It looks like backers of a marijuana legalization initiative in California have gathered the signatures they need to get on the ballot this fall. Depending on your perspective, this is either a tribute to the power of ordinary people to enact commonsense change when their government is too timid to do so, or more evidence that the initiative system is out of control.
Passage of the initiative is by no means a sure thing. Keep in mind that this isn't about medical marijuana; this is outright legalization. Anyone over 21 would be able to possess up to an ounce of cannabis, and Californians would be allowed to cultivate up to 25 square feet of plants in their homes. Each local government would be able to regulate and tax it as they saw fit, which in practice would mean a patchwork of "dry" and "wet" counties. You would still be prohibited from smoking it in public or giving it to anyone under 21. The intention, in other words, is to regulate pot the same way we regulate alcohol (the initiative's text can be read here).
There are a couple of places that already have decriminalized pot -- for instance, Breckenridge, Colorado did so via an initiative last fall. But it's one thing to have the plant legal in a small ski resort town, and another to have it legal in a state of 37 million. While support for medical marijuana is overwhelming, the public is closely split on whether it should be legalized.
This should be an interesting campaign, to put it mildly. So let me make a plea I've made before to the reporters who will cover it: You can write about this issue without tossing stoner jokes into the lede of your story. Or at the very least, try to keep it to a minimum.
-- Paul Waldman
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