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Recreational Cannabis in 2018: Finally Legal in California

The Junky G Articles.

With its reputation for surfing, celebrities, and a laid-back attitude, California and cannabis would seem to go hand-in-hand. As a matter of fact, the state has been pushing to legalize marijuana since way back in 1972 when voters tried and failed to pass the first cannabis legalization initiate to be put on the ballot in any U.S. state.

California again failed to legalize cannabis as recently as 2010, but in 2016, the winds of change were finally blowing in favor of cannabis advocates in the state.

Could Recreational Cannabis Be Coming to California?

Proposition 64 Brings a Wave of Change

In November 2016, 57% of participating California voters said yes to Proposition 64, otherwise known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. As soon as the election results were certified, anyone over the age of 21 in California were legally allowed to possess cannabis, buy from seed banks and grow their own marijuana, as well as sell weed.

Retail sales of cannabis are regulated by the Bureau of Marijuana Control, a fairly new state agency. They will utilize a seed-to-sale to ensure that all product grown and sold by licensed cultivators and retailers is accounted for as it’s grown, cultivated, processed, and finally sold to customers.

As the state with the largest population, California is now the largest cannabis market in the United States. It’s also the sixth largest economy in the world. Legislative changes in the Golden State typically indicate where the rest of America will move on controversial issues, as expressed in the saying, “As California goes, so goes the country.” Cannabis advocates hope that the new laws and expected economic boom created by cannabis sales will help push hesitant states into finally legalizing marijuana.

Ever-Changing Laws in the Golden State

Although Californians are now enjoying complete legalization of cannabis, marijuana laws in the state have been shifting over a period of time. In 2010, California reduced the penalty of possessing one ounce of cannabis to a misdemeanor (a crime that carries a similar weight to having committed a traffic violation), subject to a small fine and no charges to the individual's criminal record. The most newsworthy change in laws, however, came 14 years before.

In 1996, California made headlines by becoming the first state in the U.S. to establish a legal medical marijuana program. In its earliest form, it paved the road for those with cancer, AIDS and other chronic illnesses to grow marijuana for personal consumption. They could also purchase medical marijuana with a doctor's recommendation. In 2010, the restrictions on medical marijuana were removed, making it easier for patients to legally obtain marijuana to treat a wider variety of medical problems. After observing the medical cannabis journey going on in California, twelve other states followed suit and legalized medical marijuana within their borders.

In the past few years, Alaska, Oregon, Colorado, Washington, and other states have passed laws to legalize cannabis for recreational use. With California now joining the states in which people can legally buy cannabis seeds, grow their own plants, and freely enjoy homegrown weed or cannabis products purchased from licensed retailers, it’s likely that more states will change their laws in the future.

Anti-Cannabis Activists Voice Their Fears

Because recreational cannabis is still relatively new to California, legalization has not yet ended the debate over its safety. On the anti-legalization side, activists cite concerns about public safety. They note statistics such as a study from Washington state which showed an increase in fatal crashes involving drivers who tested positive for marijuana. Some suggest that these numbers are misleading, as marijuana remains present in the bloodstream for weeks after consumption. This means that just because an individual's blood tests positive for the substance doesn't mean that they were high at the time of a car accident.

A company called Hound Labs has created a breathalyzer-style test for THC that will be able to test for intoxication at the time the test is administered. California also has specially-trained drug recognition officers who can visually evaluate an individual who has been pulled over for driving while intoxicated. The results of the visual evaluation will be combined with blood test results to use for prosecution of DUI offenders.

Those against legalization also have worries about marijuana edibles potentially being attractive to kids. With THC-infused treats running the gamut from gummy bears to chocolate bars, many are concerned that this provides an easy way for children to become introduced to cannabis. As big business moves in and begins operations that have been, up until now, only run by smaller firms, some people have fears of young people being targeted by a new and growing marijuana industry as they have by the tobacco industry.

Former California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger has taken a stance against the legalization of recreational cannabis, worrying in part about the "legal nightmare" it would create for individuals and dispensaries. The fact that federal law still classifies marijuana as an illegal schedule one drug (akin to heroin or ecstasy) means that grow operations and dispensaries must walk a legal tightrope in order to function. Many banks refuse to work with businesses in the marijuana industry due to federal banking laws that prohibit such business transactions. In addition to this, transportation of cannabis between states where it is fully legal remains illegal.

