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.”