While you’ve been able to light up legally since November 2016 (not just anywhere, though; for more on that, keep reading), you haven’t been able to saunter into a shop and buy the stuff over the counter for expressly recreational (officially called “adult-use”) purposes. To sell pot and its products legally, retailers need to have a license issued by the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (formerly known as the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation) as well as permission from local authorities to operate. Alex Traverso, the bureau’s chief of communications, says his department “won’t know until the time comes” how many applicants there’ll be by New Year’s Day (although a 2016 California Department of Food and Agriculture survey found 2,718 companies interested in seeking licenses in L.A. County). The state is also prepping temporary licenses, good for four months, to go to existing dispensaries that can prove they’re in compliance with local regulations. In the city of Los Angeles, applications from existing medical marijuana dispensaries will get priority, provided they’re submitted within 60 days of when licenses become available (the city hasn’t yet determined when it will start issuing them). And, under proposed guidelines released in September, cannabis delivery will be available.
As for what types of stores you can expect to see, Josh Drayton, the communications and outreach director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, says to think more boutique and less neon-and-bong head shop. “The consumer has changed,” he notes, “and modern brick-and-mortar dispensaries are turning into well-organized showrooms and lounges. My marker has always been, ‘Would I bring my mother into this space?’ ”
Adult Use Vs. Medical
In June 2017, Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill making regulations the same for recreational and medical marijuana. But distinctions between the two will remain. Beginning with cultivation, cannabis will be slapped with either an A for adult-use or an M for medical use, and all businesses involved in the cannabis industry will receive an A license or an M license; retailers have the option of being dual licensees. People with a medical card should hang onto it because medical marijuana will still be available to patients 18 and older. Plus, says Jolene Forman, a staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance , some strains and some shops will continue to cater specifically to patients’ needs. “That will ultimately be really good for medical patients because it preserves strains that are meant to alleviate symptoms,” she notes. “For instance, for the most part you’re probably not going to see a lot of topical remedies in the A category, but topical remedies for muscle spasms or chronic pain are common.”
Whether your purchases are to ease pain or boost pleasure, they’re likely to be in cash for the near term: Since the federal government deems pot illegal, banks have been loath to provide cannabis-related operations credit. Recreational users in L.A. will pay a 15 percent state excise tax as well as a 9.5 percent county sales tax. Some areas will charge an additional business tax, and there are taxes associated with growing, distributing, and selling, too. (Patients with a valid medical card will be exempt from sales tax. ) Economists estimate that those fees could bring $1 billion in revenue to the state, and according to City Controller Ron Galperin, L.A. could bring in at least $50 million in tax revenue next year.
After the government takes a piece of that cash to cover its costs, the money will be spread around, including:
• $2 million to the UC San Diego Center for Medicinal Cannabis Research
• $3 million a year for five years to the California Highway Patrol to establish DUI protocols
• $10 million every year until 2028 to a California public university for legalization-related research
• $10 million in 2018 to areas disproportionately affected by criminalization. The figure will grow by $10 million a year and remain at $50 million in 2022 and beyond
Of any remaining funds, 60 percent will go toward drug education, treatment, and prevention for youth; 20 percent will be distributed to state and local law enforcement; and 20 percent will be put toward cleaning up environmental damage caused by pre-regulation grow operations.
Fines and Penalties
As of November 9, 2016, the fine for driving with an open cannabis “container” (what defines a container is anybody’s guess) is up to $250. In September 2017, Governor Brown took it a step further by signing a bill that specifies a $70 fine for smoking or consuming marijuana while driving. And those people you see vaping on the sidewalk? They are indeed breaking the law. Smoking in public carries a $100 fine that jumps to $250 for smoking in places where tobacco is banned (think: restaurants and offices, in front of certain buildings). Selling weed without a license or having more than the allowable amount of cannabis carries a penalty of $500, six months in jail, or both. Finally anyone caught selling to a minor faces three to seven years.