In 1975, California’s legislature decriminalized the use of marijuana
by passing the Moscone Act, which shifted possession of up to one ounce
of marijuana from a criminal to a civil offense, punishable by a $100
fine. Amounts greater than one ounce, possession on school grounds, and
cultivation retained higher levels of punishment. The state’s voters
revisited decriminalization in 2000, when they approved the Substance
Abuse and Crime Prevention Act, which required that both first- and second-offense
drug violators receive sentencing to drug treatment programs, rather than
face trial and potential incarceration. Finally, in 2010, a bill reducing
possession charges for up to an ounce of marijuana from a misdemeanor
to a violation (like a traffic ticket) passed; the violation did not require
a court appearance, and it imposed a $100 fine.
California became the first state in the country to legalize medical marijuana
in 1996, when voters approved the Compassionate Use Act by a 55% majority.
The Act allows individuals with cancer, AIDS, anorexia, glaucoma, migraines,
and certain chronic illnesses to grow or obtain marijuana for medical
purposes, so long as the use is recommended by a doctor. The law additionally
mandates that doctors not face punishment for recommending marijuana use.
In 2003, Senate Bill 420 (also known as the Medical Marijuana Protection
Act) supplemented the state’s medical marijuana laws. The Act clarified
numerous aspects of the scope and application of the Compassionate Use
Act, which had been criticized for its vague language and lax standards
regarding who could qualify as a medical-marijuana patient. The Protection
Act added a state identification card system, and it allowed the formation
of non-profit organizations (“patient collectives”) to provide
marijuana to patients. It also set a state-wide standard for possession
limits, which forced counties that held “zero tolerance” policies
to honor the state’s standards.
In 2010, Proposition 19 attempted to legalize recreational marijuana in
California. However, 53.5% of voters voted against the bill, which would
have legalized up to 1 oz. of marijuana possession for adults 21 years
of age or older, and allowed citizens to grow cannabis for personal use
in a personal residence, with up to 25 square feet of space permitted.
In terms of regulation, Proposition 19 authorized local governments to
manage retail sales, establishments, and consider authorizing growth of
larger amounts of cannabis for personal possession or commercial purposes.
In November 2016, voters will likely be asked again about recreational
marijuana legalization. Although numerous initiatives circulated in 2015,
The California Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Initiative
gathered the votes to appear. The initiative proposes legalization of
both marijuana and hemp under state law. In addition, it includes measures
intended to establish a regulatory structure through creating state agencies
that would oversee the state marijuana industry’s licensing, regulation,
and other details. A 15% excise tax on retail sales would apply, as would
a “cultivation tax” of $9.25/ounce of flowers and $2.75/ounce
of leaves. (Medical marijuana patients would be exempted from the cultivation
tax.) The initiative also prohibits the marketing of marijuana to minors.
Notably, the initiative allows courts to reduce sentencing times for individuals
whose crimes would be reduced by the act (as long as the individual does
not pose a risk to public safety), and courts may also re-designate or
dismiss the same offenses from the criminal records of individuals who
have already completed their sentences. The initiative also would allow
industrial hemp growth as an agricultural product and for research. Hemp
would be regulated separately from higher THC-content cannabis.