High-powered marijuana that now costs $300 an ounce could drop in price by as much as 80 percent if Californians legalize recreational use by passing Prop. 19 in November, meaning Golden Staters could purchase the recreational drug for as little as $1.50 per joint.
That finding by the RAND Corporation, a California think-tank, is likely to perk up the ears of some 15 million Americans estimated to be regular marijuana users, 13 percent of whom live in California.
But it could also doom the prospect of Prop. 19 passing, as it's likely to foment opposition to the potentially deleterious effects of a proposed law that's already starting to lag in statewide polls.
Rock bottom prices and high availability, RAND researchers say, could increase usage by up to 150 percent even in a state where medical marijuana is available for those who can claim a wide variety of ailments as reasons why they need marijuana from state-certified dispensaries.
If Prop. 19 is successful, California would become the first state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, though the US Supreme Court likely would need to weigh in before it could be put into action.
The Field Poll, a statewide survey, indicated Friday that support for Prop. 19 had fallen since May: 48 percent of likely voters now oppose the idea and 44 percent support it. Not surprisingly, the poll found that a majority of young people and Democrats support the idea while a majority of older people and Republicans oppose it.
"History suggests that chances aren't good when you start out behind," said Mark DiCamillo, the director of the poll.
To address flagging polls, California NAACP president Alice Huffman says support could increase if proponents are able to appeal to minority populations by casting Prop. 19 as "a prison reform measure, and a fight against unfair police treatment," citing the effect of the “war on drugs” –especially on poor and marginalized Californians.
African-Americans now oppose Prop. 19 by a 52-40 margin while whites oppose it by 48-43, according to the Field Poll.
The RAND report said it's hard to tell whether the estimated $1.4 billion a year in new tax revenue for a state that's $19 billion in the red would hold up if Prop. 19 passes.
If Amsterdam-style pot tourism takes hold in California, that figure could go far higher. But researchers also warn that the current illicit market could attempt to compete with lower prices, thus reducing potential tax revenues.
"There is considerable uncertainty about the impact that legalizing marijuana in California will have on consumption and public budgets," Beau Kilmer, the study's lead author, said in a statement.
"We believe consumption is going to increase, but it is unclear how much," Mr. Kilmer added, according to the Chicago Sun-Times. "[Legalization] could change the stigma. There could be more promotion. There could be more advertising…. There also will be a drop in the … price that can influence behavior."