California cities need to get their acts together on medical marijuana and the potential legalization of recreational pot. (The Cannabist file photo)

Op-ed: California cities shouldn’t hide from legal marijuana

The wrong way for Orange County to approach the issue would be outright bans, but cities need to be proactive for 'an industry that’s ballooned to an estimated $2.7 billion annually'

SANTA ANA, Calif. — Orange County cities need to get their acts together on medical marijuana and the potential legalization of recreational pot. So far, only Santa Ana has been trying to sensibly grapple with the situation. If other cities have any doubt about what needs to be done, they should look at all the billboards sprouting up about California marijuana like tall cannabis plants alongside county freeways.

It took 20 years after voters passed Proposition 215, which legalized medical marijuana, for the California Legislature to follow that measure’s instructions to establish sensible statewide regulations. This editorial page backed Prop. 215 and continually has urged the Legislature to enact the will of the voters. But as the Register reported, the state “only now is confronting the full complexity of regulating consumer safety and business practices in an industry that’s ballooned to an estimated $2.7 billion annually.”

Regulation involves “a dozen state agencies” and on Jan. 1, 2018, “thousands of cannabis businesses – from growers to distributors, testing labs to retail shops” – will start applying for one of 17 types of licenses. “Three agencies will actually issue licenses. Nine more have been charged with various oversight and review responsibilities.” The main regulator will be the new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, created as part of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

But cities also will have to act. The wrong way is with outright bans, as in Newport Beach, Fountain Valley and other cities. But it’s also a mistake for cities to just do nothing but wait for events to develop. That’s because more than 600,000 signatures were recently submitted to put a California marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot, 200,000 more than necessary. It should muster approval with the Secretary of State’s Office.

There’s a bright side even for city governments not keen on legalization. According to Ballotpedia’s summary, the initiative “would enact a sales tax of 15 percent and a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves, with exceptions for qualifying medical marijuana sales and cultivation.” In Colorado, reported Time magazine, similar pot taxes “clocked in at $70 million last fiscal year alone … nearly double the $42 million collected from alcohol taxes.” California’s population is seven times larger, so that would be $490 million. Some nice change for strained budgets.

A similar measure, Prop. 19, failed in 2010, but garnered 46.5 percent of the vote. A February poll by Probolsky Research found 60 percent support the new initiative. And in recent years, in addition to Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon have legalized recreational use. So cities better get ready because, like it or not, marijuana will be a growing presence and challenge for muncipalities.

This story was first published on OCRegister.com