Wait, so what happened?

California legalized marijuana. Proposition 64 passed by a margin of 56 percent  to 44 percent.

You’re shitting me.

Nope. The sixth-largest economy in the world just legalized cannabis.

And it was called Proposition 64?

It was on the ballot in California along with the presidential election. The state passed medical marijuana in 1996. Six years ago, there was a valiant attempt to make it all legal. That initiative lost narrowly. Activists went back to the drawing board and put together what was intended to be a model of the form, the mother of all marijuana legalization initiatives.  It was a tough fight, but attitudes toward marijuana are shifting so fast that, with the benefit of hindsight, it was clear the opposition never had a chance.

So I can grow and smoke weed legally now. 

In California, personal marijuana possession and cultivation by adults is fine, within the limits of the law.

Oh, so there’s a catch. That figures …

No, wait. You just have to be 21 and not holding more than an ounce when you’re out in public. (I’m including that link there so you can check out the relevant section of the law as we go along.)

So, like, I don’t have to get a license or a permit or pass an exam or get paperwork signed or…

No, none of that. You just need to be an adult.

Wow, that’s great! No more tickets for weed or having to pay for a doctor’s note every year.

That’s right. Concentrates are legal too, up to eight grams. Used to be a misdemeanor.

Huh? I thought less than an ounce of dabs was just a ticket, like flower.

You thought wrong. Regular old-fashioned marijuana, which we call flower these days, was decriminalized. Concentrates – extracts, dabs, oil, whatever you call it – were still banned and possession of them was a misdemeanor that could get you a year in jail.

Whoa! OK, what about edibles? Can I only have an ounce of edibles?

That’s a bit harder to determine. The new law says edibles can only contain up to ten milligrams of THC per serving.

So, like, how many milligrams are in an ounce?

28,349.5. But never mind that, let’s keep this simple. If California does like Colorado, and limits an edible like a brownie, chocolate bar, or soda to 100-milligrams total, then you could have up to 283 of those edibles.

All right, that seems reasonable—now what about growing cannabis?

That’s legal, too, so long as you keep it to six plants or fewer in a locked, enclosed space that can’t be seen by the public.

Yes! Me and my three roommates can grow two dozen plants!

No, you can only have six plants total in a house.

Nobody can work a garden with just one mother plant and then five other plants as seedlings, immature, and flowering plants.

Well, some people can. Regardless, Prop 64 also lowered growing more than six plants to a misdemeanor from a felony, so long as it isn’t a third strike or an aggravated offense.

Aggravated? Like, I grew pissed-off plants?

No, like you involved minors, used hazardous materials, harmed the environment, stuff like that.

OK, but it’s not going to matter, because my county’s just going to ban home grows anyway.

They can’t. They can ban outdoor growing and set reasonable restrictions on growing, but they cannot make any regulations that effectively ban your right to grow six plants indoors in your own home.

Still, that’s not very many plants. I couldn’t make that work.

How do you know? Are you growing more than six plants now?

I’m not telling you that, narc!

Lighten up, Francis. Now that Prop 64 has passed, marijuana’s not contraband. Not only must cops retire their current drug dogs, but they also can’t use dumpster dives for the seeds, stems, or trim in your garbage, suspiciously-high electric bills, thermal imaging of your grow room, or any of those old tricks they used to get search warrants. In short, if you are, hypothetically, growing more than six plants, it’s going to be a whole lot more difficult for cops to catch you doing it.

Why do they have to retire drug dogs? It’s still illegal to have too much weed, right?

Yes, it’s the same misdemeanor it’s always been, but a dog can’t smell the difference between a legal ounce and an illegal pound.

Yeah, but don’t those dogs also sniff coke, meth, and heroin?

