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6 ways recreational pot would change California — and 7 ways it would not

by Jacob Margolis | Take Two

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In this Sept. 25, 2014 photo, Tripp Keber, head of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs & Edibles, which makes pot-infused drinks, foods and other items, stands inside one of his edibles production kitchens at his manufacturing facility in Denver. Brennan Linsley/AP

California's Prop 64 would make recreational marijuana legal in the state.   If the law passes, it would mean a big shift in the way the Golden State — already the largest market for pot in the U.S. — regulates marijuana. It could also mean big changes in enforcement, as well as the habits and health of Californians. We'll go into some details of every aspect of the measure in Take Two's special exploring the issue, but first, we take a look at how life in the Golden State would and wouldn't change if the law's passed.

What questions to do you have about the measure's possible passage? Let us know in the comments below!

You won't be able to buy pot at every store

First, you won't be able to purchase pot everywhere if it's legalized for recreational use. Only specially licensed stores will be able to sell marijuana. The state will issue licenses to growers, distributors and sellers who will have to adhere to certain rules. 

If you're 21 or older, you'll be able to buy and carry 28.5 grams (about one ounce) of marijuana flower, but if you're carrying marijuana extract the limit is 8 grams. And if you decide to grow your own marijuana you'll be able to cultivate up to six plants. 

You won't be able to smoke marijuana everywhere

Smoking in public will still be illegal, as will driving while high and smoking on school grounds — though enforcement, especially of "driving while high" will present some big challenges to law enforcement. (See below.)

If you smoke somewhere you’re not allowed, you'll be subject to a fine of no more than $100 for the first offense. If you rack up more offenses, you could be slapped with higher fines, and possibly jail time.

You'll know how strong different strains of pot are

If it's passed, the new law will regulate how marijuana distributors disclose what's in their products. They'll look a lot like nutrition labels for pot.

Packages of dried marijuana will be required to have the following information listed:

  • Net weight of the marijuana
  • The origin of the marijuana, the date of cultivation, source and type of marijuana
  • The amount of Tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), cannabidiol (CBD) and other cannabinoids, listed in milligrams per serving.
  • Whether any solvents, non-organic pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers were used

For marijuana food products the amount of THC in the product will need to be disclosed.

Kushmart, one of the largest medical dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles, currently has 55 strains of marijuana. In November, California voters could decide to make recreational marijuana use legal.
Kushmart, one of the largest medical dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles, currently has 55 strains of marijuana. In November, California voters could decide to make recreational marijuana use legal. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Recreational pot shops won't open until January 2018

Even if Prop 64 passes in November, the earliest you'll see pot shops catering to recreational users is January 2018.

The regulatory system itself could take more than a year to get going, says Lynne Lyman, the director for California's Drug Policy Alliance and one of the people who helped write the initiative.

"The piece that takes longer to come into implementation is the commercial regulation," Lyman says. "The regulatory agency must start issuing licenses no later than January of 2018... [but] it's possible that it'll start earlier."

There will be very few marijuana-related arrests

The number of misdemeanor and felony crimes relating to marijuana use and distribution has already fallen significantly, since a 2010 state bill reduced possession of a small amount of pot from a misdemeanor to an infraction.   

Those numbers would drop even further if Prop 64 passes. The new law would essentially eliminate criminal penalties for adult personal use of marijuana, and those changes would start immediately. 

"The penalty reduction components take effect at midnight on November [9]," says Lyman. "Anybody who's currently in jail or prison or on parole or probation for a marijuana related offense will be able to petition to have their sentence reduced...and so that process might take a few months," says Lyman.

If you're carrying more than the allowed amounts of marijuana you can still be fined. And those who are operating commercially without a license can be fined. Repeat offenders could get jail time.

It will still be a felony to sell to minors, as well as to attempt the dangerous process of home butane extraction

The black market won't go away overnight

New regulations will likely make marijuana more expensive and pot will still be illegal for many of California's neighbors. The result: the black market will likely continue to thrive. 

"I think that the biggest way in which the whole situation is out of touch with reality is pretending that states can do what they want without effecting other states," says Jon Caulkins a professor of Public Policy at Carnegie Mellon University and the author of 'Marijuana Legalization: What Everyone Needs to Know.'

"California supplies much of the cannabis for the rest of the country. And as its production costs have been declining and presumably will decline further after legalization, that reduces prices and increases use all around the country. It's important to recognize just how compact marijuana is. A year's supply for a typical daily user weighs about as much as one 20 ounce can of beer. It's very hard to keep this stuff from flowing across borders."

So, don't count on Prop 64 to do much to eliminate the black market, though it could make it much less attractive to risk arrest for cheaper weed, at least to Californians. 

... Neither will drug-related crime

Don't expect crime to drop either.

