Prop 64 Could Change the Country

by Thor Benson

 

With Oregon, Alaska, Washington state and Colorado all working out the kinks of recreational marijuana, the conversation around cannabis is changing. As we watch these states generating mountains of cash, those who were previously skeptical about legalizing marijuana are starting to change their tune. Now let’s imagine if the most populous state in the country did the same.

 

“The size of California in terms of population and the potential market dwarfs the other states thus far,” Tamar Todd, the director of the office of legal affairs at the Drug Policy Alliance, told THC Magazine.  “It will certainly influence the national conversation and resulting federal and international policy.”

 

California has over 38 million people. Colorado and Washington have 5 and 7 million people respectively. If those states with populations that small can alter the national conversation, it’s hard to even fathom how much California legalizing would change the game. Prop. 64, the initiative that would legalize marijuana in California, will be voted on in November. Full disclosure: I’m voting for it.

 

“It’s hard to overstate the impact of California’s probable legalization of marijuana this November,” Tom Angell, founder and chairman of Marijuana Majority, told THC Magazine. “I’ll put it this way: The state is represented by 53 members of the U.S. House, a body in which we very narrowly lost a vote last year that would prevent the Department of Justice from spending money to interfere with state marijuana legalization laws. If we flip just nine votes next time, we win.”

 

California has more representatives than any other state, and most of them are Democrats. The Democratic Party’s platform now includes language about supporting a “pathway to legalization” for marijuana, so California legalizing could be a major step forward in that process.

 

Does prop. 64 contain flaws? Yes, every law does. Some are worried about if it protects individual liberties enough or if it’s too pro-business, but the fact of the matter is that California could legalize marijuana in November, and that’s a huge deal. Laws can always be reformed.

 

“Prop. 64 is written to benefit the people of California,” Todd said. “It prevents the unnecessary criminalization of tens of thousands of Californians, it allows people to reduce or remove prior marijuana convictions from their records opening up opportunity to housing, employment, and schooling, it will raise a billion dollars in new revenue to be spent on environmental protection, youth prevention and treatment, and community re-investment.”

 

Todd said there are definitely some good things in the law. “The California initiative also includes a number of elements aimed at reducing criminalization, providing for reparative justice, and protecting youth and public health that will set a new standard for other states to follow,” he said.

 

With states like Colorado raking in around $1 billion per year in marijuana sales, you can imagine California’s marijuana revenue would be incredible. The amount of money it could inject into the state’s economy is hard to imagine. Some estimate the state has a $7 billion marijuana market waiting to be tapped.

 

“Prop. 64 is written to benefit the people of California,” Todd said. “It prevents the unnecessary criminalization of tens of thousands of Californians, it allows people to reduce or remove prior marijuana convictions from their records opening up opportunity to housing, employment, and schooling, it will raise a billion dollars in new revenue to be spent on environmental protection, youth prevention and treatment, and community re-investment.”

 

That said, the United States has still not faced the issue of how to handle the money marijuana businesses make. Since marijuana is still illegal on a federal level, major banks won’t take deposits from marijuana businesses, so that means California’s theoretical legal marijuana market could involve billions of dollars that can’t find its way into the banking system.

 

Furthermore, the tax code still doesn’t know what to do with the marijuana industry. Because of an old piece of legislation from the 1980s that was meant to prevent drug dealers from writing off business expenses, many expenses a normal business would write off at the end of the year cannot be written off by marijuana businesses, so they end up paying exorbitant tax rates. Until Congress does something about that, California businesses may get stuck with a huge bill from the government.

 

The latest polls show over 60 percent of Californians support legalizing marijuana in November, so it looks likely to pass. California has always been a leader in American culture and cultures around the world, so this could be the state’s chance to lead the charge again. Once California joins the recreational marijuana movement, it doesn’t seem like it will take long before the whole country is on board.

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