Marijuana enters new era in Sonoma County with passage of Proposition 64
OrganiCann medical marijuana dispensary owner Dona Ruth Frank was at the gate of her East Todd Road business in unincorporated Santa Rosa as it opened Wednesday morning, embracing customers and helping staff hand out rolling papers and company swag in celebration of California’s landmark vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana.
Frank said she’d already received a flood of unsolicited emails from insurance companies, accountants and other businesses vying to get into California’s fledgling market for recreational pot.
A regular customer, Stephanie Chapman, 27, of Santa Rosa, came through the dispensary gate and the two women hugged.
“It’s a bad day for women, a great day for weed,” Frank said, acknowledging their mutual disappointment in Donald Trump’s election to the presidency.
Adults in California can now lawfully consume marijuana for fun, but little else changed overnight with the passage of Proposition 64, which was supported by 56 percent of voters statewide and 59 percent of Sonoma County voters.
People age 21 and up can now possess an ounce of pot and grow six plants. But there is no place yet to lawfully buy it without a doctor’s recommendation, cultivate the plant in greater numbers or conduct a range of other cannabis businesses, such as manufacturing, distribution and transportation.
State regulators have said it will take until at least January 2018 before they will issue licenses allowing the state’s recreational industry to open for business, which could swell to a $6.5 billion industry by 2020, according to one market analysis.
Tuesday’s votes in California, Nevada and Massachusetts increased the number of Americans who live in states where recreational marijuana is legal from about 18 million to ?66 million, or 20 percent of the nation’s population, according to the RAND Drug Policy Research Center. The outcome of a legalization vote in Maine remained a cliffhanger Wednesday.
California’s approval alone is “a pretty big deal” that could influence federal policy on marijuana, including its listing of pot as a dangerous drug and a ban on banking by the marijuana industry, said Beau Kilmer, co-director of the RAND center.
But while there may be a “stronger voice” for reform in Congress, the arrival of a new administration in January raises a question mark, he said.
The Department of Justice’s policy of discouraging federal prosecution of marijuana cases in states with a “strong and effective” regulatory system was embodied in a 2013 memo that could readily be rescinded, Kilmer said.
The vote didn’t change many local law enforcement practices overnight, officials said.
“If people think they’ll be able to walk down the street and be out in public smoking marijuana or driving their car and smoking marijuana, that’s still against the law,” Santa Rosa Police Capt. Craig Schwartz said. “You could get a ticket for that.”
Schwartz said the law may free up the narcotics team because police will refer many cases, such as neighborhood complaints about marijuana cultivation, to the city’s permitting and code enforcement departments.
Petaluma Police Chief Ken Savano said drug possession is already a low priority for officers.
“We’re looking at the large-scale trafficking and bigger criminal element,” he said. “We don’t have a team of officers looking for marijuana in people’s pockets.”
Tawnie Logan, executive director of the Sonoma County Growers Alliance, said her organization - which opposed ?Proposition 64 - is now committed to the law’s implementation.
“We are completely embracing it,” she said. “We want to make sure it has a responsible rollout.”
The 200-member group will hold workshops for the public on the provisions of the law, and next year will lobby cities and counties to enact cannabis regulations rather than ban the industry altogether, as they are empowered to do under the law.
Meanwhile, pot cultivators operating under the provisions of California’s Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act will continue to operate as usual, Logan said.
Consumption of marijuana is likely to increase, she said, as more diverse cannabis products, such as gel caps and extracts, become readily available to adults. “I think people are going to be intrigued,” she said.
Shiela Smith of Santa Rosa, visiting the Charles M. Schulz Museum with three of her great-grandchildren, said she voted for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act and isn’t worried it will put more stoners on the loose in California.
“I doubt it,” Smith said. “It’s been so readily available to everybody who wanted to try it.”
Prohibition hasn’t worked, she said, and “we might as well get the taxes” instead of letting pot proceeds seep into the black market.
Proposition 64 sets a ?15 percent state tax on all retail marijuana sales and allows local governments to assess additional taxes.
Sonya Elm of Petaluma, reading a book while her two children skated at the adjacent Redwood Empire Ice Arena, said she voted against the measure.
“When you make something legal, it’s a way of saying it’s OK,” she said. “It legitimizes it; takes it out of the realm of something you shouldn’t do.”
If pot prices drop in California, as some expect, use of marijuana could increase, said Kilmer, the RAND analyst. “But the big question is by how much,” he said, also posing the question of how greater marijuana consumption would impact use of alcohol, tobacco and prescription opioids.
RAND hasn’t finished analyzing the impacts of legalization in Colorado and Washington, Kilmer said.
Inside OrganiCann’s bustling and brightly lit warehouse, an employee helped Christina Towner, 47, of Rohnert Park into a wheelchair and pushed her toward a glass case of cannabis-infused edibles.
Towner, who lives on Social Security payments, said she voted for Proposition 64. She depends on cannabis-infused foods to ease the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia, and is enrolled in an OrganiCann program that provides a set amount of free marijuana products to low-income customers.
“It just feels like it’s time. I would have been shocked if it didn’t pass,” Towner said. “I’ll have to do what I have always done - find ways to get by.”