Is California’s Marijuana Legalization Actually Bad?
Spoiler: No, but it needs some serious improvement. Even the LA Times thinks so.
Proposition 64, the ballot measure that legalized marijuana for adults in California, had plenty of opposition from within the marijuana movement.
Most arguments against legalization from so-called legalization advocates followed similar lines. Prop. 64 was funded by rich people. Prop. 64 was too corporate. Marijuana would be too regulated or taxed too heavily. Prop. 64 just didn’t go far enough.
Those arguments didn’t work, and 57 percent of California voters legalized marijuana for adults 21 and over in the nation’s most populous state.
A significant victory — but, like democracy, an unfinished experiment. And, as the Los Angeles Times’s editorial board recently pointed out, legalization is in need of some very significant improvements.
Without them, cannabis remains de-facto illegal to buy and sell throughout much of the state. Without them — without a “reasonable way to buy” cannabis, “marijuana is not really legal in California,” the Times wrote Tuesday.
This should not be misinterpreted as a post-facto argument against Prop. 64 or some kind of “I told you so.” If Prop. 64 had not passed, the number of adults who could legally access cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation would be exactly zero. This is a call for reasonable reform of existing laws — an evolution similar to changes in tax structure, drinking age, conscription into the military, and countless other aspects of life in our democracy.
While high taxes for consumers has been an issue, those are only a problem in places that cannabis can actually be sold. And there are too few of them. Through much of the state, county and city governments have greeted legal marijuana as if it were a weapon of mass destruction, passing aggressive bans forbidding legal cannabis activity within city limits.
So much of California has been so unwelcoming to legal cannabis that, in an estimated 40 percent of the state, the nearest medical or recreational dispensary is 60 miles away.
“Of course, that doesn’t mean that residents in those so-called pot deserts can’t get their hands on marijuana,” the paper observes. “They just can’t get legal cannabis products that are regulated and taxed.”
Like everywhere else marijuana is illegal, demand for cannabis has been fulfilled by the black market. Estimates vary, but one cannabis industry insider told Bloomberg that the state’s black market for cannabis is five times bigger than its legal market. (Arguably, since California has a legal market stimulating demand, along with permissive laws that allow light penalties for black-market distributors, California’s black market is particularly large and active.)
These problems were foreseeable. They were predicted. Fixing them will require some tweaks. The main one proposed by the state Bureau of Cannabis Control is ending a ban on marijuana deliveries.
Currently, a local government has the power to regulate or ban outright all commercial cannabis activity within its jurisdiction. They can also prohibit a marijuana delivery service from a nearby city or county from making a delivery within their city limits.
It is not clear what purpose this ban serves, aside from creating more incentive for illegal delivery services to go into business, and undermining the central premise of voter-approved Prop. 64, which was to allow adults 21 and over to legally access cannabis.
But it’s currently local governments’ right to do this — and it’s a right for which the League of California Cities, a lobby for local governments at the state capital, is going to the mat.
The Times used its editorial space to criticize the League and call for deliveries to be allowed in cities that do no permit delivery services.
Deliveries would still come from a permitted service, just one headquartered in a city that allows them — just like cannabis sold in a dispensary must come from a licensed cultivation operation, whether or not the dispensary is in a city that allows marijuana growing.
Seeing the state’s biggest newspaper call out a powerful lobby for a reasonable reform is a satisfying sight for legalization advocates (the ones who really want cannabis to be legal, at least). But it remains to be seen whether lawmakers or the state BCC will be able to overcome opposition from marijuana NIMBYS like the League of California Cities or other prohibition-minded fellow travelers in law enforcement.
In Fresno, a major city in the state’s conservative Central Valley, the city’s police chief recently claimed that marijuana edibles could be fatal.
Claims like these are baseless and outrageous, fit for a meandering Donald Trump fable.
Insistence that cities and counties should be able to ban all legal marijuana activity within their borders, and somehow be congruent with marijuana legalization, belong in the same bucket.
TELL US, do you have access to cannabis where you live?