Sure, but most of them sniff weed as well. It looks like in the end police will have to retrain the animals, because an alert to a now-legal substance can’t be used to trigger probable cause to a search. Cops who ignore this new reality do so at their peril, risking lawsuits and evidence suppression. If a vehicle search turns up half an ounce of pot and a kilo of heroin, there will be no way to tell which triggered the dog’s alert, and the defense will argue that the heroin cannot be admitted as evidence because it was found illegally. The defense would have an even stronger argument if the search discovered stolen property or a murder weapon along with a small amount of marijuana.

What about buying and selling weed, is that legal?

Yes, if you get the right licenses and follow the regulations.

I could start a legal pot farm? Or become a legal extractor of cannabis oil? Or open a legal pot shop?

Certainly, within certain restrictions and guidelines. You can get all the licenses for growing, processing, and retailing if you want to, except that if you want to go into the testing business—checking the products of other companies for THC levels and the like—you have to stay out of the growing business, and vice versa.

The whole shebang gonna get taken over by big business.

Well, not for a while. The law keep big companies out—banning large commercial grows over 22,000 sq. ft (indoors) or an acre (outdoors) until 2023. That’s designed to let entrepreneurs get their footing. There’s also an innovating thing called a microbusiness license, which is designed to let the weed equivalent of craft beer makers carve out some space in the market for themselves.

They’ll never be able to compete with the Walmarts of Weed, though.

Don’t count on it. The beer industry is dominated by huge corporations that sell Budweiser, Miller, and Coors, but nobody’s forcing you to drink it. Meanwhile, craft breweries increased by 15 percent in 2015, sold 13 percent more craft beer than the year before, and now account for almost one out of every eight beers sold. There’s no reason weed shouldn’t work the same way.

Wait, back to selling. Can I sell some of the buds off my own plants to my neighbor? 

Nope. Without a license, it is still illegal to sell marijuana; however, the penalty for illegal sales as been reduced from a felony to a misdemeanor. You can share up to an ounce with your adult neighbor for free, though. That used to be a misdemeanor with a $100 ticket, but now it is perfectly legal.

What about taxes? They’re going to add a lot of taxes, aren’t they?

Yeah, afraid so. There will be a 15 percent excise tax added to marijuana products at the store, as well as a $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax on flower and $2.75 per ounce on trim. Plus, localities can add on their own taxes, as some are already planning. But that’s just on the commercial weed; your home grow is never taxed.

Uh-huh, I knew it. Say hello to $500 ounces.

I seriously doubt it. The prices for marijuana in Washington, Oregon, and Colorado have all dropped dramatically since legalization. Washington taxes the most, about 45 percent between state and local sales taxes and excise taxes, and their average retail prices are around $9 per gram. I’ve seen ounces selling for $159 on a regular basis and some specials that have gotten down to $79.

Oh, come on now. The cost of living is much higher in California!

True, but California weed prices are way higher than the cost-of-living difference. Legalization means vastly increased production, far more consumers, and the elimination of legal risk. The prices can’t go anywhere but down.

I’ll believe that when I see it.

You’ll see it, because these companies are going to have to compete with adults who are now allowed to grow their own cannabis plants at home. Not to mention the other states around California that have legalized.

I mean, you make it sound like this legalization thing is cool. But if there are still laws against weed, how legal is it, really?

There are laws that tell you where you can drink beer legally and prevent you from drinking as much of it as you want in public or brewing too much of it in private. But that doesn’t mean beer isn’t legalized. I’d like more marijuana liberty, too, and we’ll get there. Remember, when beer was first re-legalized in the Prohibition Era, it was limited to 3.2 percent alcohol and there were still states with total booze bans until 1966.

Yeah, and Prohibition ended in 1933. So, you’re telling me stoners are still going to go to jail for weed for decades.

Who knows how long, but yes, for a while there will still be ways to go to jail for weed, and definitely in states that still criminalize it. The thinking is that, with California leading the way, there will be a lot of pressure on the states that lag. But in California, at least, for now, most of those remaining crimes are harder to catch, like we talked about with the drug dogs, and most are reduced from felonies and misdemeanors to lower crimes for people 18 and older, or made legal for people 21 and older. Minors under age 18 can’t be sent to jail or juvenile detention over weed at all. And best of all, those changes apply retroactively.

