Capitol Alert

Here’s how marijuana legalization would work in California

California was the first state to allow medical marijuana. Now, two decades later, voters are expected to be asked whether to legalize recreational use of the drug.

The legalization measure most likely to qualify for the statewide November ballot is the product of months of negotiations between groups with varying interests, from drug-law reformers, to growers and distributors, to famous financiers and politicians. Here’s a primer.

Q: So, is California going to legalize pot?

A: The state’s marijuana industry is often described as a wild west of sorts: There are no regulations, taxes or environmental protections for recreational cannabis. The measure would legalize possession of 1 ounce of marijuana and cultivation of six plants by adults over the age of 21, and create laws for distribution and sale. It would impose a 15 percent tax on retail sales, and cultivation taxes of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves. Localities could ban recreational marijuana businesses in their jurisdictions with local voter approval. An updated version of the measure also allows localities to enact bans without holding a vote of the people.

Q: Is this the next Gold Rush?

A: An initial financial analysis shows it could bring in additional state and local tax revenues ranging from the high hundreds of millions to more than $1 billion a year. Most of the proceeds must be spent for specified purposes such as substance-use disorder education, prevention, treatment and law enforcement.

Q: Who is behind this effort?

A: The official proponents are Donald Lyman, a retired physician, and Michael Sutton, a conservationist. Sutton served on the California Fish and Game Commission while Lyman drafted the California Medical Association’s paper in which the group called for regulating recreational cannabis in a manner similar to alcohol and tobacco. Among its financiers is billionaire venture capitalist Sean Parker. Its highest-profile political supporter is Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom.

Q: What’s going on in other states?

A: Four states – Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, and the District of Columbia – have legalized recreational pot. The last legalization push in California, Proposition 19 in 2010, failed at the ballot box, 53.5 percent to 46.5 percent.

Q: Who would be in charge here?

A: Licensing and regulation of marijuana would be handled by a Bureau of Marijuana Control within the Department of Consumer Affairs. The Department of Food and Agriculture would be charged with licensing and overseeing marijuana cultivation while the Department of Public Health would license and oversee manufacturing and testing. The state Board of Equalization would collect marijuana taxes and the state Controller’s Office would distribute the revenue.

Q: Would legal marijuana cost more?

A: Some proponents say they actually expect the prices – even accounting for the taxes – will drop some once the licenses are issued and after the first harvest. Part of their reasoning is the so-called “prohibition tax” marijuana purchasers currently pay. They also point to more competition – and falling prices – in states such as Washington and Colorado.

Q: Could I grow my own?

A: Personal cultivation is allowed, but no more than six plants could be cultivated, harvested, dried or processed in each home or apartment, or on its grounds. The initiative would allow industrial hemp to be grown as an agricultural product as well as for agricultural or academic research.

Q: Would this allow “Big Marijuana” corporations to take over?

A: The measure bans large-scale licenses in the first five years, through Jan. 1, 2023. It states that the licensing powers are to avoid “unreasonable restraints on competition by creation or maintenance of unlawful monopoly power.”

Q: Where are the organized opponents?

A: Proponents’ first hurdle was trying to satisfy advocates for legalized marijuana. They have been able to get many, but not all, on board with their plans. Now they likely will have to contend with an organized campaign against the measure, presumably from law enforcement and even organized labor. In 2010, opponents helped sink the measure by pointing to a provision they argued would limit employers’ ability to penalize workers who used marijuana – unless it impaired their job performance. The critics ran ads showing teens, drivers and nurses under the influence of marijuana.

Q: What about children?

A: Marijuana businesses would be banned from locating within 600 feet of schools, and cannabis products could not be advertised or marketed to children. Specifically, the law says pot products can’t be designed in a way that appeals to kids, or could easily be confused with candy or other enticements. Advertising could only be displayed where roughly 72 percent of the audience is expected to be 21 years of age or older, as determined by audience-composition data. Minors convicted of marijuana-related offenses would have to complete drug-prevention education or counseling and community service.

Q: Could you drive after you’ve smoked?

A: The measure would retain existing laws that make it illegal to drive while impaired by marijuana. Here’s how it would work: The California Highway Patrol would get $3 million a year for four years to come up with protocols to determine whether a driver is too high to drive. Motorists also would be barred from having an open container of marijuana or pot products while driving, operating or riding in the passenger seat of a car, boat or aircraft.

Q: Could you go to work high?

A: The law would maintain the rights of employers to require drug-free workplaces or enact policies prohibiting marijuana use by employees during work hours.

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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