Or, Where to Find Legal Weed in the U.S.A.
For half of the voting public, Election 2016 was a major bummer. But though the country remains divided on which political party or grand poobah is best suited to lead it through the next four years, one ballot issue has united this ruptured republic: Legalizing weed.
Yes, the electorate is split 50/50 on whether an alleged billionaire turned reality TV star should be our 45th President, but of the nine ballot measures that offered major marijuana reform this year, eight of them are now law. Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota voted yes on medical marijuana; Montana rolled back legislation that would have closed its medical dispensaries; and Massachusetts, Maine, Nevada and California all voted to legalize recreational cannabis.
If the passage of similar recreational laws in Alaska, Colorado, Washington and Oregon, were not proof enough, California’s entry into this cannabis club signals a turning point in U.S. drug reform. With the passage of Proposition 64, the nation’s entire west coast is now pot friendly. And following the November 8 ballot, more than half of the United States (28 states plus the District of Columbia) approves medical Mary Jane.
This article marks the beginning of a series on medical and recreational marijuana that will continue as such laws gain momentum. It remains nameless because I honestly can’t decide what to call it. Several candidates have been floated, including Reefer Radness, Greens of the Stoned Age, Sense & Sensimilla, Blunt Force Drama, The Unbearable Highness of Being and Puff, Puff, Passed. My favorite: Waiting for Pot, Man.
I do take this issue seriously, but the subject matter lends itself to creative overreach.
Today, we’ll examine California’s Prop 64, its implementation, taxation and potential impact on the rest of the country.
Prop 64: Is Weed Legal Right Now?
Yes it is, but be advised: That doesn’t mean you can cloak yourself in a cloud of sweet ganja and go for a merry stroll in the park blasting Sublime from your portable radio. You can still be arrested for that (or more likely, fined.)
Recreational marijuana received immediate legalization following the passage of Prop 64, but there are rules:
- Smoking marijuana is only permitted to adults 21-years-old and up.
- Smoking marijuana in public – and smoking while driving – is prohibited.
- Adults are allowed to possess up to 28.5 grams (about one ounce) of marijuana, or up to eight grams of concentrated hash, but…
- Possession of marijuana is not allowed on the grounds of a school, day care center or youth center while children are present.
- Adults may grow up to six marijuana plants in their home, but…
- Growing plants in an area that is unlocked or visible to the public is not allowed. Growers are also subject to the rules of their property owners, so if your landlord bans smoking or growing in their building, you have to abide. The same is true for local governments.
Finally, selling pot is not allowed but giving it away to adults is totally cool (for up to 28.5g). Giving it to minors under the age of 21 is prohibited if it is for non-medical use (this is according to the official California Voter Guide and merits further investigation).
Eventually, smoking or consuming cannabis in public will be allowed at businesses licensed for on-site consumption. However, these licenses will not be issued until 2018.
How Much Money Is California Going to Rake In?
The tax revenue from legal marijuana would be considerable in even the smallest state, but California has one of the largest economies in the world. The potential for profit is tremendous, provided the state can find a way to actually deposit said profit. See, federally-regulated banks will not accept drug money – and as far as the federal government is concerned, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 drug.
This is really a topic for future discussion, but I’d just like to repeat that for you: The federal government classifies cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, meaning it has no currently accepted medical use and high potential for abuse. This puts it in the same company as heroin.
According to ArcView Market Research and New Frontier, legal pot sales in the United States generated $4.6 billion in 2014. That grew to $5.7 billion last year and is projected to hit $7.1 billion this year. By 2020, the marijuana industry organization calculates that legal cannabis will expand to $21 billion.
According to Troy Dayton, CEO of The ArcView Group, “Legalization of cannabis is one of the greatest business opportunities of our time and it’s still early enough to see huge growth.”
California, with its burgeoning population and booming tourism, is expected to generate over a billion dollars in annual tax revenue from marijuana sales. By 2020, projections put that revenue at $7.6 billion.
“Despite broad political division in the country, cannabis seems to be the one factor that has drawn universal support,” said John Kagia, executive vice president for industry analytics at New Frontier Data. “This has exceeded the expectations of even the most Pollyanna-ish industry participants.”
Wait, So How Much Are They Going to Tax My Weed?
A lot. Technically, how much your tea is taxed is up to your local government, but it could reach as high as 30 percent.
- First, there will be a state excise tax on cultivation: $9.25 per ounce of marijuana flowers.
- Then, there’s a $2.75 tax per ounce of marijuana leaves.
- Next, California will levy a 15 percent state tax on the retail price.
- That’s in addition to regular sales tax and whatever excise tax your local government pulls.
Jamie Kerr, the founder of a storefront medical marijuana dispensary in the city of Shasta Lake and noted opponent of Prop 64, considers these taxes “ridiculously high” and enough to keep black market weed in circulation. Kerr is also leery of Prop 64’s lack of protections against corporate interference in the supply chain. Medical marijuana includes such protections to allow the industry “fair and equitable market access,” she told Capital Public Radio, “without having to immediately right out of the gate compete with some well-capitalized corporate interests that are wanting to get into this space.”
This is one of a handful of concerns pot advocates retain following legalization. Another is the limit on THC content allowed in a serving size of edibles. There is no legal standard for marijuana intoxication, so the state will have to fund research into that area (and no, I don’t know where you can volunteer).
Enough Jibber Jabber! Where Can I Buy My State-Sanctioned Sticky Icky?
This is a work in progress. California has until January 1, 2018, to issue permits for recreational dispensaries. That sounds like a long way off, but the state is wasting no time. It’s already created a Bureau of Marijuana Control to figure out licenses for medical marijuana. According to the head of the agency, Lori Ajax, the regulation will soon expand to the recreational market.
“Although meeting the Jan. 1, 2018, implementation date will be challenging, we have already made great progress with medical cannabis regulations that will help us reach this new goal,” she told the LA Times.
State lawmakers are considering interim sales licenses for medical dispensaries until the new licenses are rolled out.
Of course all of this vanishes in a puff of sour smoke if the federal government interferes. With Republicans in both the White House and Congress, Prop 64 may be hobbled before it leaves the gate. However, President-elect Trump has suggested that states will be able to regulate themselves, and with 56 percent of the nation now living in pot-friendly states, the feds may back off.
In a recent interview with Bill Maher, President Obama said that the sweeping referenda in this year’s election will call federal prohibition of marijuana into question. With one-fifth of the country operating under one set of laws, he said, and four-fifths in another, enforcement is going to be messy.
“The Justice Department, DEA, FBI, for them to try to straddle and figure out how they’re supposed to enforce laws in some places and not in others — they’re gonna guard against transporting these drugs across state lines, but you’ve got the entire Pacific corridor where this is legal — that is not gonna be tenable,” added Obama.
In the meantime, the Los Angeles County Sheriffs’ Department will educate its deputies on how Prop 64 has changed drug enforcement. Drugged driving will be a major sticking point, and the CA Highway Patrol has already expanded its training on how to identify toasted drivers.
In brighter news for Californians with marijuana-related charges on their records, Chief Deputy District Attorney John K. Spillane told the LA Times that 64 has now decriminalized or reclassified numerous marijuana offenses.
“As a result, pending felony cases where all the charges have been reduced to misdemeanors will be transferred to the appropriate city prosecutor’s office unless the office regularly handles the misdemeanors for that area,” he wrote to his field attorneys.
I was supposed to write a conclusion here.