California legalized medical marijuana in 1996. Yet, here in the year 2015, the state Legislature is still debating about how to regulate dispensaries. There's still no statewide permit for selling medicinal cannabis. Really.
You see, we take things nice and slow in the Golden State.
Last year Colorado became the first state in the nation to debut legit recreational pot sales. In California, we're still trying to work on our medical game. In fact, when backers of Colorado's recreational law started drafting their proposal, they looked to the Golden State as an example of how not to do weed policy.
Luckily, a lot of thought is going into what is shaping up to be the main recreational legalization initiative heading for the 2016 presidential ballot in California. And polls show that Golden State voters generally like the idea.
The just-released Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy "Pathways Report" is a virtual blueprint for the initiative by ReformCA, part of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform. What could be worrisome is that the report most prominently emphasizes that, even if voters approve recreational weed, it won't happen overnight:
One of the major findings of the Blue Ribbon Commission’s work is that the legalization of marijuana would not be an event that happens in one election. Rather, it would be a process that unfolds over many years requiring sustained attention to implementation.
That process of legalization and regulation will be dynamic. It will require the continued engagement of a range of stakeholders in local communities and at the state level.
Eek. Not again.
Colorado tried to get it right, out of the gate, in one shot.
But Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML, a member of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, says Colorado still had to iron out a few years' worth of kinks after voters approved legalization there in 2012.
He says the slow pace advocated by the Blue Ribbon Commission and by ReformCA are by design.
"We lay out the whole framework for legal regulation as we move on to adult use," Gieringer says. "Those regulations take time to implement. If you look at Colorado, it took a year and a half or two to get things running and off the ground, and they're still debugging the system. Then there's all the lawsuits that will develop."
The commission decided these were the most important facets of any recreational legalization laws: protecting youth and promoting public health and safety; reducing illicit drug sales; offering legal protection to "responsible actors" in the marijuana business; and getting much-needed tax money from the marijuana market.
Dale Sky Jones, chairwoman of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, emphasized the moderation involved in the process.
"We have taken the long view leading up to 2016, taking a measured approach," she said, "and consulting in depth with diverse stakeholders."
She said ReformCA's initiative would be in line with the Blue Ribbon Commission's goals:
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Our initiative addresses control and regulation, public health concerns, packaging, retail sales and cultivation with reasonable flexibility. We seek to create funding mechanisms to support the regulatory and enforcement scheme, along with increased education and environmental protection. However, we do not create a tax regime with the expectation that cannabis tax revenues will be a cash cow for general government operations.
Gieringer said the still-in-the-works initiative, the circulation language of which is expected to be filed with the state Attorney General in a matter of weeks, would legalize pot for those 21 and older while possibly creating an independent state agency to police marijuana growing and selling.
Sounds good. But he admits, "We won't have as much of a head start as Colorado."