California tokers, why are you trippin’ so hard?
You keep saying that marijuana helps manage anxiety. But those of you who work in or partake of the cannabis industry sound like the most stressed-out people in California.
And that leaves me wondering what’s in your bongs, especially since 2016 is supposed to be a year of great triumph for you. Cannabis is booming in California. New regulations on medical marijuana are coming together, and a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational use seems likely to pass. California is thus well on its way to becoming Mary Jane’s global capital, and a national model for how to pull cannabis out of the black-market shadows and into the legal light.
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If the future looks so dank (that’s stoner-speak for awesome), why do you all look so wrecked?
Did you get some bad schwag or something?
In talking to some of you in recent weeks, I’ve learned there are two reasons why you’re stressed out.
The first involves all the necessary pressure you’re putting on yourselves. Cannabis is not just an industry, it’s a movement to end prohibition, and the hardest times for movements can come right when they are on the verge of winning what they want. Your movement’s victory – the end of cannabis prohibition – requires a difficult transition that is stressful and scary.
In California, by one estimate, there are as many as 10,000 cannabis-related businesses – only a couple of hundred of which have the proper zoning and licenses to operate a medical marijuana business. That leaves thousands of you trying to work out your futures very quickly – at least before 2018, when regulations for medical marijuana (including a state marijuana czar) and for recreational use (assuming the ballot initiative passes) are supposed to be in place.
Some of you may have to shut down. But others of you are engulfed in the difficult, expensive process of making your businesses legal quickly – but not so quickly that you run afoul of local police who are still conducting raids on your operations or federal authorities who already make banking and paying taxes too difficult for you. On top of all this stress comes the burden of being a political cause. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is building a gubernatorial campaign by backing the ballot initiative to legalize recreational use.
That brings me to the second source of pressure on you: the constant outside demands on your industry from those of us in what cinematic stoner Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski called “the Square Community.”
California leaders have gotten way too high on the possibilities of fully legal marijuana. Today politicians and media claim that legal cannabis in California will end the drug war, rationalize our prison and court systems, solve homelessness, preserve agriculture, fight the drought through new water-saving technologies, create new jobs and economic opportunities in poorer and rural areas of the state, and replenish strained state and local budgets with new taxes on weed.
True, legal cannabis will create opportunities for change. But too many expectations are riding on this one plant.
Before exploiting legal marijuana for all manner of schemes, California governments need to get this transition right. The tax system for cannabis should be fair, so it doesn’t drive out small players – or create incentives to keep the black market alive. The regulatory regimes for medical marijuana and recreational use should fit together and be transparent enough that California cannabis doesn’t become a state monopoly.
If California gets this right, maybe some of the biggest dreams for marijuana can come true. At the very least, cannabis could be a thriving and well-regulated industry.
But for now, as the marijuana-friendly rap group Cypress Hill likes to say, we all gots to chill. These are stressful enough times for you stoners already.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zócalo Public Square. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.