Go to the Globe and Mail homepage

Jump to main navigationJump to main content


California’s Tuesday ballot could legalize pot, modify death penalty Add to ...

There are few states Hillary Clinton is worried less about winning on Election Day than California. It is as Democratic blue as they come.

Polls have given her as much as a 25-point lead over Donald Trump. The Republican candidate has effectively conceded, spending no time in the state as the campaign winds down. As is often the case with elections here, the most interesting and crucial choices facing voters come further down the ballot.

California is a state ruled by referendum – which is why it’s the most difficult jurisdiction in the U.S. to govern. Decisions that are made by legislatures and their elected officials almost everywhere else in North America have to earn the support of a majority of voters on election ballots.

If you’ve ever wondered why many of California’s roads are a crumbling mess, this is partly the reason. Citizens aren’t inclined to support plebiscites calling for tax increases, even if the money is going to be used to rebuild the aging infrastructure they complain about.

Read more: FBI’s Comey reaffirms July decision not to charge Hillary Clinton over e-mails

John Ibbitson: The dwindling demographic support of the Republican party

Read more: Bitter U.S. election will reach fitting end in an apathetic Manhattan

There are 17 measures on the ballot Tuesday and none is more high-profile than Proposition 64, which would legalize marijuana.

You’re forgiven if you thought pot was already permissible here. Weed has been associated with California’s laid-back, dude culture seemingly forever. But despite being the first state to legalize medicinal pot in 1996, voters have regularly rejected attempts to more broadly sanction its use. The last vote to fail was in 2010. Since then, four states have approved legalization – Colorado, Oregon, Washington and Alaska.

Still, should California say Yes this time around – and many polls suggest that is the direction support is trending – it could be transformative. Allen St. Pierre, the head of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, says the state is the “linchpin for hemispheral legalization.”

Silicon Valley is also praying voters give pot the go-ahead. Marijuana startups have already begun sprouting up, offering delivery apps for users. Analysts predict legalization would unleash massive innovation and revolutionize the cannabis industry – change led by an emerging class of entrepreneurs anxious to cash in on pot’s widespread use.

It’s easy to understand the enthusiasm Mr. St. Pierre and others associate with a positive vote. California is not only the largest state in the U.S., with 39 million people, but the sixth-largest economy in the world. If the initiative is approved, the state would impose a 15-per-cent tax on retail sales of pot and additional taxes on growers.

Early estimates suggest legalization could generate more than $1-billion in tax revenue – based on projected sales of $7-billion. Additionally, law-enforcement costs could be reduced by $100-million annually.

This is money California desperately needs not just to help pay off its massive debt but also to help finance myriad other needs. This is why many consider Prop 64 the most important initiative on the ballot.

Meantime, there are 16 other proposals facing voters, including a few provocative ones.

There are two initiatives involving the death penalty, for instance, one that favours abolishing it and another that advocates shortening the length of time a death-row inmate has to languish before being executed.

California has more prisoners in this untenable waiting mode – 741 – than any other state in the union. Despite the willingness of juries to sentence people to death, executions are rare. There have only been 13 since the state reinstated capital punishment in 1978.

Most polls, however, suggest the initiative to abolish is easily heading for defeat. The measure hastening a prisoner’s death has a better chance of passing.

Prop 63, meantime, is also getting lots of attention. If authorized, this would require people buying ammunition to pass a background check. It would also ban large-capacity magazines for firearms. These measures would be in addition to gun restrictions already in place and considered among the toughest in the country.

Of course, this being the U.S., there is virulent opposition to any further constraints on firearms. California has the second-highest number of registered gun owners in the country – only behind Texas. Twenty-one per cent of people living here have a registered firearm – although the number believed to own weapons not registered makes the total much higher.

Right now, polls suggest people here are ready to clamp down even further on guns. The firearm death rate went down 52 per cent between 1990 and 2013 – more than twice the drop in the rest of the country.

This shows firearm restrictions work. This week, Californians can demonstrate once again they won’t be cowed by the country’s powerful gun lobby. And maybe they’ll be able to light up a joint to celebrate.

Report Typo/Error

Follow on Twitter: @garymasonglobe

Also on The Globe and Mail

Visiting the slice of the U.S. attached to B.C. (ahead of the presidential election) (The Globe and Mail)

Next story




Most popular videos »

More from The Globe and Mail

Most popular