ounce of marijuana and cultivate up to 25 square feet of the crop on private property.

Businesses, with supervision by local regulators, could grow and sell marijuana to people age 21 and older. The measure would require commercial marijuana operations to pay all the same taxes that other businesses now pay, and would allow local government to impose special taxes on the marijuana business. Although federal enforcement would likely keep such businesses in check for at least a while, it is possible that California could start a trend in the nation leading to the end of marijuana prohibition, and if that happened, taxes on pot sales could generate millions of dollars for local governments.

According to the nonpartisan legislative analyst, legalizing marijuana could also generate savings of “tens of millions of dollars” in law enforcement, jail and court costs.

Who is for and against it

Proposition 19 is getting financial support mostly from individuals and institutions who want to see marijuana legalized. It’s biggest benefactor is Oakland-based Oaksterdam University, which trains people in marijuana cultivation and has been a major supporter of the state’s medical marijuana laws. Opposition to the measure has been funded by a coalition of law enforcement, Native American and alcohol industry groups and businesses.

Bottom line:

Vote yes on Proposition 19 if you think marijuana possession and use should be legal for people age 21 and older, and the marijuana business should be legalized, regulated and taxed under state law and to the extent permitted by the federal government.

Vote no on Proposition 19 if you think marijuana should remain illegal in California except when used for medical purposes.

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One Response to Election preview: Proposition 19 would legalize, tax marijuana

  1. Dave Wiltsee

    October 4, 2010 at 11:00 pm

    The legislative analyst apparently overlooked the cost of new local government regulation, tax administration, and enforcement. The Board of Equalization recently stated it was clueless about tax revenue projections (after an original optimistic prognostication some time ago). If everybody grows it, they’ll use their own and sales (thus taxes) will be minimal. Then there’s the “black market” in which someone who grows it legally will sell it to a neighbor, or simply give it away —- in either case, no tax collection likely. And if the under-21 provision is enforced, the courts will be filled to overflowing with cases, thus negating “tens of milions” in criminal justice savings. A lot of fuzzy math and improbable expections being floated by proponents.

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