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What to Know About Marijuana Legalization in California

6 minute read

When California voters approved Proposition 64 on Tuesday, the basic idea was simple: a majority of people in America’s most populous state believe that adults should be able to consume marijuana if they feel like it, like a glass of wine at 5 o’clock. But the details of the proposition, which stretches more than 60 pages, are complicated.

TIME spoke to Amanda Reiman, the Drug Policy Alliance’s manager of marijuana law and policy, to talk about what people should know.

What happened on Tuesday?

By a margin of about 56% to 44%, voters passed Proposition 64, making California the fifth state to legalize recreational pot, after Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska. Later in the evening, results came in showing that voters in Massachusetts and Nevada did the same. The vote happened 20 years after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996.

So what’s legal on Nov. 9 that wasn’t on Nov. 8?

“First the bad news,” says Reiman, whose organization helped craft the measure: There aren’t any adult-use pot shops yet, and you can’t just walk into a medical dispensary without a patient card and start buying up brownies. But there is good news for those who would partake: for adults over the age of 21 in California, it is now legal to use, possess and share cannabis, as well as grow it at home. Adults can open their bags, plop in up to one ounce of flowers or eight grams of concentrate (like the stuff you put in vape pens) and go walk around in the world without fear of arrest.

But if I can’t go to a dispensary today, where would I buy marijuana?

That’s a bit tricky, as it is still verboten to buy it on the black market. “You cannot legally buy a marijuana plant,” Reiman says, “but someone can give you one.” If someone is already cultivating cannabis in their backyard, she says, they could share the bud or a clone so a friend could start growing their own. But money cannot exchange hands. “There could be a whole sharing economy that emerges,” says Reiman, as the state does the work of setting up the legal market.

When will I be able to walk into a store and buy it?

Likely not until 2018. The state has a host of regulations to get through, and localities have the ability to put different rules in place too. It’s a lot of red tape. Certain areas that already have robust medical-marijuana businesses, like Oakland and San Francisco, might get through it sooner, Reiman says. But the deadline for the state to start issuing licenses to those eventual pot shops is Jan. 1, 2018, so that’s the safe bet.

I heard you have to grow pot plants inside your house. Is that true?

No, though growing plants in your house is the easiest way to make sure you abide by regulations requiring that home cultivation be done in a “fully enclosed and secure” way. This bit comes from concerns about plants enticing robbers if people are “flaunting that they have a valuable product,” says Reiman. A household — no matter how many people are in it — is limited to growing six plants at one time. For people in rural areas, it might be easy enough to set up a greenhouse outside in a remote location. People in denser places may have a harder time keeping outdoor plants “out of plain sight.”

Where can marijuana be consumed?

Adults cannot smoke or ingest weed in public. Though Proposition 64 will eventually allow for licensed on-site consumption — Reiman imagines this will happen in the Amsterdam coffee-shop vein, given that no business can sell alcohol or tobacco as well as marijuana — the safe thing to do is only consume at private residences for now. Reiman notes that, pending local rules, people in California will eventually be able to host private events where cannabis is smoked and that hotels or “bud and breakfasts” could choose to explicitly allow consumption on their premises.

What kinds of edibles will be allowed?

States watching Colorado’s trailblazing experiment have become wisely wary of how they regulate edibles. In 2014, the largest children’s hospital in Colorado reported that nine children had been brought in after accidentally eating products that often look like treats or candy.

In California, edibles will have to be low-dose — breaking off into sections with 10 milligrams of THC, the psychoactive agent, so people know exactly how much they are ingesting. Edibles will need to be in childproof packaging and not come in any fashion that would “appeal to children,” Reiman says. Knowing the California consumer, Reiman also predicts that these historically sugary products will start coming in more raw, vegan, gluten-free, superfood varieties.

Can I take marijuana on a plane?

Marijuana cannot be taken across state lines. In every state with legal weed, products have to be grown and consumed in that state only — from seed to sale — because of the federal prohibition of the drug. “Give it to your driver,” Reiman says, noting that taxis taking people to the airport in Denver have been getting some interesting “tips” recently.

What happens if I smoke or ingest marijuana and drive?

It’s still illegal to do drugs and operate a vehicle, boat, aircraft or any other such vessel, and it will continue to be. The exact protocols for determining if a driver is impaired by marijuana will be set out by the California Highway Patrol.

What about all the social-justice motivations for legalizing marijuana?

Groups like the American Civil Liberties Union have pushed for legalization as a matter of criminal-justice reform, in large part because minorities are disproportionately detained and jailed for cannabis-related offenses. As of Nov. 9, criminal penalties will undergo change; some past offenders will have a chance to get their records expunged (or get out of jail early); and people under the age of 18 will be “sentenced” not with jail time but drug counseling and community service if they are caught with cannabis. When they come of age, those records will be destroyed.

There are a lot of details, and Reiman says the Drug Policy Alliance and the ACLU are currently working to set up systems that will help people understand whether the changes apply to them. But, as an example, if someone earned a felony conviction for cultivating six plants or fewer in the past, which every Californian can now legally do, they’d have a case for getting that record wiped clean.

“We encourage people to think about cannabis in a new way,” says Reiman, “as something that is perfectly acceptable for adults to do in a responsible way. That’s one of the messages that legalization sends.”


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