"When the nation has legalized [pot], as long as you don't have super high taxes or other restrictions, then…legal companies will out-compete criminals. Farmers are better at farming cannabis than crooks are," says Caulkins. "But no, that won't really do much about drug-related crime because most drug-related crime is associated with cocaine, crack, heroin and meth, not marijuana.

"So, nothing you do with marijuana is going to really solve most of the drug-related crime."

Coalinga Police Chief Michael Salvador has been a police officer for 30 years. Salvador says for the past 20 years he's been dealing with the results of Prop 215 passing – legalizing medical marijuana in California.
Coalinga Police Chief Michael Salvador has been a police officer for 30 years. Salvador says for the past 20 years he's been dealing with the results of Prop 215 passing – legalizing medical marijuana in California. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Driving while high will be illegal, but difficult to enforce

Driving while high will officially be illegal, but drunk driving laws won't translate easily. It's tough to figure out exactly how intoxicated someone is, even if there's THC in their system.

"You can be positive for THC a week after the last time you used cannabis," says Prof. Mark Kleiman, a drug policy expert at New York University. "Not subjectively impaired at all, not impaired at all by any objective measure, but still positive."

And the reverse is true as well.

"You can be very, very stoned and not have a very high level of THC actually apparent in the blood," says Dale Gieringer, director of  California NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Scientists are searching for new ways to solve that problem, but it won't likely make a difference in the short term.

California's pot market will spike, and the state could make more than $1B in tax revenue

That's according to California's Department of Finance which took a look at Proposition 64 before it was officially on the ballot. The report also says that the state could save about $100 million in criminal justice costs.

Consumers should be expected to pay at least 24 percent of the base price. There will be a 15 percent excise tax on top of California's 9 percent sales tax, as well as any additional tax that's levied by cities and counties. 

New Frontier & ArcView Market Research, a pro-marijuana research and investment firm, estimates that California's recreational market could total $1.3 billion in 2018, the year California will likely start to see legal shops open up, if Prop 64 passes. By 2020 they estimate that it could be worth nearly $4 billion.

Big Marijuana could be the next Big Tobacco

The rise of legal recreational marijuana could bring in big players and mean the weaponization of marketing tactics to promote marijuana use. 

"I think that you're going to see aggressive marketing by companies who know that their profits depend on selling to people who are daily or near daily users," says Caulkins. The current, illegal sale of marijuana is mostly a word-of-mouth campaign, he says. Now, imagine a whole industry of professional advertising focused on getting people to regularly use pot. 

"The illegal organizations [currently] don't place their products in Hollywood movies," he says. "They don't have marketing executives with MBAs from high-powered business schools. I think there's going to be an unsettling side of the legal industry that's reminiscent of the tobacco industry 15-20 years from now.  

"In the long run, I think we're going to wonder why we thought it was a good idea to create a corporate sector for promoting use of another dependence-inducing intoxicant."

It's unclear if there would be an uptick in teen use

According to KPCC's Rebecca Plevin, "In Colorado, which was the first state to legalize recreational pot, the state department of public health has collected some early data: The Healthy Kids Colorado Study finds that a year after legalization, pot use among teens is relatively unchanged."

"Colorado's results are consistent with national data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Youth Risk Behavior Survey, which has been asking high school students about their drug and alcohol use for 25 years," she explained. "It finds that in 2015, about 39 percent of teenagers reported trying pot and about 22 percent currently use it."

Teen pot use across the U.S. has been declining since the late 1990s, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

... But there is evidence emergency room visits, especially by children, would rise

After the legalization of recreational pot, Colorado saw an uptick in the number of kids under 9 years of age that ended up in the emergency room due to marijuana exposure, according to a recent study in the journal JAMA Pediatrics.

The authors discovered that half of the accidental consumption cases were related to kids eating edibles, which are difficult to distinguish from regular food.

Cannabis-infused flavored drinks are sold at Kushmart, one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles, on Monday afternoon, Feb. 29, 2016. If recreational marijuana is legalized in California, it could take more forms like specialized oils, drinks and food with regulated amounts of THC.
Cannabis-infused flavored drinks are sold at Kushmart, one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles, on Monday afternoon, Feb. 29, 2016. If recreational marijuana is legalized in California, it could take more forms like specialized oils, drinks and food with regulated amounts of THC. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

The way people use marijuana changed in Colorado and it could in California too

Marijuana has traditionally been a product you smoke, but that could change, as it did in Colorado. New users may be less likely to want to smoke pot, and more open to eating it. 

"We were all surprised by how much edibles were part of the recreational market," says Andrew Freedman, Director of Marijuana Coordination for the State of Colorado. "A lot of that seems to be about the fact that marijuana-naive people would use edibles at the beginning because it seems like a more attractive way of using marijuana... I'm not sure that's something that we could've known ahead of time."

Series: From Gold To Green

This story is part of Take Two's special coverage on what the legalization of recreational pot could mean for California's economy, criminal justice system and society. 

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts and questions below in the comments section or on Take Two's Facebook page.

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