The cannabis industry made solid chess moves in the election earlier this month. Not only did the recreational use of marijuana get a statewide green light with the approval of Proposition 64, but two local cities moved forward with medical-cannabis measures, as well. Considering California has the sixth-largest economy in the world—and the largest cannabis economy—the Golden State is now set to become the epicenter of the green rush.
That said, despite the hype, Prop. 64 grants freedom to municipalities to choose how they want to regulate cannabis within their cities. Being the conservative stronghold Orange County is, it's no surprise that every city within the county, with the exception of Santa Ana, has already banned storefront dispensaries. Moreover, if the county's cities allow recreational dispensaries to open, cannabis won't be available without a doctor's note until Jan. 1, 2018.
“It's going to be a long time before you see dispensaries on street corners in Orange County like you do a 7-Eleven or Circle K,” says Paul Lucas, a longtime Orange County medical-marijuana advocate and Democratic Party activist. “Slowly, municipalities are going to start permitting [recreational dispensaries]. Some will probably be forced by citizens who file initiatives in their city, and eventually, it's going to open the floodgates. As time goes by, it'll become more and more of a liability for politicians to be anti-cannabis.”
Although purchasing recreational pot won't be legal for a little more than a year, as long as you're at least 21 years old and not smoking in public, you're not breaking the law. But if a cop catches you waltzing down the street, bong in hand, blowing cloudy rips into the sky, you'll be fined—and thanks to Prop. 64, the cost of a citation for smoking in public has just jumped from $100 to $250.
It's now legal for anyone older than 21 to possess up to 1 ounce of flower or 8 grams of cannabis concentrate (i.e., shatter, wax, etc.) at one time. If you're caught with more than that, you'll be slapped with a misdemeanor punishable by as little as a $500 fine and as much as six months in jail. Should you get caught three times with more than an ounce of weed, the third offense would be a felony. It's America, folks—we gotta keep those prisons full somehow!
Prop. 64 also gives adults the right to grow up to six plants in their homes. But that doesn't mean you can grow it outside in public. According to the new law, up to six plants can be grown discreetly inside your home, meaning they are not visible to the public and stored in a locked place. If you want to grow in your back yard, you're required to get a permit. And if you violate this law, you'll be fined $250.
Perhaps the most significant immediate effect of Prop. 64 is that people who are currently in California prisons for nonviolent marijuana offenses can apply for a sentence reduction or parole. According to Diane Goldstein, an executive board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, this aspect of the initiative has already begun to restore people's rights. “All the criminal-justice attorneys I know around the state are in court, defending or helping people get out of jail,” she says. “What we said was going to happen is already happening: So many marijuana cases are being reduced to misdemeanors, and misdemeanor cases are being dismissed.”
The election also impacted the medical side of the industry. Orange County and Long Beach have positioned themselves to become hubs of the industry in Southern California. Although Costa Mesa still doesn't permit dispensaries within the city, voters approved Measure X, the city-backed medical-marijuana measure allowing for nonretail cannabis businesses to operate in a zone just north of the 405 freeway and west of Harbor Boulevard. According to Mayor Pro Tem Jim Righeimer, the goal of the measure is to put the city ahead of the curve, so when Jan. 1, 2018, rolls around, Costa Mesa will be a hotbed for the manufacturing, cultivation, lab testing, research, distribution and transportation of both medical and recreational marijuana.
With dispensary-friendly Santa Ana as a bordering city, the Costa Mesa City Council focused on an area of the industry that's missing rather than creating more storefronts. “Quality lab testing and research aren't easy to do, even for doctors who are involved with some of the companies making products for kids with disabilities,” Righeimer says. “Testing needs to happen, but there's the risk of cops raiding the facility and taking everyone to jail, making people not want to do it. Safe testing facilities need to be available. Most of the time, parents don't know what's in the product they're giving their kids. When you're dealing with the lives of sick and disabled people, there is no room for error. The industry is so unregulated, which is what Measure X tackles.”
On Nov. 8, Long Beach voters passed Measures MM, the citizen-drafted medical-marijuana ordinance, and MA, the city's marijuana tax initiative. MM will permit 26 storefronts to open at first, with a potential maximum of 32. It also permits delivery services as long as they're connected to a dispensary and nonretail cannabis businesses to operate in the city. Officials estimate they'll start processing applications for medical-marijuana dispensaries in early January 2017.
The future of recreational cannabis in Long Beach will remain undetermined until the City Council votes on it. But the language in the taxation measure addresses tax rates for “nonmedical marijuana businesses,” leaving a possibility for recreational sales. Larry King, a longtime medical-marijuana advocate and Long Beach resident, expressed uncertainty about the city opening its borders to recreational businesses, as he believes it'll undermine the medical side of the industry. “I didn't vote on 64, but I'm grateful on some levels, like people getting out of prison who don't belong there and keeping others from having their lives destroyed,” he explains. “The bad news is that I think it'll degrade the medical-marijuana business like it did in the state of Washington—it completely eliminated the medical side after recreational grew so big.”
Although groups such as the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws say denying Prop. 64 would have been a major setback for policy reform, a lot of uncertainty and speculation still exist around the new law. Goldstein says that while the initiative isn't perfect, in regard to creating a social-justice standard and utilizing research and data to create better policies, it's brilliant.
Despite the conflicting feelings of those in the community, one thing is certain: The cannabis industry is officially legit in California.