Proposition 19: Legalization, Regulation and Taxation of Marijuana

The Question

Should California legalize the possession and cultivation of marijuana for personal use of adults 21 years and older, and allow state and local governments to regulate and tax related commercial activities?

The Situation

Federal laws classify marijuana as an illegal substance and provide criminal penalties for various activities relating to its use. The possession, cultivation, or distribution of marijuana generally is also illegal under California state law. Penalties for marijuana-related activities vary depending on the offense. For example, possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor punishable by a fine, while selling marijuana is a felony and may result in a prison sentence.

In November 1996, voters approved Proposition 215, which legalized the cultivation and possession of marijuana in California for medical purposes. The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently ruled that federal authorities could continue to prosecute California patients and providers engaged in the cultivation and use of marijuana for medical purposes. Despite having this authority, the U.S. Department of Justice announced in March 2009 that the current administration would not prosecute marijuana patients and providers whose actions are consistent with state medical marijuana laws.

The Proposal

This proposition would change state law to (1) legalize the possession and cultivation of limited amounts of marijuana for personal use by individuals age 21 or older, and (2) authorize various commercial marijuana-related activities under certain conditions. Local governments would be empowered to regulate aspects of the production, transportation and sale of marijuana, and the state or local governments could impose marijuana-related fees and taxes. It would be illegal to use marijuana in public (except in regulated stores), while driving, or when minors are present.

It is not clear whether the Federal government would extend its abstention from prosecution to activities related to the non-medical use of marijuana.

Fiscal Effect

Both the enforcement decisions of the federal government and whether the state and local governments choose to regulate and tax marijuana would affect the impact of this proposition. Depending on federal, state, and local government actions, the proposition could yield potential increased tax and fee revenues in the hundreds of millions of dollars annually and potential correctional savings of several tens of millions of dollars annually. However, the revenue and expenditure impacts of this proposition are subject to significant uncertainty.

Supporters Say

  • California wastes millions of dollars a year arresting and imprisoning non-violent citizens for marijuana related offenses.
  • Marijuana has fewer harmful effects than alcohol or cigarettes, which are legal for adult consumption. Marijuana is not addictive, has no long-term toxic effects on the body, and does not cause its consumers to become violent.
  • Legalizing marijuana would generate new direct tax revenue, reduce government expenditures and expand California’s economy with new jobs.

Opponents Say

  • The proposition is a jumbled legal nightmare that will make our highways, workplaces and communities less safe.
  • Legalization will result in additional substance abuse, and the long-term public costs associated with that could vastly exceed the amount of new revenue legalized marijuana might bring in.
  • Prop19 is misleading as written. It would not establish a regulatory framework, as it leaves such responsibility to individual cities and counties.

Official Contact Information

Supporters:  Yes on Proposition 19 •

 Opponents:  No on Proposition 19–Public Safety First



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