Recreational marijuana use has been legal in California for a little while now. It’s a large experiment at the epicenter of America’s pot industry. Has the experiment been good or bad for the state as a whole?
First of all, just because it’s legal, doesn’t mean you can smoke it wherever you want. Basically, if you can’t smoke a cigarette somewhere, then you also can’t smoke pot there (https://www.sdentertainer.com/news/what-has-changed-since-california-legalized-marijuana/).
The usage and acceptance of marijuana has gone up (https://www.forbes.com/sites/marycarreon/2018/05/17/new-study-highlights-the-social-impacts-of-cannabis-legalization-in-california/#180418172194), which has also created more jobs and is slowly destigmatizing marijuana. These are both major positives that should hopefully echo throughout the industry.
There are more health and safety benefits to legalization. All legal pot is tested and regulated, and requires clear labels. Consumers can feel safe about the product they’re indulging in. Black market and illegal weed doesn’t have those regulations or guarantees.
However, black market sales have also gone up, which is ironic because legalization was supposed to cutdown on the presence of law enforcement in the industry (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/04/27/us/marijuana-california-legalization.html).
A lot of growers/sellers don’t want government intervention (except for the ones that are doing it legally. Many of those are actually pushing for stricter enforcement so as to battle all the illegal activity that hurts their business).
But for the ones that remain illegal, there are a few reasons as to why they’re hesitant to go legit. Some don’t want to pay all the fees to become legitimate. They also don’t pay taxes if they stay illegal. Also, weed is a lot cheaper in California, so they supply to eastern areas where it’s more expensive or less legal. This causes legitimate, legal businesses to have trouble surviving because their costs and taxes are high, so they can’t compete with the black market providers.
Also, a lot of old school producers have spent years hiding/avoiding the government. Some farms have been growing marijuana for multiple generations. They don’t feel comfortable suddenly joining a government they feel has always been an enemy to them and/or their friends and families. They’re also worried that by going public and legitimate, it will put a target on their backs because weed is still illegal at the federal level – which means that anyone (legal or not), could technically be raided by the Feds. Some feel that it’s safer to hide and be illegal than to come out in the open and be legitimate.
Unfortunately, the whole industry in California is a bit of a mess and still a sort of a free for all, regardless of the laws. It’s like having someone who is a hoarder, and then hiring someone to go clean up and stay on top of the daily messes in the place – but not doing anything about the ORIGINAL hoard mess. If you don’t clean up the original mess, it doesn’t matter what you do now. You’re just adding to the mess.
It’s too early to judge the legalization experiment in California, but because they’ve had 20 years of medicinal marijuana with some very laid back laws and regulations, they might have an impossible mission of playing catch-up.
Also, a continuing problem that was already an issue during the medicinal years is that banks are federally regulated, which means they do not like to do business with anything pot related. For the companies doing big/increased business, it just means they’re dealing with even more large sums of cash, which is a security issue (https://www2.calstate.edu/csu-system/news/Pages/Cannabis-Is-Legal-in-California—What-Has-Changed.aspx).
A sequel to the War on Drugs will not work.
All eyes are on California because they could make or break the argument for more legalized recreational use.
Is that fair though?
California has been steeped in legal and illegal marijuana for an incredibly long time. Is the culture and industry too deeply set in its ways to change and improve? No one can say for sure yet. It will probably take a few more years before we get a good idea of how legalization has affected the state and the country as a whole. But they’re also an anomaly and shouldn’t be used as a measuring stick for other areas.
In the end, the legalization of recreational use IS a good idea and a step in the right direction, but I don’t think things will improve as much as they should until legalization hits on a federal level. Right now, it’s like a child asking a parent for permission and being told no, so they go ask the other parent and are told yes. With numerous states still being illegal or more expensive, the black market will always thrive, which will hurt the legitimate market.
It’s a “2 steps forward, 1 step back” sort of scenario, but at least it’s still two steps in the right direction.