California marijuana legalization goes up in smoke

Wed Nov 3, 2010 8:21am EDT
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By Mary Milliken

LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - California voters soundly rejected a ballot measure on Tuesday that would have made it the first state to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

The nation's eyes were on Proposition 19 because legalization would have put the state at odds with federal drug laws and the Obama administration said it would continue to prosecute people in California for possessing or growing marijuana.

A maverick move by California could also have inspired other states, as has been the case with medical marijuana.

In 1996, California led the nation with a ballot measure approving cannabis for medical purposes and 13 other states have since followed suit.

Passage of Prop 19 would also have had a financial impact because it cleared the way for local governments to regulate the "business side" of marijuana, including commercial cultivation and taxation.

Prop 19 supporters argued that ending prosecutions for marijuana possession would free up law enforcement resources and strike a blow against drug cartels, much as repealing the prohibition of alcohol in the 1930s crushed bootlegging by organized crime.

Supporters also asked voters to consider that marijuana generates an estimated $14 billion in sales annually in the state, revenue they considered ripe for taxation, especially at a time of deep budget deficits in California.

But with nearly half of the vote counted, 56 percent of Californians voted "no," while 44 percent were in the "yes" camp.   Continued...

<p>A sticker to support proposition 19 on a power pole in San Francisco, October 28, 2010. REUTERS/Mike Blake</p>