Voters in California, Arizona, South Dakota and Oregon on Tuesday rejected a range of marijuana-based propositions, including legalization in California and medical marijuana initiatives in South Dakota and Arizona. In California, Proposition 19 [text, PDF], which was defeated by a 54-46 margin [LAT report], would have legalized the sale and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana and the growth of cannabis plants for personal consumption. The proposition would also have empowered the state legislature to implement appropriate taxes on the sale of marijuana. In Arizona, Proposition 203 [text, PDF], which as of Wednesday morning was too close to call (50.3 against, 49.7 for) [Arizona Republic election coverage], would authorize the possession of up to two-and-a-half ounces of marijuana, or up to 12 cannabis plants, for individuals with any of a set list of medical conditions including cancer, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis and AIDS. In South Dakota, Initiated Measure 13 [text, DOC], which was defeated by a 63-37 margin [Rapid City Journal report], would have authorized the cultivation and possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by individuals with certain debilitating diseases who register with the state Department of Health. In Oregon, voters rejected Ballot Measure 74 by a 57-43 margin [Portland Tribune report]. That measure would have expanded the state's existing medical marijuana provisions to allow for private dispensaries. No matter what actions states take in this arena, however, marijuana is a Schedule I drug under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) [text], meaning it has no medically accepted use, it has a high potential for abuse and it is not considered safe for use, even under medical supervision. Under federal law, it cannot legally be prescribed by a doctor.
The full legalization of marijuana in California was the most contentious of the ballot propositions, with supporters [WSJ op-ed] and those in opposition [San Diego Union Tribune op-ed] divided relatively evenly up to election day. Last month, Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that the Department of Justice (DOJ) would continue to enforce the CSA [JURIST report], even if Prop 19 had passed. California had previously decriminalized possession of less than one ounce of marijuana under State Senate Bill 1449 [text]. Decriminalization is the process of reducing the punishment for possession of marijuana from a misdemeanor with the possibility of jail time to civil fines and/or mandatory drug education programs. In addition to California, Massachusetts, Oregon, and 10 other states [Boston Globe reports] have decriminalized possession, as has the city of Denver, Colorado. Fourteen states permit the use of marijuana for medical purposes, with New Jersey [JURIST report] becoming the most recent state to approve of the use.