Marijuana legalization: California, Nevada, Florida voters say yes but Arizona rejects
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) -- California voters approved a proposition to allow the recreational use of marijuana Tuesday as other states, including Nevada and Florida, expanded legal access to the drug.
California voters passed a ballot measure to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, giving a big boost to the campaign to end the drug's national prohibition. A preliminary exit poll conducted for The Associated Press and television networks by Edison Research found Proposition 64 passing by a wide margin.
Voters in Florida, Arizona, Nevada and North Dakota have also passed marijuana measures Tuesday. Collectively, it's the closest the U.S. has ever come to a national referendum on marijuana.
California, the first state to approve medical marijuana two decades ago, was among five states weighing whether to go beyond medical use and permit pot for adults for recreational purposes. The other states were Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada.
With California "yes" vote, recreational cannabis will be legal along the entire West Coast, giving the legalization movement powerful momentum. That could spark similar efforts in other states and put pressure on federal authorities to ease longstanding rules that classify marijuana as a dangerously addictive drug with no medical benefits.
In general, the proposals for recreational pot would treat cannabis similar to alcohol. Consumption would be limited to people 21 or older and forbidden in most public spaces. Pot would be highly regulated and heavily taxed, and some states would let people grow their own.
With 94 percent of precincts reporting, the Sunshine State's Amendment 2 passed with 71 percent of the vote. Critics of Amendment 2 feared its passage would lead to pop-up dispensaries with little supervision. But supporters said it's a necessary treatment for a wide variety of conditions from seizures to PTSD to cancer.
In order to pass, the initiative needed 60 percent of the vote since it was proposing a constitutional amendment. In 2014, it got 57.6 percent of voters' approval.
State-by-state polls showed most of the measures with a good chance of prevailing. But staunch opponents that included law enforcement groups and anti-drug crusaders urged the public to reject any changes. They complained that legalization would endanger children and open the door to creation of another huge industry that, like big tobacco, would be devoted to selling Americans an unhealthy drug.
Arizona voters rejected legalized recreational marijuana following a multimillion-dollar campaign to defeat it. Proposition 205 failed Wednesday after opponents poured millions into fighting recreational pot for adults in the conservative state on the border with Mexico.
The measure drew donations from local businesses and out-of-state magnates such as casino owner Sheldon Adelson, who contributed $500,000.
Supporters of legal pot said it would have eliminated black markets, freed up police and raised money for K-12 schools.
Opponents said legalization would increase drug trafficking because growers in Arizona can sell to states where it's illegal. They warned of an increase in teen use and deadly car crashes tied to marijuana.
In Nevada, the approval by voter of Ballot Question 2 means Nevada residents can possess up to an ounce of pot beginning Jan. 1. A 15 percent excise tax will be levied on the sales, with revenue going to regulate the substance and support education.
Local governments will be allowed to make rules on where marijuana businesses can be located, but won't be allowed to impose blanket bans on the substance.
Nevada voters legalized medical marijuana on the ballot in 2000, but it wasn't until 2013 that the state Legislature passed a law allowing for dispensaries.
Under the new law, only business that have medical pot certificates will be allowed to apply for recreational licenses for the first 18 months.
The Massachusetts measure, for example, was opposed by Republican Gov. Charlie Baker, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Boston, which contributed $850,000 to the "no" campaign.
In Maine, opponents included some major players in the medical marijuana industry who worried about disruptions to their business model. In Arizona, the issue evoked uncertainty about how legalization might affect the flow of smuggled illegal drugs across the border with Mexico.
The latest polling showed 55 percent of likely voters supporting California's 62-page proposal. Still, it sowed deep division among marijuana advocates and farmers. In Northern California's famous Emerald Triangle, a region known for cultivating pot for decades, many small growers have longed for legitimacy but also fear being forced out of business by large corporate farms.
If "yes" votes prevail across the country, about 75 million people accounting for more than 23 percent of the U.S. population would live in states where recreational pot is legal. The jurisdictions where that's already the case -- Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington state and the District of Columbia -- have about 18 million residents, or 5.6 percent of the population. Twenty-five states allow medical marijuana.
According to national polls, a solid majority of Americans support legalization. Gallup's latest survey gauged support at 60 percent, up from 14 percent from when the question was first posed in 1969. Gallup says 13 percent of U.S. adults currently report using marijuana, nearly double the percentage who reported using pot in 2013.
California voters rejected a similar initiative in 2010 after campaign leaders struggled to raise money and support for the lengthy ballot question that was hastily written by the owner of a small medicinal marijuana store.
Proposition 64 would allow people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of weed and grow six marijuana plants at home. Varying tax rates would be levied on sales, with the money deposited into the state's Marijuana Tax Fund.
Most of the money would be spent on substance-abuse education and treatment. Some would go to repair environment damage inflicted by illegal marijuana growers and to train police to detect when people are driving under the influence of pot.
California's nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office estimated that state could collect up to $1 billion in taxes a year.
The measure would also allow cities and counties to pass their own regulations and taxes.