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Now on the ballot, could marijuana legalization happen in California?

Marijuana advocacy groups heralded Wednesday's news, but the path to marijuana legalization could be difficult, say opponents and legal experts.

By Daniel B. WoodStaff writer / March 25, 2010

Marijuana legalization? A voter initiative will be on the November 2 California state ballot on whether to legalize possession and growth of small amounts of cannabis for personal use.

Eric Risberg/AP/File


Los Angeles

An initiative to control and tax marijuana qualified Wednesday for the November 2 state ballot, and could make California the first state to legalize cannabis.

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Proponents of marijuana legalization are celebrating the announcement as a victory in a decades-long struggle to end marijuana prohibition, and seem convinced of the measure's passage. Opponents are lamenting the demise of social standards and airing concerns about a rise in crime, and promise a fight.

The measure, certified Wednesday by California Secretary of State Debra Bowen, would:

  • Allow people age 21 years or older to possess, cultivate, or transport marijuana for personal use.
  • Permit local governments to regulate and tax commercial production and sale of marijuana to people 21 years old or older.
  • Prohibit people from possessing marijuana on school grounds, using it in public, smoking it while minors are present, or providing it to anyone under 21 years old.
  • Maintain current prohibitions against driving while impaired.

“This is a watershed moment,” wrote Stephen Gutwillig, California director of the Drug Policy Alliance, which spearheaded the initiative.

"Banning marijuana outright has been a disaster, fueling a massive, increasingly brutal underground economy, wasting billions in scarce law enforcement resources, and making criminals out of countless law-abiding citizens," he said.

Proponents say the initiative will pass and that it will cause a ripple effect.

“California is often a leader in these types of bold policy changes,” says Aaron Smith, California Policy Director for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This will have an effect across the Western US first and then the Eastern states just like we saw with the passage of medical marijuana 13 years ago. I think we are at a tipping point and this will happen even faster.”

Legal scholars say the initiative could run into trouble. Robert Langran, a constitutional scholar at Villanova University in Villanova, Pa., says the US Supreme Court has held that the federal Controlled Substances Act trumps any state law legalizing marijuana.