Nov 9, 2016 12:10 PM

California Just Legalized Marijuana

Recreational marijuana in now legal in California. Voters have approved Proposition 64, making California the most populous state in the United States to legalize the recreational use of marijuana.

Following California, Massachusetts and Nevada also voted to legalize cannabis for recreational purposes, while Arizona declined the measure. Meanwhile, Florida and North Dakota legalized medical marijuana.

With the success of Proposition 64, nearly forty million Americans will soon have legal access to cannabis.

What Happens Next?

According to the California Constitution, approved ballot measures take effect the day after the election unless otherwise specified by the measure. It means that Proposition 64 becomes law on Nov. 9. However, retail marijuana shops will open in the first months of 2018 at the earliest.

Here is what adult Californians will legally be able to do starting Wednesday:

- Possess up to an ounce of marijuana flower and no more than eight grams of cannabis concentrate;

- grow up to six plants and keep the harvested product in a private room;

- consume marijuana in a private home, and

- give away to another person no more than one ounce of flower and up to eight grams of concentrate.

Local government can still ban outdoor cultivation. You can be fined for consumption in public, and your employer can fire you for testing positive for the drug at work. Most criminal penalties for minors under 18 are removed and replaced with tax-funded drug education. At the same time, some penalties become tougher for persons 18 to 20 years old. Possession of more than an ounce of marijuana could lead to a sentence of up to six months in prison, and anyone 18 or older who gives the drug to someone under 21 can be jailed for half a year.

The bill also imposes a 15-percent tax on retail sales of cannabis.

Tipping Point

It seems to be time to add some green to the red-and-blue map of the U.S. politics.

California is not just the most populous state in the country but also the state with the largest economy. And now, after marijuana legalization, the national cannabis industry has tripled in size. The market for both medical and recreational cannabis is projected to grow by 11.3 percent by 2020, the report by the Marijuana Policy Group states. ArcView Market Research and New Frontier predict that the entire legal marijuana industry will hit $22 billion by that year.

At the same time, the state now has to figure out several issues, such as the way cannabis fits into its economy and public policy surrounding stoned driving. The legalization also puts significant pressure on the federal government to lift its ban. The Drug Enforcement Administration has long classified marijuana as a Schedule I drug, the same category as heroin. Just this August, the DEA rejected the appeal to reschedule marijuana.

The gap between the federal and the state’s marijuana policies has created various complications. The federal government, which announced in 2013 that it would not prosecute states for legalizing the drug under certain conditions, accepts taxes from cannabis companies. But the same businesses have trouble opening bank accounts or taking credit cards because of the federal ban on the substance.

Researchers who have studied the issue of legalization express their concerns that the measures are very much a shot into the void. Carried out with little scientific research, they look like a grandiose public health experiment that is attended by almost one-quarter of the U.S. population.

Nobody knows for sure how the system will work, but some data from Colorado paints a picture of what the legalization might look like in California and other states. According to a report by the Colorado Department of Public Safety, the number of marijuana arrests decreased by 46 percent in 2014, the first year marijuana was allowed, and the drug use among young people rose.

Nevertheless, 57 percent of Americans believe that marijuana should be legal. They think it is the time to end the war on marijuana in the United States. And this election has evidently been a turning point for the drug—the legalization of marijuana in California will be a significant driving force in pushing legalization in other states, at the federal level, and beyond.

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