What does 2014 hold for weed in the great state of California? As with all things political, it depends.
At the outset, it looks to be a big year for marijuana reform in the Golden State. Four petitions are in the works to legalize recreational cannabis. On the other side of the coin, municipalities and federal prosecutors continue to crack down on medical pot across the state.
If events gather enough momentum, 2014 could be the most important year for marijuana the state has ever seen. Or it could turn into another 11 months of waiting to see if things might improve next year.
The immediate future looks rather bleak for MMJ in California. Voters here approved medicinal weed in 1996, and dispensaries were authorized seven years later. But they became so common, local governments across the state started banning them. Last year the California Supreme Court endorsed that tactic.
More than 200 municipalities now prohibit medical pot shops within their boundaries, while a smaller number of cities, town and counties allow dispensaries with ordinances that regulate them. The rest rely on state law, which permits the medical stores.
As if the situation weren’t bad enough, several communities, primarily in Northern California, are trying to ban all marijuana cultivation – even though the MMJ referendum passed by voters 18 years ago explicitly allows for home growing. Patient advocates have appealed a court ruling that upheld the bans, and are waiting for the state Supreme Court to review the case.
If the court sides with local governments again, it could be a bumpy ride for patients in many parts of California, where conservative local leaders seeking the “law and order” vote are making a show of stamping out medical cannabis.
Efforts to hurt MMJ will continue in the legislature, too, where the law enforcement lobby has long been trying to gut the 1996 law. Among other strategies, they’ll try to enact zero-tolerance DUI legislation for tokers who drive. That means the presence of any amount of THC in a driver’s blood would be grounds for a DUI conviction, regardless of whether the driver was actually impaired.
The body clears alcohol in a matter of hours. Marijuana metabolites, on the other hand, remain in the system for days, weeks, even months after consumption. So a motorist could be convicted of a DUI for driving days after using, while completely sober.
But the biggest potential change in 2014 could come at the ballot box in November. Four groups are now pushing petitions to legalize recreational marijuana statewide.
Only two of the groups are gathering signatures, which must be submitted by next month. Neither of these is a terribly realistic bet for voter approval, since they don’t set much of any limits on possession or cultivation, but anything is possible.
The real question for the year is whether any of these ballot proposals will make it before voters this year. That still seems to be an open question. And if one of the more radical proposals gets there and passes, how would the federal government react?
Of course, it’s entirely possible all four initiatives will fizzle and die by March. In that case, 2014 will transform from a year of great promise into a year of great anticipation. Plans are already in the works for a legalization referendum in 2016, an effort that has significantly more support than any of the campaigns this year.