Retired Orange County Judge Jim Gray, a vocal proponent for the campaign to legalize marijuana for recreational use, doesn't believe federal drug agents will descend on California if voters approve the November pot initiative.
"I cannot conceive that the Obama administration, facing an election year, would thumb its nose at the voters of the state of California. It just is not going to happen," Gray said in an interview after a recent Sacramento debate on the ballot initiative.
Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder signaled that U.S. Justice Department wouldn't target legitimate medical marijuana operations in California and 13 other states where medicinal use is legal.
But some legal observers wonder whether the feds' enforcement truce with the state will be upended if California voters approve the measure to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, allow small residential cultivation and permit cities to tax and regulate pot sales.
Under federal law, marijuana remains illegal and is considered a narcotic with no medical benefits.
The 1996 Proposition 215 Compassionate Use Act, which made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana use, was followed in ensuing years by scores of federal drug raids targeting California pot clubs, cultivators and activists.
But Gray said he doesn't expect a similar response by the Justice Department if the state extends marijuana legalization beyond current medicinal use.
"They will probably say, 'Oh, this is silly.' 'Oh, we shouldn't do it.' 'Oh, California voters were duped. Let them do it.'" Gray said.
He added: "Then the rest of the states will see that this is working. The rest of the states, like with medical marijuana, will follow our lead, and it will sweep the country."
Initiative opponents argue that wider legalization in California will position the Golden State as the major marijuana supplier to other states -- even more so than it already is today.
"It might. People will try to take advantage of the system. Are you shocked?" Gray said. "That's what is going on today with some of the marijuana dispensaries. So I say, if people are violating the laws of other states, prosecute. But don't throw out an entire initiative on the off chance that people might abuse it. Just prosecute the abusers."