At some point– it might be in November of this year, it might be at some point not too far down the road—Californians are going to vote to legalize marijuana in our state. It’s inevitable. I say that not as any big fan of cannabis (I’ve never even so much as taken a puff on a single joint in my entire life), but as a realist and a pragmatist.
Since 2012, five governmental jurisdictions in the United States have passed new laws to allow for the personal possession, consumption, and sale of marijuana within their borders. Particularly given the relatively smooth experience of those states since legalization, momentum is building in California and at least 10 other states to bring legal marijuana to their residents as well. In a state as massive and complex as California, such a change, if not managed properly, poses the risk of substantial problems that, if allowed to take root, could take time and substantial resources to solve.
Though many people may not be aware of it, California was actually the first state in the nation to legalize medicinal marijuana, through Prop 215, the Compassionate Use Act, in 1996. Since then, California’s marijuana industry has continued to grow (as only a weed can do), well beyond the legal and regulatory framework created by Prop 215. By some estimates, the California marijuana market, even in its current form around limited ‘medicinal’ use, comprises fully 49% of the national market for regulated cannabis sales, or $1.3 billion out of a national total of $2.7 billion.
There is now more public support for more fully legalizing marijuana, beyond only medical use, and for removing marijuana from the criminal justice system and regulating it like alcohol and tobacco. Honest people can argue about the principles and subtleties involved, but the trend toward eventual legalization is pretty clear. The only question at this point in California, is when and what terms marijuana will be legalized in our state. Here’s a quick overview of some of the provisions contained in legalization initiative most likely to come to the ballot, perhaps as soon as this coming November:
- LOCAL CONTROL: Cities and counties can regulate or totally prohibit commercial marijuana cultivation, processing, sales, and deliveries, but they can’t ban deliveries merely passing through their jurisdiction. They can ban even personal outdoor grows, but not indoor ones.
- CULTIVATION: Adults could grow up to six plants per household, provided their localities don’t ban such activity. Also, landlords would maintain the right to ban cultivation or even possession on their property. Growers could possess all the fruits of their harvest.
- SOCIAL CONSUMPTION: Local municipalities could regulate on-site marijuana consumption at designated businesses.
- PUBLIC CONSUMPTION: Would still not be allowed (as odd as that may sound, all things considered).
- TAXATION: A 15% excise tax on marijuana products, plus state and local sales taxes, plus a $9.25 an ounce cultivation tax on buds and a $2.75 tax on leaves. Counties could also impose additional taxes, subject to popular vote.
- REGULATION: The state agencies empowered to regulate medical marijuana would have their authorities expanded to include the regulation of non-medical marijuana as well.
- LICENSING: Provides tiered licensing based on business type and size, but to protect small businesses bars the issuance of the largest tier of cultivation licenses for five years and creates a special licensing tier for “microbusinesses.”
- EMPLOYEE DRUG TESTING: Will still be allowed under California labor law. However, to take into account the shifts moving forward in the larger context of cannabis use, both culturally and legally, a deliberate legislative process should be pursued toward the development of reasonable, clearly defined provisions for drug testing of employees only in those situations where the use of cannabis might constitute a proven danger to safety.
- ALLOWABLE POSSESSION: Adults (21 and over) could possess up to an ounce of marijuana or eight grams of THC concentrate.
- CRIMINAL POSSESSION: Possession of more than an ounce, cultivation of more than six plants, unlicensed sales, and possession for sale are all six-month misdemeanors, reduced from felonies, although they can still be charged as felonies in some cases.
At the heart of the (generally persuasive) arguments on behalf of marijuana legalization are the assertions that doing so will reduce harm, create jobs, save money, and create standards for a substance which, though currently still technically illegal, has nevertheless become commonplace and socially acceptable, particularly among younger Californians.
In making the transition to statewide legalization of marijuana and properly planning for and managing the many diverse impacts such a transition will entail, the devil will, of course, be in the details. And if this is going to happen, at the direction of California’s voters, the onus will be on the state legislators who will ultimately be counted on to formulate the new laws and regulations which will determine whether or not that transition is relatively smooth and well considered, or subject to disruption and all manner of unintended consequences and the damage they can bring.
As I mentioned, I’m not a user or even a big fan of marijuana, but the public policy implications of the changes underway are real, and they’re substantial. For something of this nature, you want a legislative representative who brings a combination of knowledge, judgement, and common sense to the many issues surrounding it. As your state senator, I will serve you on this complicated issue but the many others like it.