California voters will most likely legalize recreational marijuana this November

I know you’ve been distracted/disgusted/gobsmacked by the presidential campaign all summer.

But history, polling and common sense tell us that California’s electoral votes already belong to Hillary Clinton (sorry, Donald Trump fans). So stop wasting time worrying about that, Golden State types, and turn your attention to the doorstop of a ballot that you’ll be facing when you vote Nov. 8.

This year, 17 measures qualified for the statewide ballot. There is something for everyone to get worked up about: prescription drug prices, the minimum wage, background checks for ammunition purchases, plastic bags, the death penalty — and something I really wish I didn’t have to think about, mandatory condoms for porn shoots.

One of the most far-reaching measures is Proposition 64, which would legalize marijuana for adult recreational use.

No disrespect to Colorado or Washington or Alaska, but California’s pot business would totally dwarf those already legal markets. Colorado, for instance, collected more than $135 million in pot-related revenues last year. California could collect up to $1 billion annually within a few years of legalization.

And if California votes to legalize, other states will follow. That will bring new pressure on the Drug Enforcement Agency to alter its preposterous classification of marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, which means it has no known medical benefit and is considered as dangerous as heroin and LSD. (Twenty-five states, by the way, already have medical marijuana laws. Why the feds continue to resist re-scheduling, even as they loosen rules on growing pot for medical research, is just plain bizarre.)

This week, I spent a couple days listening to advocates on both sides of Prop. 64. I support legalization, but it’s complicated. And I would not underestimate the potential ramifications.

On Monday, I met with strategist Jason Kinney, who helped develop the measure. “The war on marijuana is universally recognized as a failure,” Kinney told me. “It ruins lives.”

Tuesday, I visited Andrew Acosta, a Democratic consultant who is working to defeat Prop. 64. “It’s a little disingenuous when you have people talking about social justice and they want to make millions selling edibles and other things,” he said.

I chatted with Nate Bradley, a former small-town cop who founded the California Cannabis Industry Assn. trade group and has worked to make sure the initiative protects existing growers. “There isn’t any secret plan to create a ‘green rush,’” he said. “The reality is, the green rush is already here.”

And I caught up with Roger Salazar, a political consultant who worked to defeat legalization the last time it appeared on the California ballot in 2010. It lost 53.5% to 46.5% “I’m not saying this one is perfect,” he said, “but my instinct tells me it’s likely gonna pass.”

These days, you can’t really find anyone who dismisses cannabis as intrinsically evil. You don’t even hear the “gateway drug” argument very much.

Even the Sacramento County district attorney, a Prop. 64 opponent who wore a scowl through much of a 90-minute forum co-sponsored Tuesday evening by Capital Public Radio and KPCC, had a nuanced view.

“I agree with medical marijuana 100%,” Dist. Atty. Anne Marie Schubert said. “I had a mother who died of breast cancer and would love to have had her have the benefit of it. But there’s a very big difference between saying somebody needs it for medical purpose and removing the stigma we’ve had for years associated with marijuana use…. We don’t have studies to show what the effect will be on future generations.”

Ah, the children.

As it turns out, both sides claim to have, at heart, the best interests of children.

::

In the next two months, I’ll be writing more about the children and many other issues around legalizing pot — the social justice implications, how Latinos hold the key to passing the initiative, how law enforcement will assess stoned driving, the dangers of an all-cash industry, why the black market will never go away, the vexing issue of edibles and dosing, the role of tech entrepreneur Sean Parker and the online directory Weedmaps in all of this, and why some small pot farmers loathe the idea of legalization.

I’d love to hear your suggestions too.

But for now, let me explain as simply as possible what Prop. 64 would do.

It’s easy to get lost in the legal weeds trying to read the 62-page initiative, so I turned to the most succinct breakdown available, courtesy of the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

According to the office’s nonpartisan review, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act would allow people 21 and older to grow six pot plants at home (out of public view), possess up to an ounce of marijuana and use it for non-medical purposes.

Prop. 64 would allow California to regulate and tax marijuana, much as it does medical marijuana, which has been legal here since 1996. Revenue from a 15% state excise tax, a cultivation tax on flowers and leaves and a sales tax — plus whatever taxes cities and counties might levy — would be deposited into the California Marijuana Tax Fund.

Most of that money would be spent on youth programs including substance abuse education and treatment, with smaller amounts devoted to cleaning up the environmental messes created by illegal grows and to programs designed to reduce impaired driving and other negative impacts pot may have on public safety or health.

The measure also would change the sentences for marijuana crimes — most notably reducing the punishment for selling recreational pot from a maximum of four years in prison or jail to six months in jail and/or a $500 fine. It would allow judges to consider resentencing people who are now serving time for selling or growing marijuana illegally.

Counties and cities could regulate marijuana any way they wanted, but they could not prevent people from growing it at home or transporting it across their boundaries.

Oh, and one other thing stands out: Pot prices almost certainly would drop significantly.

Places that rely on the cannabis economy — Humboldt, Mendocino and Trinity counties — could take a big hit. This is why the bill gives small farmers a five-year head start. Licenses for large cultivators would be granted only after five years of legalization, and doing so would be at the discretion of regulators.

That would allow farmers, some of whom are multi-generational growers, to benefit from the establishment of regional appellations and command premium prices for their legendary products. At least that is the hope.

The latest polls show that more than 60% of likely voters favor legalization. And according to government filings, pro-Prop. 64 interests have contributed $6.5 million to passing the measure; opponents have raised $185,870.

Yeah, I know. Probably safe to start firing up those old bongs.

robin.abcarian@latimes.com 

Twitter: @AbcarianLAT

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