California braces for legal pot: What we can learn from other states
As licensed businesses around California on Monday begin legally growing and selling marijuana for recreational use, the questions are piling up:
How will various law-enforcement agencies get their arms around a whole slew of new pot laws to enforce?
Will the three state offices that are issuing a combined 19 types of permits to growers, retailers, manufacturers and distributors be stepping on each other’s toes?
How will each of these agencies’ enforcement teams crack down on unlicensed operators?
And how will the California Highway Patrol, and all the law-abiding drivers its officers protect, deal with stoned motorists putting others at risk?
We’re about to find out, as the newly created state Bureau of Cannabis Control has issued nearly 200 temporary business licenses to the retail outlets it is charged with regulating. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Thousands more retailers will start selling cannabis products as soon as Los Angeles, San Francisco and other large cities begin issuing their own licenses.
Special report: Cannabis Eve in California
To get an idea of what Californians are in for in the coming days, we looked back at the experiences of two other states, Colorado and Washington, which have already blazed the path of legalized pot. Here’s a brief look at some of the things that residents of those states have gone through:
- Cannabis use and possession in Colorado came after voters passed the Colorado Amendment 64 in November 2012 which led to legalization in January 2014;
- Coloradans were overwhelmingly in favor of the legalization measure, approving it 54.8 percent to 45.1 percent;
- Traveling around Colorado last year, The Cannifornian’s Brooke Staggs and her husband discovered that while “marijuana is now part of the Rocky Mountain landscape, with shops, grow sites and tours scattered throughout the state, it also isn’t as prevalent as we expected, with public consumption illegal and alcohol still the more common intoxicant of choice.”
- Legalization has boosted tax revenues and help pump up the economies in struggling areas. While the cannabis economy racked up $700 million in sales in 2014, by the following year that economic-impact number had jumped to $2.39 billion, making it the fastest-growing business sector in the state;
- Legalization has remained popular: A majority of Colorado voters say legal cannabis has had a positive impact on the state and they would not support a repeal of Amendment 64 if it were on the ballot, according to a 2016 poll commissioned by the pro-legalization Marijuana Policy Project and conducted by Democratic firm Public Policy Polling;
- Support for legal marijuana, reported the Denver Post, was even stronger when voters were asked specifically about legal pot’s impact on Colorado’s economy, with 61 percent saying the impact has been positive and 19 percent feeling it’s been negative;
- Staggs discovered first-hand what a culture of legalized pot looks like: a societal patchwork quilt where individual communities have chosen to deal with cannabis in different ways; “As we searched for accommodations,” she wrote, “some Colorado spots stated they don’t allow ‘smoking of any kind.’ Others labeled themselves as a ‘bud and breakfast,’ the accepted term for cannabis-friendly lodging.” She explained that under 64, and much like California, cities can choose whether to welcome pot shops or not. “So we toured a few ‘dry’ communities, such as Colorado Springs. Then we stayed in Durango, where we heard a radio ad for an area pot shop, and Denver, where it’s easy to find the trademark green crosses as soon as you look for them.”
- The cannabis industry was credited with funding 18,005 direct and ancillary full-time jobs in 2015, according to the report from the Marijuana Policy Group, a Denver-based economic and market research firm that consults with businesses and governments on marijuana policy;
- Confusion, though, remains as Colorado’s statute flies in the face of federal law; for example, Staggs found a sign near a national park’s entrance that cautioned visitors that marijuana possession is prohibited on federal land and “it can result in a fine of up to $5,000 or six months in jail, highlighting Colorado’s ongoing conflict with federal law.”
- According to a report in the Washington Post, marijuana has had little impact so far on various public health measures in states where it has been legalized; referencing a report from the Drug Policy Alliance released last fall, the Post wrote that “three years after commercial marijuana markets first opened in Colorado and Washington, the nonprofit organization, which favors marijuana legalization, acknowledges that while it is ‘too early to draw any line-in-the-sand conclusion about the effects of marijuana legalization,” the preliminary numbers are encouraging: ‘so far, so good,’ as the report puts it. The DPA report echoes the findings of a study by the libertarian Cato Institute earlier this year;
- Worries over young people using pot, and risking greater dependence on the drug later in their lives, seem unfounded, as state surveys in both Colorado and Washington have shown no significant change in marijuana use among teens since voters passed legalization measures; and while opponents of legalization point to federal studies that have shown “Colorado is No. 1 in the nation when it comes to teen marijuana use,” the Post points out that “experts say that the trend in that survey was in place long before Colorado voters legalized marijuana.”
