The Golden State is Seeing Green

Wooden Marijuana stash boxes displayed for sale.

By Chris Salazar

As millions of Californians anticipate the legalization of recreational marijuana, policy makers struggle to strike the ideal regulatory and recreational chord. The question that looms over the world’s sixth largest economy is whether Proposition 64 is the fiscal and ecological deliverance pot enthusiasts have prayed for or an insidious attempt to pigeon hole a flowering niche.

Most notably the Emerald Triangle—a chronic mecca, equivalent to Napa Valley and their wine, which consists of Humbolt, Mendocino and Trinity counties—may hold the key: In 2010 they rejected California’s last bid to legalize recreational weed, and statewide support fell by 7 percentage points.

While the political topography has shifted since 2010 and the potential revenue, estimated to hover around $2 billion by 2020, could incentivize voters to cast their ballot in favor of legalizing recreational use, those closest to the smokeable herb continue to anxiously raise the question: Who’s going to control the cannabis market?

Small dispensaries and green thumb horticulturalists are worried that Prop. 64 threatens to dilute the quality of small, delicately-tended and hand-cured batches of fragrant, potent weed. The concern is that craft cannabis will lose out to corporate farming.

But the initiative has cozied up to the plight of small famers. The language used in the proposition suggests as much because it favors small operators by delaying the issuances of licenses for five years to anyone who intends to grow more than 22,000 square feet of pot. Yet cannabis cultivators remain skeptical and an interesting trend has formed: Law enforcement authorities and cultivators find themselves on the same side of the legislative schism.

Law enforcement agencies across the state vehemently oppose the initiative, claiming that the proposition backed by venture capitalists is a ploy to open the weed market to commercialization, mirroring the accusations voiced by many pot growers and insiders.

What's important, besides concerns of regarding marijuana commercialization, is access to legal cannabis, which already exists—you simply need a medical recommendation. And even without one, the penalty for possession without a medical recommendation is negligible. But any loopholes in the proposition are likely to be significant because voter-approved initiatives cannot be altered or corrected by the state legislature.

In the end, the real issue is whether regulation will empower or deny. Considering that the California Growers Association voted to remain neutral speaks to the convoluted nature of the debate. And we need to remain cognizant that the answer doesn’t matter if we’re asking the wrong questions.