California marijuana: Why Prop. 64 is about more than just smoking pot

Proposition 64 does more than just allow Californians to smoke pot. Here’s a rundown of the 62-page initiative, which would legalize California marijuana for recreational use

Proposition 64, on its surface, poses a simple question: Should people be free to smoke pot in California?

But the 62-page initiative on the Nov. 8 ballot asks voters to determine much more than that.

Definitive guide to marijuana on the 2016 ballot: Recreational & medical initiatives

It asks them to decide how much cannabis Californians should be allowed to carry, whether they should be able to grow it in their homes and what, if any, penalties consumers should face going forward.

It also asks them to weigh the future of a multibillion-dollar industry, including everything from how marijuana businesses should be taxed to what warning labels should appear on edible products.

Depending on who you ask, either the devil or the redemption is in those details.

Supporters call Prop. 64 the “gold standard” of marijuana legalization, touting strict safeguards that build on lessons learned by the four states that already allow recreational pot.

Some opponents say the measure doesn’t go far enough to keep kids and roadways safe, while detractors on the other end of the spectrum say the measure includes too many regulations to be true “legalization.”

With the vote about two weeks away, here’s a closer look at what Prop. 64 means for California.

PERSONAL RIGHTS

Prop. 64 would allow California residents and visitors 21 and older to buy, carry and give away up to an ounce of marijuana. That’s enough to roll perhaps 40 average-sized joints.

They also could possess up to 8 grams of concentrated cannabis, such as waxes or oils that can be vaporized or mixed into foods.

Under the measure, residents could grow as many as six pot plants at home and keep what they harvest. But the plants couldn’t be visible to the public. And local governments could regulate how they’re grown, including requiring that it be done indoors.

No one could consume recreational pot in public. Consumption would be allowed only on private property or in “cannabis cafes” licensed strictly for marijuana use.

The initiative would uphold laws against driving while impaired or having an open container of marijuana in a car. But it wouldn’t establish a threshold, as Colorado and Washington did, for how much THC (the compound in pot that makes users high) drivers could legally have in their blood.

Prop. 64 backers say that’s because blood alcohol content isn’t a good measure for marijuana impairment, since pot stays in the system long after its mind-altering effects have worn off. So the initiative would direct tax revenue to law enforcement and researchers to develop better tests for drugged driving.

The measure would protect employer rather than employee rights, allowing companies to hire and fire based on drug tests.

But the penalties for most marijuana-related crimes, which studies show disproportionately affect minorities, would be lower if the measure passes. Adults convicted of possession with intent to sell would get six months in jail rather than two years in prison, for example, while teens caught with the drug would get counseling and community service instead of criminal records. And those changes would be retroactive, meaning marijuana offenders could be released from jail or have their records expunged if the measure passes.

Prop. 64 also would uphold existing rights for medical marijuana patients, allowing them to still grow more pot than recreational consumers and access medical marijuana at 18 years old. They would face some additional taxes, though they’d also gain privacy and child custody protections.

If the measure is approved, all of these personal rights would take effect the day after the election, on Nov. 9.

BUSINESS PLAN

It would take a bit longer for the taxed and regulated recreational marijuana industry promised by Prop. 64 to take shape.

Shops would start to open on or before Jan. 1, 2018.

That’s the date California officials expect to start issuing licenses to all medical marijuana growers, manufacturers and sellers under industry regulations signed into law in 2015.

Prop. 64 would largely extend the same regulatory framework to recreational marijuana production, with requirements for licensing, testing, child-resistant packaging, limited advertising and tracking pot from seed to sale.

The initiative would establish a 15 percent sales tax, plus a tax by weight for growers. That would be on top of taxes local governments tack on and regular state sales tax, though medical marijuana users would be exempt from the latter.

Small- and medium-sized businesses would get an edge coming out of the gate, since Prop. 64 bans large-scale cultivation for the first five years. But after Jan. 1, 2023, there would be no state cap on the size of marijuana farms.

Cities and counties would still have authority to regulate, tax or ban marijuana-related businesses in their borders. Many have already started passing laws in anticipation of Prop. 64, with 62 local measures related to marijuana on the ballot Nov. 8.

THE OUTLOOK

Nearly every poll on Prop. 64 suggests it will pass – though perhaps narrowly. Recent polls have ranged from 51 percent to 71 percent support, with many averaging around 60 percent.

But advertising to defeat Prop. 64 is being aired. And in California the popularity of measures often shifts in the final days before an election.

If the measure becomes law, industry experts predict that California’s legal weed market will reach $6.5 billion by 2020 and potentially spur legalization throughout the country.

The Legislative Analyst’s Office anticipates that tax revenue from the measure could top $1 billion annually, with the justice system potentially saving tens of millions more on enforcement costs.

The revenue won’t go to state or local general funds. Instead, it will be set aside to fund youth prevention programs, marijuana research, better drugged driving tests, environmental remediation and grants to impacted communities.

The impact legal marijuana has on highway safety, teen use and crime isn’t yet clear. There are conflicting reports coming out of states such as Colorado and Washington, which approved legal pot in 2012. And experts say they need more years of reliable data before they have definitive answers.

More research is also needed on how recreational marijuana use ultimately affects health and achievement, with particular concern over today’s increasingly potent pot. But studies increasingly suggest that, while marijuana consumption may pose some risks for young people and the mentally ill, responsible use appears to have little impact on healthy adults.

With valid concerns on both sides of the issue, Dr. Igor Grant, who heads up the Center for Medical Cannabis Research at UC San Diego, said it’ll be up to voters to weigh the impacts of prohibition against potential impacts of legalization.

“There’s a cost-benefit analysis that voters have to make,” he said.

Contact the writer: 714-796-7963 or bstaggs@ocregister.com or on Twitter @JournoBrooke

This story was first published on OCRegister.com