As recreational cannabis kicks into gear in California, these are all issues that growers, processors, and retailers will have to figure out.

Could Recreational Cannabis Be Coming to California?

Advocates Push for Legalization and Education

On the other side, pro-cannabis advocates have pointed out the pros of legalized recreational use. California Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom has spoken strongly about his anti-prohibition stance. In an interview with PBS, he said that the overall "prohibition has done more harm than the drug itself." The fact that people are arrested for buying cannabis seeds in the United States, growing a few plants, and enjoying small amounts of weed has, in his opinion, put a strain on law enforcement resources. His goal is to put an end the huge amount that taxpayers are being charged to arrest and jail people who grow and possess cannabis. "I want people to operate legally," Newsom says, "and I want them to be accountable and responsible."

As for the wellbeing of young people, those in the industry recommend educating kids about cannabis in a similar fashion to alcohol or tobacco. They say that the onus is on adults to properly secure cannabis-infused edibles and talk to kids about these treats being strictly off limits. As more states legalize marijuana - both for medical and recreational purposes - these are discussions that will occur more frequently.

Worries about legalization leading to increased drug use or progression to harder drugs seem to be unfounded, as well. Advocates of marijuana legalization point to studies conducted after the Netherlands loosened their policies surrounding cannabis, allowing its use in licensed "coffee houses" around the country. The studies found that in countries that decriminalized drugs, there was a decrease in drug use among teenagers.

The Netherlands also works to draw a clear distinction between legalized "soft" drugs such as marijuana and illegal "hard" drugs such as cocaine and heroin. This is based on a belief that it's involvement with the black market that functions as a dangerous gateway - not use of substances like cannabis. Scientists from organizations ranging from the American Journal of Psychiatry to the Institute of Medicine have been able to find no link between use of cannabis and progression to hard drugs.

Advocates also point to the inherent safety of marijuana use - especially when compared to recreational drugs such as alcohol that are legal and free of stigma. According to the Center for Disease Control, "6 people died every day from alcohol poisoning in the US from 2010 to 2012." Meanwhile, the Drug Abuse Warning Network notes that medical statistics show no deaths induced by marijuana overdose. When marijuana is mentioned in cases of overdose, it has typically been combined with alcohol or other drugs.

Another plus? Legalization is expected to be a major revenue generator for the state of California. Dale Gieringer of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) projects that if retail sales hit $7 billion a year, the financial benefits could be huge. The legalization of recreational marijuana could create more than $1 billion in annual tax revenue for the state. It will also free up law enforcement from the pursuit and arrest of small-time offenders, saving $100 million in that area.

The Specifics of Prop 64

Proposition 64 allows adults age 21 and up to "possess, transport, purchase, consume and share” up to 28.5 grams of marijuana, which is a little over an ounce. They can also possess up to eight grams of marijuana concentrate. Individuals will also be allowed to grow up to 6 plants. There will still be laws against public use and use while operating or sitting inside a motor vehicle. There will also be a 15% state excise tax and a 7.5 to 10% sales tax on all retail sales of marijuana.

Cannabis is plentiful and available in many different forms in the Golden State. You can purchase it as dried marijuana flower, concentrates, hash, butane hash oil (BHO, CO2 oil, tinctures, and the ever-popular edibles. Consumers can also find THC- and CBD-rich topical creams and salves to rub whatever’s ailing them. For those with a green thumb, live marijuana plants are also available for purchase.

Although most cities in California have opted not to license cannabis lounges or cafes, San Francisco, South Lake Tahoe, West Hollywood, and Oakland are allowing these types of businesses. Cannabis lounges must be age-restricted, constructed in a way that consumption is not visible to the public, and neither tobacco nor alcohol is allowed on the premises.

The past few years have brought huge changes for the state of California, with even more to come as it perfects its program for recreational retail sales of cannabis and begins to reap the huge tax rewards. Hopefully, other states that are still holding out will take notice and follow suit!

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