Clearing the haze on marijuana legalization
David Zalubowski-Associated Press Budtender Trevor Hollis holds a pair of marijuana buds for a customer at the Denver Kush Club, in north Denver. If Prop. 64 passes in California on Tuesday, the aftershocks are expected to be felt nationwide.
Proposition 64, on its surface, poses a simple question: Should people be free to smoke pot in California?
But the 62-page initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot asks voters to determine much more than that.
It asks them to decide how much cannabis Californians should be allowed to carry, whether they should be able to grow it in their homes and what, if any, penalties consumers should face going forward.
It also asks them to weigh the future of a multibillion-dollar industry, including everything from how marijuana businesses should be taxed to what warning labels should appear on edible products.
Depending on who you ask, either the devil or the redemption is in those details.
Supporters call Proposition 64 the “gold standard” of marijuana legalization, touting strict safeguards that build on lessons learned by the four states that already allow recreational pot.
Some opponents say the measure doesn’t go far enough to keep kids and roadways safe, while detractors on the other end of the spectrum say the measure includes too many regulations to be true “legalization.”
With the vote nearly a week away, here’s a closer look at what Proposition 64 means for California.
Proposition 64 would allow California residents and visitors 21 and older to buy, carry and give away up to an ounce of marijuana. That’s enough to roll perhaps 40 average-sized joints.
They also could possess up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, such as waxes or oils that can be vaporized or mixed into foods.
Under the measure, residents could grow as many as six pot plants at home and keep what they harvest. But the plants couldn’t be visible to the public. And local governments could regulate how they’re grown, including requiring that it be done indoors.
No one could consume recreational pot in public. Consumption would be allowed only on private property or in “cannabis cafes” licensed strictly for marijuana use.
The initiative would uphold laws against driving while impaired or having an open container of marijuana in a car. But it wouldn’t establish a threshold, as Colorado and Washington did, for how much THC (the compound in pot that makes users high) drivers could legally have in their blood.
Proposition 64 backers say that’s because a blood test isn’t a good measure for marijuana impairment, since pot stays in the system long after its mind-altering effects have worn off. So the initiative would direct tax revenue to law enforcement and researchers to develop better tests for drugged driving.
The measure would protect employer rather than employee rights, allowing companies to hire and fire based on drug tests.
But the penalties for most marijuana-related crimes, which studies show disproportionately affect minorities, would be lower if the measure passes. Adults convicted of possession with intent to sell would get six months in jail rather than two years in prison, for example, while teens caught with the drug would get counseling and community service instead of criminal records. And those changes would be retroactive, meaning marijuana offenders could be released from jail or have their records expunged if the measure passes.
Proposition 64 also would uphold existing rights for medical marijuana patients, allowing them to still grow more pot than recreational consumers and access medical marijuana at 18 years old. They would face some additional taxes, though they’d also gain privacy and child custody protections.
If the measure is approved, all of these personal rights would take effect the day after the election, on Nov. 9.
It would take a bit longer for the taxed and regulated recreational marijuana industry promised by Proposition 64 to take shape.
Shops would start to open on or before Jan. 1, 2018.
That’s the date California officials expect to start issuing licenses to all medical marijuana growers, manufacturers and sellers under industry regulations signed into law in 2015.
Proposition 64 would largely extend the same regulatory framework to recreational marijuana production, with requirements for licensing, testing, child-resistant packaging, limited advertising and tracking pot from seed to sale.
The initiative would establish a 15 percent sales tax, plus a tax by weight for growers. That would be on top of taxes local governments tack on and regular state sales tax, though medical marijuana users would be exempt from the latter.
Small- and medium-sized businesses would get an edge coming out of the gate, since Proposition 64 bans large-scale cultivation for the first five years. But after Jan. 1, 2023, there would be no state cap on the size of marijuana farms.
Cities and counties would still have authority to regulate, tax or ban marijuana-related businesses in their borders. Many have already started passing laws in anticipation of Proposition 64, with 62 local measures related to marijuana on the ballot Nov. 8.
