Posted on 08/24/2022
Six years after Californians rejected a previous initiative that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, state voters this time on November 8, 2016, decided to make weed legal and readily available to adults 21 and over, regardless of medical need. (i.e., for recreational use).
In 1996, California was the first to legalize marijuana as medicine with Proposition 215. Twenty-four other states have followed in legalizing medical use, with four states—Washington, Colorado, Oregon, and Alaska—along with Washington, D.C., approving recreational use.
Proposition 64 was the most-watched marijuana initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot. By a margin of about 56% to 44%, voters passed Proposition 64, making California the fifth state to legalize recreational pot, after Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. Later in the evening, results came in showing that voters in Massachusetts and Nevada did the same. The vote happened 20 years after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. The outcome of Proposition 64 is expected to have a significant impact on marijuana politics nationally.
There aren’t any adult-use pot shops yet, and you can’t just walk into a medical dispensary without a patient card and start buying up brownies. But there is good news for those who would partake: for adults over the age of 21 in California, it is now legal to use, possess and share cannabis, as well as grow it at home. Adults can open their bags, put in up to one ounce of flowers or eight grams of concentrate (like the stuff you put in vape pens) and go walk around in the world without fear of arrest.
Adults possessing more than an ounce of marijuana will continue to face misdemeanor charges, including a $500 fine and up to six months in jail. Punishments for possession of marijuana for sale are being dropped from mandatory felonies and up to two years in jail to the same misdemeanor penalty.
Adults 18 to 21 will continue to face a $100 infraction for marijuana possession, while youths under 18 can get counseling or community service in lieu of a fine. Also, the initiative would allow people convicted of a marijuana offense that is no longer a crime to petition to have their records expunged.
That’s a bit tricky, as it is still prohibited to buy pot on the black market. “You cannot legally buy a marijuana plant, but someone can give you one,” Reiman says. If someone is already cultivating cannabis in their backyard, she says, they could share the bud or a clone so a friend could start growing their own. However, money cannot exchange hands. “There could be a whole sharing economy that emerges,” says Reiman.
Likely not until 2018. The state has a host of regulations to get through, and localities have the ability to put different rules in place too. It’s a lot of red tape. Certain areas that already have robust medical-marijuana businesses, like Oakland and San Francisco, might get through it sooner, Reiman says. But the deadline for the state to start issuing licenses to those eventual pot shops is Jan. 1, 2018, so that’s the safe bet.
Adults cannot smoke or ingest weed in public. Though Proposition 64 will eventually allow for licensed on-site consumption—Reiman imagines this will happen in the Amsterdam coffee-shop vein, given that no business can sell alcohol or tobacco as well as marijuana—the safe thing to do is only consume at private residences for now. Reiman notes that, pending local rules, people in California will eventually be able to host private events where cannabis is smoked and that hotels or “bud and breakfasts” could choose to explicitly allow consumption on their premises.
It’s still illegal to do drugs and operate a vehicle, boat, aircraft, or any other such vessel, and it will continue to be. The exact protocols for determining if a driver is impaired by marijuana will be set out by the California Highway Patrol. The initiative’s passage imposes no specific legal exposure standard for driving while stoned, such as in Colorado or Washington, where recreational marijuana use was approved by voters in 2015. However, it directs tax revenues to researchers with the University of California system and to the California Highway Patrol to study marijuana impairment and develop “protocols and best practices” for detecting people driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, including marijuana.
Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) have pushed for legalization as a matter of criminal justice reform, in large part because minorities are disproportionately detained and jailed for cannabis-related offenses. As of Nov. 9, criminal penalties will undergo change; some past offenders will have a chance to get their records expunged (or get out of jail early); and people under the age of 18 will be “sentenced” not with jail time but drug counseling and community service if they are caught with cannabis. When they come of age, those records will be destroyed.
There are a lot of details, and Reiman says the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU are currently working on setting up systems that will help people understand whether the changes apply to them. But, as an example, if someone got a felony conviction for cultivating six plants or fewer in the past, which every Californian can now legally do, they’d have a case for getting that record wiped clean.
“We encourage people to think about cannabis in a new way, as something that is perfectly acceptable for adults to do in a responsible way. That’s one of the messages that legalization sends.”
On TV and billboards, the fight against legalizing marijuana is about health, safe communities, and our children’s future. But for Big Pharma and Big Tobacco—who fund these anti-marijuana efforts—it’s really about the bottom line. For years, large corporations and well-heeled lobbyists have blocked the legalization of marijuana for medical use or recreational use in order to protect their own profits. The power that big corporations have on our government and the resulting laws and regulations will be discussed further in another month’s newsletter.