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January 2017 Newsletter: California Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

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    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.

    What’s Legal on Nov. 9 That Wasn’t on Nov. 8?

    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.

    If I Can’t Go to a Dispensary Today, Where Would I Buy Marijuana?

    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.

    When Will I Be Able to Walk into a Store and Buy It?

    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.

    Where Can Marijuana Be Consumed?

    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.

    What Happens if I Smoke or Ingest Marijuana and Drive?

    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.

    What About All the Social Justice Motivations for Legalizing 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.”

    What Organizations Were Against Legalizing Marijuana?

    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.

    Other New Laws in California

    • At companies with 26 or more employees, the minimum wage will increase from $10 an hour to $10.50.
    • Employers are prohibited from paying women less than male colleagues based on prior salary. Workers in “substantially similar” jobs but of different race or ethnicity will also need to be paid equal wages.
    • Employers won’t be allowed to ask a job applicant to disclose information about an arrest, detention, or court case—if it happened while the person was younger than 18.
    • Once a gray area for motorcyclists, new rules will be established by the California Highway Patrol for how fast they can drive when riding between cars along the lane line.
    • Companies including Uber and Lyft can no longer hire drivers who are registered sex offenders, have been convicted of violent felonies or have had a DUI conviction within the last seven years.
    • Drivers for companies like Uber and Lyft can’t have a blood alcohol content of 0.04% or more.
    • Inspired by the sexual assault allegations against comedian Bill Cosby, California eliminated statutes of limitations for rape and some other sex crimes. That means if a crime happens after Dec. 31, 2016, the victim can report it at any point in the future and see it prosecuted; previous law generally limited prosecution to within 10 years.
    • In response to outrage over the six-month sentence for sexual assault given to former Stanford student Brock Turner, prison time will be mandatory for those convicted of assault in which the victim was unconscious or not capable of giving consent because of intoxication.
    • It will be tougher for law enforcement to seize someone’s cash, cars, or property. A criminal conviction is now required before the police can permanently take from a suspect any assets valued under $40,000
    • Children can no longer be charged with prostitution, given the high incidence of human trafficking of people younger than 18. Adults who perform or solicit prostitution would not face mandatory minimum sentences.
    • Public schools can now expel students for bullying through video or sexting. State education officials will be required to publish information on sexual cyberbullying online and encourage schools to teach students about sexting.
    • People will no longer be able to buy semi-automatic rifles that have a bullet button allowing removal of the ammunition magazine, commonly used in mass shootings. Those that have such weapons will have to register them with the state.
    • Bathrooms in public buildings with a single toilet must be designated as all-gender, open to anyone. The law will take effect on March 1.
    • The state can’t fund or require public employees to travel to states believed to discriminate against lesbians, gays, bisexuals, or transgender people.
    • Orca breeding and performance programs, like the one formerly run by SeaWorld theme parks, will be outlawed starting in June.
    • Felons serving sentences in county jails will be able to vote in California elections as part of an effort to speed their transition back into society.

    Quotes of the Month From Martin Luther King, Jr.

    • “The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.”
    • “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
    • “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?” 
    • “Faith is taking the first step, even when you don’t see the whole staircase.” 

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