Voters approve taxes, but are reluctant to repeal bans or adopt regulations

Group of peopleElection Day was good for medical cannabis patients on the national level. All of our champions in Congress were reelected, paving the way for more progress in Washington, DC, in 2015 and 2016 – despite the Republican gains in both Houses. Guam became the first US Territory to legalize medical cannabis, and 58% of voters in Florida supported the state’s medical cannabis amendment (it needed 60% to be adopted). Successful legalization votes in Washington, DC, Oregon, and Alaska are likely to reinforce the increasingly mainstream nature of medical cannabis nationwide. 

Things did not go so well here in California. Voters decided on a total of nineteen local ballot measures last week, and the outcomes may be challenging for patients moving forward. Voters seem keen on imposing new taxes on medical cannabis, but reluctant to repeal bans on cultivation and distribution or to reform onerous local regulations. That tendency may cast a shadow over the debate about regulating commercial medical cannabis activity in the California legislature next year. State lawmakers may be less inclined to be accommodating towards the emerging medical cannabis industry absent a mandate from voters in local races like these.

Click here to see the final vote counts on all nineteen local ballot measures.

Voters approved six out of seven taxes on medical cannabis. That means legal medicine will be more expensive in Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Lake Shasta, the City of Santa Cruz, and Santa Cruz County. ASA does not support “sin taxes” on legal medicine, and we urge lawmakers and voters to find a more equitable way to share the cost of local government. Voters in the tiny community of Blythe in Riverside County were the only ones to reject a medical cannabis tax measure.

In other races:

  • In Butte County, voters upheld a tough county ordinance restricting medical cannabis cultivation and rejected a more reasonable approach.
  • Voters defeated initiatives to overturn bans on patients’ collectives and establish sensible regulations in Encinitas and La Mesa.
  • Voters rejected ballot measures that would have made medical cannabis cultivation easier in Lake County, Nevada County, and Shasta County.

The outcomes in two other jurisdictions were more nuanced. Voters in Santa Ana approved two measures regulating medical cannabis collectives. A relatively tough ordinance (Measure BB), which was put on the ballot by the city council as an alternative to the more lenient citizen-backed initiative (Measure CC), received the higher number of votes. That means Santa Ana did adopt regulations, but not the ones the medical cannabis community wanted.

In the aptly named City of Weed, voters approved one advisory measure supporting a ban on outdoor cultivation and another supporting storefront patients’ collectives. The City Council plans to adopt ordinances based on these seemingly incongruous positions soon.

Imposing extra taxes, upholding harsh regulations, and rejecting patient-backed measures are not what we wanted to see in this election. Nevertheless, we have to learn from the outcomes and keep pushing the ball down the court at the local and state level.