When Will California Legalize Weed?

When you really think about it, it doesn't seem right that the Golden State's been left out of the marijuana legalization march of the last few years. Few places are as historically and pop-culturally linked to the hazy-eyed drug as California is, after all, and it's been a trend-setter in this area before — it was the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes back in 1996. How come places like Alaska and Colorado are getting to legally toke, vape or nibble? When will California legalize marijuana, at long last?

Sadly, when it comes to voter-approved initiatives, you can never be quite sure how things'll turn out. But here's what you can say pretty clearly: California could very well legalize marijuana in 2016. It's poised to be the big electoral battle that the state's pro-marijuana activists and advocates have been gearing up for ever since the defeat of Proposition 19 back in 2010. That proposition, called the Regulate, Control & Tax Cannabis Act, ended up failing, with just 46.5 percent of voters backing legalization. But six years is a long time, and bolstered by promising trends in public opinion on marijuana — a narrow majority of Americans now support legal, recreational weed — we could be looking at a green wave come November 2016.

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That's not to suggest this is in any sense a done deal, though. There are plenty of reasons to be cautious about getting your hopes up, especially considering the sharp drop in support for legalization from 2013 to 2014. In 2013, the numbers looked staggeringly (and frankly a little implausibly) optimistic, with 58 percent of Americans nationwide favoring legalization. As Gallup notes, that 58 percent figure was recorded just as Colorado was getting ready to implement legalization for the first time, so on the one hand, you could easily argue it may have represented a sort of premature, unrealistic honeymoon period.

But on the other hand, it demonstrates that a majority today might not necessarily be a majority tomorrow. While it's easy to lose sight of this if you live in a liberal state, especially in affluent areas where aggressive marijuana policing is minimal, legalization had never seen majority approval until 2011. In other words, it's still a very new coalition, and as such, it could potentially be fragile.

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Running in 2016, however, at least ensures this much: unlike 2010's Prop. 9, it'll be a presidential election year, so turnout should be high. Especially if it's, say, a potentially historic election, like if we might be voting for our first-ever female president? While it's obviously far too early to predict that sort of thing, there are at least some very realistic scenarios in which Democratic enthusiasm could be running high by then, and that's promising for all of you who enjoy the occasional puff, be it smoke or vapor.

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