Retroactively? And that means?

It means if your grandpa was busted for growing a six-plant garden fifty years ago when he was 21, what he did back then was—is—now legal. He can apply to get his record expunged of the felony conviction he’s been burdened with for half a century.

How did you know my grandpa has a grow felony?

Lucky guess. But with expungement, your grandpa can buy a gun, travel outside the United States, get security clearances, and not face the discrimination convicted felons face in employment, housing, and other essentials of life.

What about my buddy? He got popped for felony possession with intent to sell because he just harvested two pounds off his plants. Now he’s sitting in Solano on a two-year sentence until spring of 2018. Is he not a felon anymore, too?

Yup. Whether or not he intended to sell it, possessing more than an ounce is only a misdemeanor now with a maximum six-month sentence. He could get credit for his time served since spring, get out of prison now, and get that felony off his record. Or, if his possession happened in his home where he grew his six legal plants, that’s not a crime anymore at all. All your buddy has to do is fill out the paperwork and go through the process that confirms his eligibility for early release.

You’re telling me keeping two pounds of weed under my rock is now legal?

The law makes it legal to possess all the marijuana you harvested from your six legal plants, so long as you keep it in your private residence where the public can’t see it, in a locked container.

What if I grow six eighteen-foot-tall monster trees and harvested ten pounds off each? Could I still possess sixty pounds?

The way I see it, there’s no theoretical limit to how much weed you could store at home. This might be a loophole in the law. Your right to cultivate at home doesn’t require you to grow the plant from seed to harvest. If you had, say, 50 pounds of marijuana at home, and for some reason were arrested, in theory you could say you brought in six trees from a friend one week, harvested five pounds off of them, and then returned them and got six different plants in to harvest the next week, and so on.

Well that seems reasonable!

Now, I wouldn’t advise you to try that and become the first test case. But if you did and failed, remember, possession over an ounce, even with the intent to sell that prosecutors throw onto big possession cases, is now just a misdemeanor.

You’re making this legalization thing sound too good to be true. Surely, something got worse with the passage of Prop 64.

Yes, I cannot lie…

I knew it!

…the fine for smoking pot in a no-smoking zone went up from $100 to $250.

And?

And don’t call me Shirley.

No, I mean, “and” what other punishments got worse with legalization?

Nothing. Everything else that was a marijuana crime before has either stayed the same, been reduced, or become legal.

What about medical marijuana? I heard that the legalization would kill Prop 215

Prop 64 specifically stated that its restrictionslimitscommercial regulations, and cultivation tax don’t apply to medical marijuana patients and caregivers.

So, patients and caregivers can still possess however much marijuana and cultivate however many cannabis plants their doctor recommends?

Not only that, but Prop 64 improved medical marijuana by protecting the child custody rights of patients and protected the existing industry by favoring them in recreational licensing and requiring California residency until 2020.

It still sounds too good to be true. I saw what happened in Washington. There must be some way medical marijuana got screwed

Yes, again, I cannot lie…

Here we go

…medical marijuana patients must pay the new taxes established for the commercial marijuana market. Though they will get a break on state and local sales and use taxes if they have a state medical card

Yup, there it is. Legalization is going to tax sick people for medicine. That’s disgusting!

Yeah, I’ll admit, I agree with you there. But it may be a blessing in disguise.

Oh, I gotta hear this.

You mentioned Washington

Yeah, I got a cousin up in Seattle. He says that all the dispensaries got shut down and patients’ possession and grow limits were slashed.

Yup. And that’s largely because after their legalization passed, they had a brand-new recreational system alongside an existing medical system. The recreational side had (then) 25 percent taxation at cultivation, at processing, and at retail, plus a bevy of rules, regulations, inspections, and licensing to deal with. The med side had no taxes, no regulations, and a system that made it easy to get a recommendation.

