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20 Nov 2017

Cannabis in the CV: On Jan. 1, the Era of Recreational Legal Marijuana Will Begin in California

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I lived in Washington state in 2012 when voters passed Initiative 502, making Washington one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and older.

Although the process took a year, Washington was able to implement a well-thought-out system to fairly tax recreational users, ensure public safety and create distribution methods.

Three years later, I moved to Southern California, where recreational prohibition was the law of the land—even though anyone with access to the Internet, $45 or so, a California state driver’s license and the ability to say the words “trouble sleeping” could easily obtain a medical diagnosis via what amounts to a Skype call.

While marijuana does have numerous medical benefits, I find it difficult to believe it is the panacea that many of its proponents suggest it is—and the medical dispensaries don’t do much to maintain the illusion that they are anything like pharmacies. Imagine going to a drugstore … with a happy hour? Would you get 2-for-1 antibiotics to help clear up that rash?

I was relieved when California voters last year followed the lead of Washington (and, by then, three other states) and passed Proposition 64. As a person who tries to lead an honest life, it pained me to participate in this fiction. When Prop 64 fully takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, California will join the ranks of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia in acknowledging that marijuana is as safe, if not safer, than alcohol when used by adults.

Of course, California has been at the center of unlawful or semi-lawful marijuana cultivation for decades, and bringing the growers into the legal market will help control quality, eventually bring down prices, take power away from the gangs and cartels, and help influence the movement to end prohibition entirely on a national scale. (Of course, given the state of our federal government as of now, that last part may be delayed a bit.)

California cities have a great deal of leeway in deciding where pot can be sold, and how many licenses to issue. Palm Springs, for instance, is currently expecting to have approximately six shops—the same number of legal medical dispensaries that are now operating in the city; during season, I’m sure this will give locals yet another chance to talk about how long the lines are. (Remember: Wednesday is our slow day here, so you may want to plan your recreational shopping trips accordingly.) The city of Palm Springs also just passed a law that will allow Amsterdam-style cafes. This is particularly important, given the number of tourists we attract; it’s also important for renters, as most hotels and apartments have strict “no smoking” policies. Remember: It is still illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants.

Palm Desert only recently lifted its ban on any sort of dispensaries—and will even be allowing one recreational shop in the tony El Paseo shopping district. On the other end of the spectrum, the city of Coachella maintains an outright ban on the sale of marijuana, although cultivation is OK, and there are at least two churches where congregants can go and, for a donation, receive the sacrament in either brownie, flower or vape form.

Tourists and nonmedical users will need to be aware of a few things before showing up at one of the new recreational shops. Most importantly: As with alcohol, driving while under the influence will be illegal, and if you have anything in the car, it must be in a closed container. The best practice would be to keep it in the trunk so there can be no doubt if you are pulled over.

Also of note is that adults over the age of 21 can carry up to an ounce of marijuana flower, or eight grams of concentrate. That is a lot of pot to have on you. Private citizens can also grow up to six mature plants for their own use; although it will be illegal to sell the pot you grow without a license, you are welcome to give it to friends or perhaps your favorite Independent marijuana columnist. 

Initially, at least, prices will probably rise. Although commercial growers are eagerly preparing for the first post-legalization harvest, demand may surpass supply in those first few months, if what happened in other states is any indication. Also: An additional 15 percent state tax combined with local taxes and other fees virtually ensures that prices will be higher at first. However, as growers get a handle on demand, we should see prices drop.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and our current attorney general, Jeff Sessions (at least he is as of this writing … you never know with the Trump administration) has vowed to crack down on enforcement, so bringing pot into national parks could land you in some real trouble: State and local law enforcement will no longer assist the feds, but you still need to be careful if you want to bring a joint along with you when you, say, go hike in Joshua Tree. Plus, with our long history of drought here in Southern California, you don’t want to risk being responsible for the next round of wild fires. Try vaping or a brownie instead.

Come Jan. 1, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population will be able to use pot in much the same way they currently enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail—and as states and municipalities wrestle with the implications of this brave new world, the Coachella Valley Independent will continue to be here with news, reviews and stories to help you make good, responsible decisions around marijuana use.

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