California blazed a trail Tuesday, when voters legalized recreational use of marijuana.
Cheers pulsated through an eclectic Oakland music venue hazy with clouds of smoke, where many of Berkeley’s ardent Adult Use of Marijuana Act supporters holed themselves up to watch votes roll in for Proposition 64. As of 1 a.m. Tuesday, about 66 percent of Alameda County voters and 56 percent of California voters cast their ballots in support of the measure, making recreational pot legal for people 21 and older under California law.
“We feel great, we feel like we’re on the right side of history,” said Victor Pinho, marketing and communications director of medical cannabis dispensary Berkeley Patients Group who hosted the elections viewing party at The New Parish in Oakland. “People can stop going to jail for something that’s less harmful than alcohol.”
California was one of five states with recreational legalization measures on its ballot this November, with four other states considering medical cannabis legalization. Almost exactly six years ago, California’s weed legalization effort failed, with 53.5 percent voting no. The state’s decision is considered pivotal in the national movement for legalization.
Voters in Massachusetts and Nevada approved similar measures Tuesday, but election results for recreational legalization in Arizona failed and Maine was too close to call Tuesday night.
The approved Proposition 64 language immediately greenlights individual possession and growing of weed but doesn’t allow public use of marijuana. Other parts of the law won’t be immediately implemented: Regulatory structures for businesses to set up dispensaries are, to a large extent, left in the hands of local officials.
Berkeley itself passed an ordinance Oct. 18 that prohibits recreational cannabis businesses from forming until after the city has set up regulations and a licensing process.
The city, its local government and its inhabitants have long been weed tolerant. Berkeley is progressive and rigorous in its medical cannabis permitting process and industry standards. Still, the legalization movement picked up statewide momentum in recent years, as Berkeley’s number of dispensary permits has quietly multiplied.
While supporters praise the strides the Adult Use of Marijuana Act takes to decriminalize marijuana use, criticisms included its ban on public consumption of pot, leeway given to local governments in controlling any cultivation or retail of pot and a mountainous tax of 15 percent or more.
Jamie Kerr, an opponent of the proposition, said she has been a long-time supporter of cannabis legalization but disagrees on specific details in the proposition.
“We have some challenges ahead of us,” she said regarding recreational legalization.
California is the largest state in the country to have massed legalization of marijuana for adults and joins Oregon and Washington to make the entire West Coast an anti-prohibition region, said Tenoch Flores a spokesperson for the “Yes on 64” campaign.
“I think it’s going to have a ripple effect,” Flores said. “(The decision will) cause the entire nation to rethink their approach to marijuana.”