California’s 103-year-old prohibition on recreational marijuana is officially at an end, with final results showing Proposition 64 passed with 56 percent of the vote.
“This is, I think, the beginning of the end of the war on marijuana in the United States, not just here in California,” Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who backed the measure, said on a teleconference call with reporters Wednesday.
If so, the end of hostilities figures to be confusing.
Pot opponents are gearing up to fight back, the industry is divided and everybody is wondering how the Trump Administration will treat cannabis.
In other words, says attorney Aaron Herzberg, who heads up the Costa Mesa firm CalCann Holdings, the real work is just beginning.
“Now that Proposition 64 has passed,” he said, “we have a long road ahead of us to ensure this is not simply a pyrrhic victory.”
Industry still torn
Business owners in California’s entrenched medical marijuana industry were split over whether to support Prop. 64, with mixed reactions to news of its passing.
“We’re very excited that patients and cannabis consumers will be able to safely access cannabis through professional dispensaries,” said Darice Smolenski, CEO and owner of The Reserve dispensary in Santa Ana.
Smolenski believes the measure will bring “much-needed regulation” to the larger industry.
Those regulations will be rolled out over the coming year. While personal rights to possess and grow marijuana took effect immediately, businesses will not be able to open up until at least January 2018.
Since Prop. 64 gives local governments full authority to regulate which businesses open in their borders, Keith McCarty, CEO and founder of San Francisco-based Eaze marijuana delivery service, said ventures that succeed will be the ones that work closely with city officials to ensure safe and professional access.
Up in California’s cannabis heartland, True Humboldt operations manager Chrystal Ortiz said the nearly 180 growers represented under their brand are divided on legalization. But speaking as a second generation cannabis farmer, she feels grateful.
“It’s something I’ve been taught my whole life, that the plant is sacred and that it was supposed to be free, that humans were supposed to experience this plant,” Ortiz said.
Other small farmers like Redcrest-area cultivator Sunshine Johnston are confident that Humboldt County’s world-renowned name and stories will keep the local industry afloat.
“One thing I do know is they will be smoking my herb,” she said.
Opponents make plans
A coalition of law enforcement and anti-legalization groups that fought to defeat Prop. 64 expressed disappointment over the new law. They also started discussing plans to influence how the initiative will play out, since both local governments and the state Legislature will play significant roles going forward.
Legislators can amend the measure by a simple majority vote as long as the intent of the law is kept intact. So Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, said his organization is doubling down on efforts to refine Prop. 64 – particularly when it comes to restrictions on advertising and clear standards for driving under the influence.
The association is also encouraging police chiefs around the state – who face a dramatic, overnight shift in how they will enforce marijuana laws – to take an active role in deciding how the measure will affect their communities.
Cities throughout the state have already started approving moratoriums and bans on businesses.
The organization Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana wants more of the same, according to founder Carla Lowe, with a new website in the works to share stories of people negatively affected by legalization.
Though four states had already legalized recreational marijuana and three more joined California in doing so Tuesday night, cannabis remains illegal at the federal level. But under President Barack Obama, the federal government has largely been letting states carry out their legalization schemes so long as they have policies in place to discourage crimes like money laundering.
While Trump’s surprise victory Tuesday night has caused ripples of uncertainty, both Newsom and Herzberg said they expect our new president will continue the status quo when it comes to cannabis.
“Trump has suggested that he would respect the rights of states to regulate their own marijuana industry, but he hasn’t suggested that the federal government would move toward any recreational legalization efforts,” Herzberg said.
Industry folks are more worried about Trump appointing someone like Chris Christie or Rudy Giuliani – both of whom have spoken against legalization of medical and recreational marijuana – as attorney general, according to Herzberg.
Still, he said he isn’t too concerned about a major shift in policy at the federal level.
“The size of the burgeoning legal marijuana industry in the many states that have now legalized it for recreational and medical purposes is already so big,” Herzberg said, “that it’s impossible for the federal government to roll back their policy of allowing states to adopt their own policy in this area.”