Marijuana legalization is about a lot more than letting people legally smoke marijuana. It's also about public safety, fiscal responsibility and social justice. That's the message supporters of California's "Adult Use of Marijuana Act" (AUMA) had for residents and Americans in general on May 4, when the group announced that their initiative had gained more than enough signatures to make legalizing recreational marijuana-use a ballot question in November.
During the press conference, Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom (D) - a supporter of the initiative since its inception - stood alongside California NAACP President Alice Huffman and said, "If you're sick and tired of race-based sentencing, you'd better be serious about this initiative."
Huffman explained that those enforcing the War on Drugs, "targeted the African-American community, the Latino community right from the beginning and we watched 40, almost 50, years of it happening."
"If you're a parent, pay attention to this initiative," Newsom added before addressing how taxes from recreational marijuana sales would be used to keep children and communities safe. "[Eighty] percent of those dollars prescribed in this initiative will go back to children prevention programs, treatment programs and law enforcement. I think it's a game changer, I think it's going to reduce use and abuse by our children."
The initiative also has strong support from the other side of the political spectrum. Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher praised the initiative for freeing up resources for law enforcers.
"We're not just controlling having more flow of money for taxing this, but we're also eliminating the cost of having the police arrest somebody, take them to trial, prosecute them."
And he hopes that the federal government follows suit so that the billions wasted on marijuana prohibition can be invested in other agencies.
"I can't think of a bigger waste of government money than to try to use it to control the private lives of adults," he said, noting the other federal programs and agencies that he claims are "being defunded to maintain a war on drugs that is philosophically wrong."
California joins other states set to vote on legalization in 2016
AUMA's accomplishment might also clarify the legalization landscape in California. For months, campaigns for rival ballot initiatives have competed for signatures and support from Californians. But Newsom thinks that AUMA is the only one that will make the ballot.
"It's unlikely that any others will qualify," he said. "We have qualified. We are north of 600,000 signatures. That is beyond what is needed. We need a little less than 400,000. You can rest assured this will be on the November ballot."
That means California joins Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts as states that have ballot measures in place for Election Day 2016. They could soon be joined by Arizona, Michigan and others that are busy gathering signatures.
So 2017 could see the number of legal states double from four to eight or more.