Nearly every poll on Proposition 64 suggests it will pass, though perhaps narrowly. Recent polls have ranged from 51 percent to 71 percent support, with many averaging around 60 percent.
But advertising to defeat Proposition 64 is being aired. And in California the popularity of measures often shifts in the final days before an election.
If the measure becomes law, industry experts predict that California’s legal weed market will reach $6.5 billion by 2020 and potentially spur legalization throughout the country.
The Legislative Analyst’s Office anticipates that tax revenue from the measure could top $1 billion annually, with the justice system potentially saving tens of millions more on enforcement costs.
The revenue won’t go to state or local general funds. Instead, it will be set aside to fund youth drug prevention programs, marijuana research, better drugged driving tests, environmental remediation and grants to affected communities.
The effect legal marijuana has on highway safety, teen use and crime isn’t yet clear. There are conflicting reports coming out of states such as Colorado and Washington, which approved legal pot in 2012. And experts say they need more years of reliable data before they have definitive answers.
More research is also needed on how recreational marijuana use ultimately affects health and achievement, with particular concern over today’s increasingly potent pot. But studies increasingly suggest that, while marijuana consumption may pose some risks for young people and the mentally ill, responsible use appears to have little affect on healthy adults.
With valid concerns on both sides of the issue, Dr. Igor Grant, who heads up the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at UC San Diego, said it will be up to voters to weigh the effects of prohibition against the potential effects of legalization.
“There’s a cost-benefit analysis that voters have to make,” he said.
The official Yes on 64 campaign has raised $15 million, with an additional $4 million sitting in funds for supporting committees.
The campaign has spent $11.3 million, per the latest report filed Sept. 29, with $6.5 million spent on TV and radio ads that recently began airing.
Major funding has come from New Approach PAC, which is a legacy of Progressive insurance mogul Peter Lewis; advocacy group Drug Policy Action, with funding from billionaire George Soros; and Irvine-based Weedmaps.
But roughly half of the measure’s money has come from one man: Sean Parker.
The Silicon Valley billionaire who co-founded Napster and was instrumental in Facebook’s early days hasn’t commented on why he supports the measure. But a campaign spokesman insists that it’s a moral rather than financial issue for Parker.
“He has zero interest in the marijuana industry and he never will,” spokesman Jason Kinney said. “He cares about social justice.”
That’s a cause frequently cited by Proposition 64 backers, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and U.S. Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa. Both men have also argued that the measure will replace failed prohibition with a safe, regulated system.
Dozens of organizations have endorsed the measure, including the California Medical Association and United Farm Workers. So have editorial boards for some of the state’s largest newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times and the San Jose Mercury News.
Other key arguments from proponents include the potential to generate new tax revenue, curtail the black market and boost local control.
The No on 64 campaign has raised $1.1 million and spent nearly half of it, including $50,000 on TV ads.
Some contributions have come from local law enforcement groups and individual residents.
But more than $900,000, or 82 percent of the fundraising total, has come from a nonprofit affiliated with Smart Approaches to Marijuana, a Washington, D.C.-based organization that fights marijuana legalization across the country. And all of the money SAM has given has come from one woman: Julie Schauer.
Online records show that Schauer is a retired East Coast art professor who manages a family trust apparently linked to her father’s days as a banker. She hasn’t done interviews about her opposition to Proposition 64, though social media posts indicate that she believes marijuana can be linked to violence and mental illness.
A lack of adequate protections for kids and drivers is a key argument cited by Proposition 64 opponents, including elected leaders such as Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein and public safety officials such as Orange County District Attorney Tony Rackauckus.
Resistance also has come from some medical marijuana advocates and entrepreneurs who are concerned with how Proposition 64 will upset the current system and perhaps open the door for big corporations down the road.
They’re joined by dozens of organizations opposing the measure, including AAA of Southern California and the California Hospital Association. And they’re backed by newspapers such as The Sacramento Bee and The Bakersfield Californian.