California Is Poised To Legalize Marijuana In 2016

10/17/2013 05:50 pm ET | Updated Oct 18, 2013
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Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Californians support legalizing, regulating and taxing recreational marijuana in the state, according to a Tulchin Research poll.

The figure, based on responses of 1,200 likely 2016 voters surveyed during the last two weeks, shows a "solid majority" back proposals to legalize adult recreational marijuana, the San Francisco-based pollster said. The poll found 32 percent oppose legalization and 3 percent were undecided.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and American Civil Liberties Union representatives released the poll results during a news conference Thursday and announced the launch of a two-year research effort focused on proposals to legalize recreational marijuana. Newsom will chair a panel of 16 experts, including professors, medical professionals and policy researchers, who will study legal and policy issues involved in adult recreational marijuana.

"This is about real people," Newsom said to The Huffington Post. "Communities are devastated because of this abject thing called the drug war. Forget the politics. This is the right thing to do.

"But we need to answer the tough questions before we put it on the ballot," Newsom said. "I want the research in order to be more convincing to others."

Not everyone is willing to wait until 2016. Two groups have filed proposals to put recreational pot initiatives on California's 2014 ballot.

Both proposals -- the California Cannabis Hemp Initiative and the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act -- would regulate and tax marijuana similar to alcohol. And both face an uphill battle in gathering enough funds and volunteers to collect the 504,000 signatures in 150 days needed to make it onto the ballot. The organizers behind California Cannabis Hemp Initiative are collecting signatures, and backers of Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act are awaiting approval from the state to begin collecting signatures.

Other marijuana advocacy groups -- including Newsom's panel -- are working toward a California voter initiative for 2016.

"Voter turnout tends to be much higher in presidential election years," Mason Tvert, communications director of the Marijuana Policy Project, told HuffPost. "We believe a 2016 initiative will best demonstrate just how much support there is for ending marijuana prohibition in California."

The Drug Policy Alliance echoed this sentiment, saying more education is needed to rally voter support.

"The support for marijuana legalization in California is there," Amanda Reiman, policy manager of the Drug Policy Alliance, told HuffPost. "It just may not be there strongly enough or from the right populations to claim victory in 2014."

California voters narrowly rejected marijuana legalization in 2010 with Proposition 19. About 53 percent of California voters voted no.

Drug Policy Alliance is co-hosting a symposium on legalization in California with the California Society of Addiction Medicine in Denver next week. Reiman said that working with the California Society of Addiction Medicine is part of an effort to win support from California's medical community, which she said is essential to persuade the public. Drug Policy Alliance also is working with environmental and agriculture groups, since much of California marijuana cultivation is outdoors, particularly in the northern counties of Humboldt, Mendocino and Ukiah.

California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana when voters passed Proposition 215 in 1996. Since then, the medical cannabis industry has flourished, generating upwards of $100 million in annual tax revenue.

"This is not a matter of 2014 or bust, or 2016 or bust," Reiman said. "Legalization of marijuana in California is going to happen."

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