Drugs

How Legal Marijuana Will Change California in 2018

Golden State smokers can expect higher-quality, and more expensive, weed.

Photo Credit: Mangokeylime/Wikimedia/Creative Commons

When I first moved from New York City to San Francisco, I was captivated by the polarities between the two cities. New York City buildings were black and grey; San Francisco’s exploded with color. New York City’s produce selection in the winter was disgraceful; San Francisco had fresh avocados. New York City’s streets smelled like cigarettes; San Francisco’s smelled like weed.

Marijuana’s distinguishable presence in California is hard to miss, especially in San Francisco, even for the greenest tourist. The state has been known for decades for its laissez-faire attitude towards the herb. People smoke it indoors; outside on the streets; they eat it at dinner parties; toke up in the outdoor areas of bars; and it can be bought for just five dollars a joint in San Francisco’s Dolores Park.

Weed has been legal since voters passed proposition 64 in 2016, but you couldn't formally buy it in a store the way one might buy liquor (without a medical card, at least). That all changes starting on midnight at January 1, and as a California resident, I can’t help but wonder: how will this change the state I live in? Will weed cafés suddenly be everywhere, à la Amsterdam? Will tech workers at startups have marijuana dispensers alongside kegerators in their “non-traditional” offices?

Derek Peterson, the CEO of Terra Tech, a cannabis-focused agriculture company which is also the first publicly traded company to be associated with marijuana, thinks it will be a gradual integration into California culture.

"For 2018, it will be a year of adapting to the regulations; you won't see big enforcement until 2019. There will always be black market consumers, but as they become more educated, they will naturally rise to the regulated market,” he told Salon.

How California Got Here

First, a brief overview of the legalization situation: On Nov. 8, 2016, Californians voted to pass the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, also referred to as Proposition 64, allowing adults 21 and older to legally possess one ounce of weed. Californians can also have up to six plants in their home. This will take effect on Jan. 1. California will join Oregon, Colorado, Nevada, Alaska, Washington, and Washington, D.C., in the cohort of states that have legalized recreational weed.

Marijuana first started making its way into the state’s legislature in 1996 when voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana. California was the first state in the U.S. to do this, paving the way for medical marijuana use in other states. In 2010, the California Senate passed bill 1449 which made possession of 28.5 grams of marijuana an infraction punishable by fine less than $100. Opponents called this move a “virtual legalization.” In 2015, California underwent a major overhaul in the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. Alas, here we are today.

California State Revenue

Legalizing marijuana could possibly be a regulatory mess for the state and its infrastructure, but that could be a small price to pay for the revenue legal weed could bring to the state. According to cannabis financial analysis firm GreenWave Advisors, the legalization of marijuana could be worth over $5 billion in its first year. The state of California will have a 15 percent tax on marijuana; cities can add freely to this. It’s unclear what the predicted tax revenue from recreational legal pot will be, but if Colorado has set any precedent, it’s clear that it can indeed bring a substantial amount. In July, Colorado hit a milestone of bringing in nearly $200 million in 2016, which it has reportedly spent on schools.

A New Stream of Tourism

Perhaps what some in the cannabis industry are most excited about is what legalization will mean for California as a tourist hub for cannabis. According to a forecasting report by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, there are more than 260 millions visits to California each year that bring more than $122 billion to the state. It’s estimated that tourists spend $7.2 billion on wine in California—some think the cost of legal cannabis use could reach similar heights.

“Like Napa is for wine, the Emerald Triangle will create something like that,” Leslie Bocskor of Electrum Partners, who has advised policy makers in various states that have legalized marijuana, told Salon. “People can visit the groves, the farms, see how it’s grown and processed, and it will be all be in beautiful Northern California.”

What About Smoking & Driving?

Driving under the influence of marijuana will still be illegal because it’s a drug, and driving under the influence of drugs has always been a crime, a spokesperson from the San Francisco Police Department confirmed to Salon. According to Vehicle Code 23152(e): "It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle."

Additionally, Californians shouldn’t expect to see new measures to screen for marijuana use while driving.

“There are specific officers trained in recognizing drivers who may be operating under the influence of drugs, called Drug Recognition Experts (DREs). These officers attend specialized training in order to have this certification and are called to respond to a scene where officers believe a driver may be under the influence of drugs,” Officer Grace Gatpandan told Salon in an email.

The Quality of California’s Weed

“California weed” means top-of-the-line pot across state borders. The Emerald Triangle, which is the largest cannabis-producing region in the U.S., is known for growing high-quality cannabis. However, under the new regulations, legalized weed could be even higher quality. The new regulations prohibit types of pesticides that can be unhealthy when smoked, which will ensure legal weed is the real stuff. The black market will likely have more chemical-filled bud.

So, Where Can You Buy It?

Just because marijuana is officially legal on Jan. 1 doesn’t mean your local corner store is going to start selling it. Businesses need to apply for a license through the California Department of Public Health. California growers must apply through the California Department of Food & Agriculture. Only a couple dozen shops have reportedly received licenses and will be ready to open on Jan. 1, and those are mostly in Oakland, San Diego, Berkeley and San Jose. Licenses are subject to municipality laws too.

What About Those Convicted of Marijuana-Related Offenses?

The same proposition that has legalized marijuana has also cut penalties for many marijuana-related offenses, and anyone who is currently incarcerated, on probation, on parole, or under community supervision could petition to have a sentence reduced or a charge reduced to a misdemeanor. Advocacy group Drug Policy Alliance has a whole guide about it here.

Medical Marijuana Cards

One interesting part of legalization will be observing how it affects the medical marijuana business, and the dispensaries that support those with medical marijuana cards. The Green Cross, a medical cannabis dispensary in San Francisco, said it will continue to serve high-quality and “affordable” weed to its patients, and all adults once the City of San Francisco allows them to purchase it.

“We're glad that the new state laws will require all cannabis to be lab-tested for safety, as we've been doing for years. We're also happy the new city laws will permit our non-retail vendors, and incentivize participation in this newly-regulated market-segment by people who have been arrested, reversing part of the Drug War's structural racism,” Kevin Reed, founder and the president of the Green Cross, told Salon.

Nicole Karlis is a news writer at Salon whose writing has appeared in Marie Claire, the New York Times, the Bold Italic, and other publications. Tweet her @nicolekarlis.