- The connection between legalized marijuana and highway accidents since 2014 is harder to make sense of. The Denver Post this year reported that the number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, “more than doubling in that time. A Denver Post analysis of the data and coroner reports provides the most comprehensive look yet into whether roads in the state have become more dangerous since the drug’s legalization.” The report says that increasingly potent levels of marijuana were found in positive-testing drivers who died in crashes in Front Range counties, according to coroner data since 2013.
- Yet while the trends coincide with the legalization of recreational marijuana in the state, the Post reported that Colorado transportation and public safety officials say the rising number of pot-related traffic fatalities cannot be definitively linked to legalized marijuana.
- On November 6, 2012, I-502 was approved by a vote of 55.7% to 44.3%, legalizing the possession of up to one ounce of marijuana by adults in the state; once that law kicked in, the Washington State Liquor Control board set up rules for the new recreational cannabis industry, with a deadline of December 2013; and on November 18, 2013, Washington authorities began taking applications for marijuana businesses including growers and retail outlets; the first recreational cannabis stores in Washington opened their doors on July 8, 2014;
- Last July, a YouTube cannabis talk-show host named Russ Belville wrote in Huffington Post about a report by the Washington’s Office of Financial Management entitled, “Monitoring Impacts of Recreational Marijuana Legalization.” Among its findings, he wrote: “Marijuana legalization has not contributed to more marijuana use among youth, has not led to more problems for youth who do use marijuana, and has not contributed to more danger on the roadways;”
- Furthermore, according to Belville’s report, the same office reported “a 4 percent personal income growth, earnings growth in every sector, and five straight years of employment growth from 2010-2015. Every economic indicator is heading in the right direction over the past five years. Meanwhile, under the original 25 percent marijuana excise tax, revenues are exceeding $26 million per month on sales over $113 million per month as of September of 2016.”
- Contrary to critics’ claims early on that legalization would drive pot prices to $600 an ounce, that didn’t exactly happen. Belville explains that while prices did spike early on, and reached well over that $600 mark, they’ve since come down as logistics of the marijuana production and supply chain have been smoothed out: “Within a year the state had gotten the prices down to $11 per gram,” he writes. “They’ve been fluctuating at between $9 and $10 per gram ever since. Marijuana consumers in Washington State enjoy some of the lowest prices for high-quality marijuana in the nation at prices that can drop between $99 to $149 per ounce for certain strains;”
- While Attorney General Jeff Sessions and others have been quick to tie marijuana use to violent crime, a report in the Tacoma-based News Tribune, the second largest newspaper in the state, says that those claims “run contrary to the experience in Washington state. Since voters approved Initiative 502, FBI crime statistics show lower rates of violent crime in Washington than before legalization. According to the FBI data, in 2011 there were 295.6 violent offenses reported per 100,000 Washington residents. In 2015, the most recent full year of data available, that rate had fallen to 284.4 violent offenses per 100,000 people.” Violent crime has dipped nationally over the same time period.
- The report goes on to say that other data compiled by the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs showed some fluctuations in violent crime rates but still found no statistically significant increase. According to those reports, in 2012 there were 3.6 violent offenses per 1,000 state residents. In 2016, the state’s violent crime rate was 3.3 offenses per 1,000 people. “In Washington state, I think it would be a strain to correlate violent crime with marijuana usage,” said Mitch Barker, the executive director of the sheriff and police chiefs group. “I would struggle to believe that the legalization of marijuana or more legalization relates to violent crime — somebody would have to make that case to me.”
The Associated Press, Denver Post, Washington Post and the Orange County Register also contributed to this story.
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