Though the legalization of recreational cannabis in California is not a problem, how that legalization is put into effect could be problematic. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act is a great step in the right direction, but it’s not perfect. To make sure you’re prepared for the new market, we spoke with four experts and asked them to share their concerns.
Concern #1: Equality
“Like it or not, marijuana sales have been supporting low-income communities for decades,” said Lynne Lyman, the California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Creating a legal market could take those jobs away. It’s going to take a lot of time and intentionality to help the people who are currently operating in the illicit market to transfer into dispensary workers, cultivators, license holders, etc.”
The issue is also that the California legal cannabis market is going to be attractive to big businesses, and unless the initiative puts provisions in place, “there’s an opportunity for well-funded, profit-driven groups to monopolize the California market and squeeze out the small businesses and family farms that have long been operating in the state,” said Tiffany Wu, attorney at Harris Moure.
Concern #2: Local Bans
Already a major concern is the local ban issue, which has had a large impact on the medical market under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act. Currently, over 180 localities in California have blocked or are in the process of blocking cannabis.
The issue is, “if you give localities too much power, you start denying equal access based on zip code and geography,” said Lyman. “So, people should be paying attention to who their elective representatives are and making sure that their representative knows that they don’t want marijuana production to be banned in their city or their county.”
Unless the new legal initiative takes power away from municipalities, California residents could be fighting the same battles for access to recreational cannabis in their zip code as they are facing now.
Concern #3: Over-Regulation
While a certain degree of regulation is expected and necessary, too much regulation can be detrimental to the cannabis market. Tomer Grassiany, CEO of The Art of Edibles, worries that the implementation and control of the new market could create a broken system.
“We want to operate in a competitive cannabis market that would eliminate the black market. But, over taxation, excessive fees, and burdensome steps along the way can keep prices up and drive both consumers not wanting to pay high prices, as well as smaller growers to turn to the black market,” said Grassiany.
“We have to be careful about the message and implication of over-regulation. Whether it’s packaging and dosing that restrict the use of fresh ingredients, to possession limits.”
Concern #4: Too Many Restrictions
Alongside over-regulation is the fear that cannabis use, possession, sales, and growth will be treated too harshly. The last thing the legal market needs is an initiative that would treat cannabis harsher than alcohol, particularly because too many restrictions would reinforce the stigma.
“For example, the idea of restricting the maximum amount a person can possess sends confusing and negative signals about cannabis, which maintains the notion that cannabis is more harmful and dangerous than alcohol—the very same stigma we are trying to break,” said Grassiany. “It’s already perfectly legal and socially acceptable for a single person to throw a party and purchase as much alcohol as they see fit. Yet for cannabis, a law is being considered that would impose fines and possible jail time for acquiring and carrying similar amounts of cannabis for yourself or others.”
Concern #5: Federal Conflicts
Unclear rules or enforcement by California can also lead to conflicts with federal and local governments. “Right now, states must enact robust legalization efforts. Otherwise, they run the risk of federal interference,” shared Daniel Shortt, a Legal Intern at Harris Moure in Seattle, Washington. If the initiative passed in California doesn’t match what the Federal Government envisions for regulation, it could lead to a failed legal market.
“The Federal Government has stated that it will not interfere in states with strong and effective marijuana regulatory and enforcement systems that protect expressed federal priorities,” said Wu. “As more Californians take advantage of state legalization and jump into the marijuana market, they could be subject to raids and shutdowns by the Federal Government without a strong state regulatory system in place.”
Creating a legal cannabis market in California is a complex and multi-layered process that won’t be implemented overnight. For voters, the most important thing you can do is educate yourself about the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (the leading legalization initiative), so that you can make a well-informed decision. And if the AUMA doesn’t suit your ideas of a legal market, attend meetings and learn how your interests are being addressed and what you can do to get involved.
Call Out Box:
- Lynne Lyman is the California State Director for the Drug Policy Alliance. She leads the DPA’s criminal justice reform work in California and oversees all aspects of the organization’s policy and advocacy work in the state.
- Tiffany Wu is an Attorney at Harris Moure in San Francisco, California. She joined the Canna Law Group in 2016, a dedicated practice group with cannabis business attorneys.
- Tomer Grassiany is the CEO of The Art of Edibles in Los Angeles—a cannabis collective that promotes holistic healing, wellness, and creativity.
- Daniel Shortt is a Legal Intern at Harris Moure in Seattle, Washington. He’s a third-year law student at the University of Washington and is a frequent contributor to the Canna Law Blog as well as UW Cannabis Law and Policy Blog.