While many are still in shock at the US Presidential victory of business tycoon, Donald Trump, if you happen to be one of the 31 million Americans who smoke cannabis, last night’s voting will at least have brought some good news.
Recreational cannabis use has been passed in the states of California, Massachusetts and Nevada, meaning that the percentage of Americans living in states where marijuana use is legal has now risen above 20 percent. Medical cannabis use has also been approved in Florida, Arkansas and North Dakota.
Most significant though is the vote in California. Recently ranked as the fifth largest economy in the world, it was the first to set up a medical marijuana programme back in 1996, and is currently the biggest marijuana grower state in the US. Experts predict this regulation of recreational use will boost the US marijuana market from $7 billion this year to a projected $22 billion in 2020.
It’s clear there’s a lot of money at stake. Just the difference in the amount spent on the pro-legalization campaign – $23 million, compared to the $2 million of the anti-legalization lobby, shows that the debate is no longer just the domain of some dope smoking hippies. These days it’s the likes of Napster founder Sean Parker and various marijuana and tech entrepreneurs who’ve splashed the cash.
So now that the good people of California have passed ‘Proposition 64’ – dubbed the ‘Adult Use of Marijuana Act’, what are the main implications?
In practical terms it will be permitted to grow up to six plants for personal use and consumers will eventually be able to buy marijuana from licensed stores, although this may take some time to set up. Personal possession of up to one ounce in weight is also allowed.
That’s not to say it will be possible to light up where ever you please. The same rules will apply as to smoking tobacco in public places, plus smoking cannabis will prohibited within 1,000 feet of a school, day-care center or youth center while children are present.
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With legalization comes regulation. If someone wants to sell cannabis, they have to go through the Californian Bureau of Marijuana Control inside the state Department of Consumer Affairs, who will ‘be given the job of creating, issuing, renewing and revoking state licenses for the transportation, storage, distribution and sale of marijuana‘.
Growers will have to get a license from the Department of Food and Agriculture, and those who want to manufacture and test marijuana products will be licensed and overseen by the state Department of Public Health.
Do any of the above without the appropriate license and you face a fine and possible jail time.
Even before this new raft of legalization approvals, the legal marijuana business was already the fastest growing sector in the US. So it’s clear marijuana is a potential taxation goldmine for state governments.
According to the LA Times:
“Proposition 64 would allow the state to impose a 15% excise tax on the retail sale of marijuana. In addition, the state would be able to levy a cultivation tax on growers of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves.
State analysts estimate state taxes could generate up to $1 billion annually to be used for expenses including:
- Covering the state’s cost of running the program and enforcing its regulations
- Allowing state universities to research and evaluate the impact of Proposition 64 on issues including health and safety
- Enabling the California Highway Patrol to develop processes for determining when a motorist is impaired by marijuana use
- Programs to reduce driving under the influence of marijuana
- Grants to local health departments and community-based nonprofits for job placement, mental health treatment, drug abuse treatment and legal services for low-income communities
- Youth programs, including drug education, prevention and treatment
- Programs to prevent and reduce environmental damage from illegal marijuana producers.”
Fewer cannabis possession arrests
What certainly seems likely, at the very least in California, Massachusetts and Nevada, is a decrease in the number of arrests for possession of cannabis for personal use, which has remained at record high nationwide. According to statistics released by the FBI in 2014 1 in 20 arrests were for possession of cannabis, with people of colour 3.73 times more likely to be arrested.
In Colorado where recreational use has been legalised, arrests for possession have decreased by 80% since 2010.
Is a change in Schedule 1 status possible?
Prior to yesterday’s vote, the passing of Proposition 64 was called a potential game changer. Supporters hope it will force a change in the Federal Government’s increasingly untenable scheduling of marijuana, whereby it is ranked alongside heroin and ecstasy as having no therapeutic use, plus high potential for abuse. This is in contrast to the 28 US states where cannabis has been approved for health conditions such as epilepsy, MS, AIDS, chronic pain and PTSD.
The Schedule 1 status has also meant that anyone in the ‘cannabusiness’, such as dispensaries, cultivators or grow shops, have been prohibited from using federal banking services, with most business carried out in cash. In light of the changes in California, if taxation is to be levied and official licenses paid for, this restriction will need to be modified for practical purposes.
What’s Trump’s stance on reclassifcation?
In an interview in the Washington Post, Trump seemed happy for the current contradictory situation between state and federal level to continue.
“In terms of marijuana and legalisation, I think that should be a state issue, state-by-state” he said. “Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen — right? Don’t we agree? I think so. And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” Reform seems further unlikely with the probable appointment of Rudy Giuliani and Chris Christie to senior law enforcement positions, nor with the anti marijuana reform stance of his Vice President.
Impact on the rest of the world
With the UK priding itself on its ‘special relationship’ with the US, this further state-wise legalization of cannabis for medical and/or recreational purposes, brings hope to UK cannabis campaigners that a governmental change in policy must follow.
“From Canada to Uruguay, and from Jamaica to Spain, more and more jurisdictions are regulating cannabis.
“But California’s size makes it the real game-changer. It will inevitably lead to the end of both US federal prohibition, and the international prohibition on cannabis – with the UK following suit sooner rather than later.”