Right! Because medicine should not be taxed!

Yes, I agree. But what happened is the legislature saw that heavy recreational consumers, the folks they’d make the most tax money from, would just go get a medical recommendation so they could avoid paying taxes and shop at dispensaries with much lower prices, because they don’t have all the rec-shop’s regulatory overhead.

So?

So, if that happened, the state would’ve lost out on millions in expected tax revenue from consumers, and the growers, processors, and retailers of marijuana would have stayed in the lucrative, unregulated, tax-free medical system. Legalization would have been dead on arrival and Washington would have given pot prohibitionists support for their argument that taxing and regulating marijuana can’t work.

I see. So, why didn’t the same thing happen in Colorado and Oregon?

Because both of those states had tightly-regulated medical dispensaries and strictly scrutinized qualifying conditions. Notice how the California legislature passed all those bills to regulate medical marijuana last year? They knew there’d be legalization in 2016 and didn’t want to have that same disparity between a taxed-and-regulated recreational system and an untaxed-and-unregulated medical system like Washington did.

Yeah, I get it, but still, taxes are going to jack up the price of sick people’s medicine. Oregon and Colorado patients don’t pay extra marijuana taxes. If California learned from Washington and regulated medical marijuana beforehand, why did they still force patients to pay tax?

This is a good question, and it illustrates the complexities that go on behind the scenes as the activists on the outsides say, simply “Legalize it!”

California can’t do the other thing Washington did—add more oversight to getting a doctor’s recommendation. In Washington, the people’s initiatives can’t be modified by the Legislature without a supermajority vote for two years, but after that it’s just a majority vote. That’s why their legislature took until 2015 to pass the new bills that have caused your cousin’s heartbreak. In California, those initiatives can’t be modified by the Legislature, ever. Since Prop 215 is a citizen initiative and allows medical use for “any other illness for which marijuana provides relief”, there would be no way to prevent regular consumers from getting a medical card to beat the taxes if patients didn’t have to pay.

So, California must tax patients because otherwise, potheads would cheat the medical system for a tax break?

Well, I guess that’s one way to put it. Another would be that taxing patients is the price of having a medical marijuana system for which anybody can easily qualify

And that the price of weed will increase beyond what patients can afford

Maybe in the short run, just like happened in Washington, Colorado, and Oregon. But all three of those states tax marijuana at greater rates than California, and all three boast average marijuana prices that are far lower. A study by the RAND Corporation back in 2010 determined that in a completely legal environment, California weed could be as cheap as $38 per ounce, even with sin taxes added.

Right. Monkeys will fly out of my ass before I see a $38 ounce in California

Why are there monkeys in your ass? But let’s say you’re right, that $38 is a utopian estimate. Right now, I see ounces sold in California for $200 to $300. The price of legalized weed only needs to drop to $164.66 and $251.62—a decline of about 16 to 18 percent—for medical patients to be paying the same price, tax included, that they pay now.

And how long will patients have to wait for that?

Remember the prices I mentioned in Washington, the state with the worst legalization and highest taxes? RAND’s analysts say prices there are falling steadily at about 2 percent per month. If that holds for California, patients would be paying lower prices with tax in eight or nine months than they’re paying without tax now. But I think prices will drop faster and harder in California just because of the sheer size of the market.

Well, it’s still gonna suck for a while for some patients.

Yes, but not passing Prop 64 would have prolonged sucking for millions of cannabis consumers, not just in California, but in the rest of the prohibition states and foreign countries that aren’t going to budge until something huge, like California legalizing weed, forces them to. What’s happening isn’t just the beginning of legal weed in California, but the beginning of the end of the Global War on Drugs.

Heh, heh, heh… you said, “prolonged sucking”!

We’re done here.

 

 

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