The Idiot's Guide to Prop 64: Legalizing California Weed

Everything you need to know before November.

After a 40-year struggle, California votes this month on the legality of recreational cannabis. If current trends hold, Proposition 64, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, appears that it will pass.

“60 percent of likely voters say that, in general, marijuana use should be legal, and 37 percent say it should not be legal,” says a study from the Public Policy Institute of California (PPIC) released in May. 

If you haven’t read it yet, Prop 64 seeks to “legalize marijuana and hemp under state law” and “designate state agencies to license and regulate marijuana industry.” It also spells out taxes and other details of the proposed sea change. 

Much to do has been made over all of this. Unless you’re one of the folks either in the Humboldt hills growing or banging down doors in the halls of Sacramento, it can feel hard to make sense of what’s really happening. In laymen’s terms, here are a few things to consider as the campaign for cannabis all plays out over the next few days.

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First of all, some context. Initial attempts to decriminalize pot in California date back to 1972. The state was the first in the Union to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. And while Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and Colorado are a step ahead in the legalization of recreational marijuana (California tried and failed in 2010), at the moment all eyes are on the Golden State.

“It is estimated that the initiative to legalize marijuana—if passed—would generate about $1 billion in tax revenue annually, most of which would be directed toward substance abuse prevention and treatment,” reads the PPIC study.

State regulators face a January 2018 deadline to begin the process of issuing retail and distribution licenses. Though the initiative limits licensed retailers to revenues not exceeding $2 million. And according to a Cannabis Wire report, “only 17 of the state’s 58 counties have, or are actively working toward, commercial cannabis activity.”

“It’s not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination,” said Newsom. "If it is defeated, it will set back this movement in California and nationally for years and years.”

That dizzying amount of money is exactly what’s bringing some serious players to the table. In June, software giant Microsoft announced it was partnering up with KIND Financial, a company that assists cannabis businesses with banking solutions. Their collective goal is to provide a safe, reliable and compliant “seed to sale” platform. One of the huge hurdles in the marijuana industry has been its rejection from corporate banks. The KIND-Microsoft teaming potentially shifts that paradigm. 

[KIND Financial has no relation to The KIND Media.]

“KIND agreed that [Microsoft’s] Azure Government is the only cloud platform designed to meet government standards for the closely regulated cannabis compliance programs and we look forward to working together to help our government customers launch successful regulatory programs,” says Kimberly Nelson, Microsoft's executive director for state and local government solutions. 

Bringing players like Microsoft into the game is a large part of removing the stigma of past illegality from the weed evolution. NORML estimates “spinoff industries” could see a windfall of $12 to $18 billion. That quantity of revenue has the potential to create hundreds or thousands of new jobs and make a lot of people very, very rich. 

“I think we hear a lot from the small businesses who are worried about big companies coming in and taking over," Lori Ajax, chief deputy director of California’s Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation told Cannabis Wire. Ajax was appointed to oversee execution of 2015's Medical Marijuana Health and Safety Act.

“Everybody that has a sustainable business model and is actually going to emerge from the black market culture that we’re in, is looking to brand their product," Chris Carrigan, director of the California Water Resources Control Board Office of Enforcement told Cannabis Wire. "Because they know they’re not going to be able to produce it out in the woods of Humboldt County and compete with Philip Morris on price.” 

There also may be tax savings from cutting the costs of enforcing current marijuana laws. NORML notes that the total law enforcement expenses in California for arresting, prosecuting, and incarcerating people on marijuana-related charges exceeds $200 million. Most law enforcement groups have unsurprisingly come out against Prop 64, but it appears these groups are lacking the funds to put together a feasible opposition.  An injection of dough from the Kennedy family may have helped, but the pro-pot people are incredibly well-funded, and have hearts and minds on their side as well. 

Numerous healthcare groups are chiming in. Earlier this year, the California Medical Association endorsed the pro-weed initiative. The California Academy of Preventive Medicine is on board, as well the California Nurses Association.

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“Proposition 64 is a thoughtful, comprehensive measure based on sound, evidence-based science that will protect public health and fund vital health programs for California’s youth,” said CAPM legislative director Donald Lyman. “Now that Gov. Brown and the California Legislature have regulated medical marijuana, California needs a new and safe approach to controlling and regulating adult-use marijuana—one that ends improper diversion by healthy adults into the medical system, one that allows for evidence-based clinical research into the effects of cannabis and one that protects children and funds proven public health programs.” 

This "new and safe approach" that supporters hope the initiative will usher in also includes stipulations for all edible, flower, and cannabis concentrate products to be packaged in child-resistant materials, with accurate measurements of potency, dosage, and active ingredients, clearly marked on the labeling. Best practices for processing and extraction methods will be established. 

California’s Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom is a leading supporter of Prop 64 and has created a Blue Ribbon panel to help usher the legislation along. He’s teamed up with former Facebook President Sean Parker to further push the issue. Parker’s thrown in a significant amount of money, but Newsom insists everyone needs to do their part.

“It’s not a done deal by any stretch of the imagination,” said Newsom at a rally in Oakland sponsored by the National Cannabis Industry Association. “We need your help on the campaign.” Newsom added that while former Facebook President Sean Parker is helping, “He’s not going to fund the whole thing. If it is defeated, it will set back this movement in California … and nationally for years and years.” 

Five days is a long time in politics, and anything can happen. At the end of the day, Prop 64 is on the ballot, California’s close to winning this fight, and everybody needs to get off their ass and go vote on November 8.