Five years ago, California voters overwhelmingly chose to legalize adult use of marijuana. Passage of Proposition 64 was supposed to replace the state’s vast illegal and semi-legal medical marijuana market, where nearly anyone could get their hands on marijuana, with a tightly controlled system of safe products, taxed sales and regulated trade.
Supporters of the initiative said it would create a controlled market that would allow adults to access safe and regulated marijuana products while protecting children. The new government-controlled industry will reduce the environmental damage of illegal pot farms, reduce the power of criminal drug cartels and help repair the damage caused by the war on drugs that has disproportionately targeted black and Latino communities.
But many of Proposition 64’s promises have yet to be fulfilled.
The black market is as big as ever, with nearly 75% of marijuana sales in the state coming from unlicensed sellers. Illegal pot plantations continue to degrade sensitive ecological habitats. Untested and unregulated hemp products, including foodstuffs and oils, continue to flood the market. The pledge to help communities disadvantaged by the war on drugs is still being implemented. California, which was one of the first states to end the ban, has become an example of how to do so Not to legalize marijuana.
Proposition 64 fulfilled at least part of the proponents’ mission: that adult marijuana use was criminalized and normalized. Prosecutors acquitted dozens of Thousands of marijuana-related convictions from individual records. It was utensils stores Is the core business and allowing it to remain open during the COVID-19 lockdown. Pop star Justin Bieber sings about getting ‘California cannabis’, and even traditional media companies offer it Cannabis gift guides.
But behind this wide acceptance there is a major problem — the vast majority of marijuana consumed in the state is not legal.
Transitioning to a structured system has always been a challenge; Unauthorized and semi-legal medical marijuana growers, manufacturers, and sellers have been operating in the state for years. But even those in the industry have been surprised by the continued liveliness of the black market, which is due in part to requirements, such as high taxes and local control, in Proposition 64. Now, the abundance of illegal pots makes it nearly impossible for the state of California to do what the initiative intended.
Even before Election Day, there were tensions and contradictions hidden in Proposition 64. To appease local government and law enforcement groups, the initiative gave cities and counties the power to ban marijuana-related businesses entirely in their jurisdictions. And that’s exactly what two-thirds of the localities did. This does not mean that people do not sell or buy marijuana in those communities – they do so illegally, using unlicensed stores or local dealers.
Proposition 64 was also presented as a profitable cow for the state. The initiative taxed commercial farming and sales, and allowed local governments to levy their own taxes. The hope was that marijuana would generate more than $1 billion in state tax revenue each year to pay for after-school programs, job training, drug addiction treatment, environmental cleanup, and other worthwhile services. (cannabis tax revenue Over 800 million dollars in 2020-21.)
But exorbitant state and local taxes can add 50% or more to the price of products at a legal pot store. When the cost of labor, product testing, and packaging are taken into account, running a licensed company is often unaffected – especially when there are plenty of black market operators still producing and selling to customers, who may not know or care that they are buying an illegal pot.
This undermines another Proposition 64 goal of ensuring marijuana products are traceable, tested, pesticide-free, and safe for consumers. This has real implications for public safety. In early 2020, authorities seized marijuana cartridges from illegal stores in Los Angeles containing a dangerous additive blamed for an outbreak of fatal lung disease.
Meanwhile, even as large-scale licensed pot farms grow in places like Santa Barbara and Monterey counties, illegal marijuana cultivation continues to thrive, often to the detriment of the environment. In the rugged coastal regions of Northern California, illegal farmers are leveling hillsides, spraying pesticides and converting streams Only when salmon and other fish species migrate in late summer and fall.
In the deserts of Southern California, illegal marijuana plantations have stolen precious water supplies and trampled plants and wildlife. Environmental groups that supported Proposition 64 say they still don’t know how marijuana tax revenue is spent to repair environmental damage from illegal growth; The state has not been transparent about how the money is used.
Can this market be saved?
There is still plenty of time for system reform to deliver on the promise of Proposition 64. But it will take a lot of work and committed leadership from state legislators and local elected leaders, many of whom have kept cannabis policy at bay.
California can get out of this marijuana mess by flipping the incentives. It is very easy and profitable to survive on the black market, and it is also very cumbersome and expensive to join the legal market. By easing licensing procedures or temporarily lowering taxes, and ramping up enforcement and penalties for illegal operators, the state has a better chance of convincing fence operators to obtain a license. Earlier this year, the state consolidated regulation of the cannabis industry into one department to help speed up regulatory reform. But the work is difficult because Proposition 64 required a two-thirds vote of the legislature to make major amendments to marijuana laws. (In recent years, most states have legalized marijuana through legislative voting, not initiative, making it easier to amend laws in the future.)
In addition, the state cannot do this alone. Too many cities and counties still outlaw the cannabis trade. Proposition 64 guarantees this right, which is why some proponents are putting forward the idea Take another poll To eliminate the veto power of cities and counties on marijuana businesses. Local leaders have to admit that refusing to recognize an industry that is now legal is only encouraging the black market. Some sweeteners are starting to switch. Los Angeles County, for example, is considering reconsidering its ban on pot stores in unincorporated areas.
Transforming the California marijuana market will require real political leadership, which has been lacking at all levels of government. Governor Gavin Newsom has a special responsibility. As deputy governor, Newsom led a commission to study marijuana legalization and campaigned for Proposition 64 two years later. However, Until nowHe has mostly stayed away from marijuana politics. But there is now widespread agreement that California’s marijuana system needs intervention to prevent the legal market from collapsing.
It’s time for Newsom and lawmakers to work to find the right balance that will help the legal and regulated market grow while protecting public health and the environment. We can’t wait another five years to fix this.