What marijuana legalization will look like in California
Philip Smith reports in the Drug War Chronicles on how marijuana legalization is shaping up in California:
Twenty years ago, California led the way on weed, becoming the first state in the nation to approve medical marijuana. Now, while it’s already lost the chance to be the first to legalize recreational use, the Golden State is poised to push legal pot past the tipping point.
Although voters in Colorado and Washington first broke through the grass ceiling in 2012, with Alaska, Oregon, and Washington, DC, following suit in 2014, if and when Californians vote to legalize it this coming November, they will more than triple the size of the country’s legal marijuana market in one fell swoop.
It’s not a done deal until election day, of course, but the prospects are very good. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) legalization initiative is officially on the ballot as Proposition 64, it has cash in the bank for the campaign (more than $8 millioncollected so far), it has broad political support, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) and at least four California US representatives, and it has popular support, with the latest pollshowing a healthy 60% of likely voters favor freeing the weed.
It’s also that the surfer’s paradise is riding a weed wave of its own creation. Thanks in large part to the “normalization” of the pot business that emerged out of California’s wild and wooly medical marijuana scene, the national mood about marijuana has shifted in recent years. Because of California, people could actually see marijuana come out of the shadows, with pot shops (dispensaries) selling it openly to anyone with an easily obtained doctor’s recommendation and growers turning parts of the state in pot cultivation hotbeds. And the sky didn’t fall.
At the same time, the shift in public opinion has been dramatic. According to annual Gallup polls, only a quarter of Americans supported marijuana legalization when California voted for medical marijuana in 1996, with that number gradually, but steadily, increasing to 44% in 2009, before spiking upward ever since then to sit at 58% now.
California isn’t the only state riding the wave this year — legalization will also be on the ballot in Maine and Nevada and almost certainly in Arizona and Massachusetts — but it is by far the biggest and it will help the state regain its reputation as cutting edge on social trends, while also sending a strong signal to the rest of the country, including the federal government in Washington.
But what kind of signal will it send? What will legalization look like in the Golden State? To begin, let’s look at what Prop 64 does:
- Legalizes the possession of up to an ounce of marijuana and the cultivation of up to six plants (per household) by adults 21 and over.
- Reduces most criminal penalties for remaining marijuana offenses, such as possession or cultivation over legal limits or unlicensed distribution, from felonies to misdemeanors.
- Regulates the commercial cultivation, processing, distribution, and sale of marijuana through a state-regulated licensing system.
- Bars commercial “mega-grows” (more than ½ acre indoors or 1 acre outdoors) until at least 2023, but makes provisions for licensed “microbusinesses” (grows smaller than 10,000 square feet).
- Allows for the licensing of on-site consumption premises, or “cannabis cafes.”
- Allows cities and counties to regulate or even prohibit commercial marijuana activities, but not prohibit personal possession and cultivation.
- Taxes marijuana at 15% at the retail level, with an additional $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax imposed at the wholesale level.
In other words, pot is largely legalized and a taxed and regulated market is established.Some changes would occur right away, advocates said.”The criminal justice impact will be huge and immediate, and it will start on November 9,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which is backing Prop 64 not only rhetorically, but also with its checkbook through its lobbying and campaign arm, Drug Policy Action.
California arrests about 20,000 people a year for marijuana felonies and misdemeanors, currently has about 10,000 people incarcerated for pot offenses, and has as many as half a million people with pot convictions on their records. Things are going to change in a big way for all these people.
“Those marijuana arrests will stop,” said Lyman. “And everyone currently sitting in jail or prison will be eligible to apply for release. They will have to . . .”