Features & Columns

Puff, Puff Passed: What to Know About Legal Pot in California

Two decades after legalizing medicinal cannabis, California
voters on Tuesday approved its recreational use
Recreational marijuana is now legal in California, but it will take some time to fully implement.

Pollsters were right about Proposition 64. Two decades after legalizing medicinal cannabis, California voters on Tuesday approved its recreational use. The initiative, which garnered 55.6 percent of the vote by press time, was one of nine weed-related measures throughout the nation and one of three to pass recreational use.

"This is a titanic shift in U.S. drug policy," San Jose-based pot lobbyist Sean Kali-Rai said. "I think it will help get rid of those last vestiges of stigma attached to medical marijuana, or marijuana in general."

Most Americans say they're already on board with lifting the prohibition on recreational use. A recent Gallup Poll found that public support of legalization reached 60 percent nationwide—pot's highest approval rating in 47 years.

Sanctioning social along with therapeutic use will galvanize an already rapidly growing industry, Kali-Rai predicts. The Golden State, which boasts the sixth largest economy on the planet, already sits on a $2.7 billion cannabis industry. Expanding the market to nonmedicinal use has the potential to double that, according to Prop. 64 backers.

But the most important thing about the legalization measure that won the blessing of California voters this week is how it affects people of color. The new law decriminalizes marijuana possession of up to an ounce for personal use and reinvests some of its tax proceeds back to communities that bore the brunt of racialized drug policies.

"That's the biggest thing, that this is a major criminal justice reform," said Kali-Rai, adding that the five collectives he works with were all in for Prop. 64. "A lot of [my clients] at heart were medical marijuana activists before getting into this business. They've seen families torn apart, children sent to foster care, they saw lives being destroyed."

When do the new rules go into effect? Technically, some components of the measure went into effect at midnight. As of now, anyone 21 and older can keep up to an ounce for personal use and grow up to six pot plants, as long as they're obscured from public view.

Except for the new liberties for personal use, most of the same old rules apply. In San Jose, the only 16 cannabis collectives licensed to operate will still require a doctor's recommendation and card. And it will stay that way until City Hall reworks its regulatory scheme to include nonmedical marijuana.

"This is not a green light," Kali-Rai said. "Just because it passes doesn't mean you can start acting like an idiot."