Legal marijuana is coming to California, one way or another. It will probably arrive Nov. 8, when voters are expected to pass a ballot initiative legalizing the drug for recreation. If not, reform will get here soon enough.
But what would that mean for the Golden State and its residents? How much would full cannabis legalization actually change California in the long run?
On the one hand, it’s entirely possible a victory at the ballot box wouldn’t make much practical difference at all. Medical cannabis is already legal in California, widespread, cheap, and easy to get, even for people who have no real health problems.
Countless dispensaries have appeared across the state
The state’s MMJ system was long viewed as lawless, since voters failed to endorse any real legal restrictions on the industry when they legalized it in 1996. As a result, loosely regulated dispensaries started popping up in the early 2000s and have since spread to every corner of the state – whether legally or otherwise.
That proliferation means there’s already a booming industry prepared to start selling pot for recreation. And Gov. Jerry Brown signed a law in October that puts tight new regulations on medical marijuana, regulations that would also apply to a recreational market.
It’s also unlikely the wider availability of cannabis will lead to any real increase in consumption levels. Almost anyone in California can already get their hands on weed with little trouble, including many teenagers.
Legal marijuana does not drive teenage use
If anything, the experience with medicinal cannabis, as well as with legal recreational pot in other states, suggests full legalization could drive teenage use down rather than up. As marijuana reform spreads, so does education about the drug, education many teens are willing to consider seriously.
The pothead lifestyle has baked deep into the California consciousness, so it’s hard to imagine residents changing their views on the drug simply because it becomes easier for healthy adults to buy it in stores.
On the other hand, of course, it’s possible everything will change once cannabis becomes legal. Stoners will no longer feel a need to be covert about their use. Medical marijuana cards will lose their cachet. Jimmy Kimmel will no longer do man-on-the-street segments in which baked Californians try to explain their “legitimate” need for medical pot.
The first retail sales will probably occur at existing medicinal dispensaries, but within a matter of months new recreational shops should open across the state. Sadly, local governments will retain the power to block these shops in their communities, but only with voter support.
The biggest change, however, might come elsewhere. Once California goes legal, it will be only a matter of time before most of the rest of the United States follows suit. The state has been described as the “last domino” on the road to legal marijuana, and that domino looks ready to fall.