Any visitor to Californian cities, such as Los Angeles, can’t help but notice the proliferation of shops selling cannabis legally to the public. In addition, a number of industries have sprung up to support this growth.
Here are ten questions answered about California’s legal cannabis boom.
1. Why has it happened?
California has always been known as being amongst the most socially progressive states in America, so its relaxed laws on cannabis come as little surprise. Indeed, cannabis has been decriminalised in California since 1975 before being legalised for medicinal purposes in 1996. Thus, there has been much precedent for cannabis’ complete legalisation in 2018. Due to these long-term relaxed laws, cannabis has been a major part of California’s cultural identity. Even prior to the complete legalisation of cannabis, the state has been generally accepting of recreational marijuana use. Thus, the legalisation of cannabis in California is a culmination of its cultural and legal history within the state in addition to the significant potential economic benefits.
2. What is the extent of the boom in shops selling cannabis?
Prior to the official legalisation of cannabis at the beginning of 2018, cannabis was available for medicinal use through dispensaries. These are prevalent throughout the state. Since legalisation, however, there has been a considerable uptick in cannabis-associated businesses covering a number of different brands. Due to the robust infrastructure already in place from the medicinal marijuana industry, it has been very easy for recreational cannabis sellers to rise up quickly. There are currently 261 separate dispensaries in addition to many more medicinal dispensaries. The only state with more dispensaries is Oregon, where cannabis has been legal for a longer period of time. None of these dispensaries have permanent licenses yet, instead being endowed with temporary ones. In addition to dispensaries, a number of other businesses have emerged including delivery services such as Eaze and dispensary locator apps. A full-fledged, sophisticated industry has emerged surrounding the cannabis industry.
3. What do these shops sell? Are there different types of cannabis reflecting brands and strengths?
Cannabis products in California are divided into four major categories: Flowers, Concentrates, Edibles and Applications. Flowers refer to the marijuana plant itself – dried buds, which are by far the most popular form of cannabis consumption. There are hundreds of different varieties of strains, each slightly different from the other. Concentrates refer to a number of different products created through the extractions of trichome from marijuana plants. Trichomes are the small, shiny crystals found on mature plants. These are generally stronger than flowers and are made into a number of different products including wax and oils. These are most often consumed through the use of a vape pen, a more inconspicuous means of consumption. Edibles, as their name indicates, refer to food items incorporated with cannabis extractions. These often have more of a delayed effect than other means of consumption. Applications are a more medicinal means of consumption, containing high doses of CBD in the forms of patches used to alleviate physical pain or mental disorders such as anxiety.
Cannabis is divided into two main forms – Sativa and Indica, with hybridised forms of the two also being available. Sativa strains are known for being more cerebral effects with a higher THC content whereas Indica strains are known for their more sedate effects and have a higher CBD content.
4. Is the cannabis sold for medicinal purposes?
Cannabis has a number of medicinal functions and has been legal in California for medicinal purposes in the state of California since 1996. There has been evidence to suggest that cannabis has beneficial effects in alleviating pain and nausea for those suffering from illnesses such as cancer, HIV/AIDS and even multiple sclerosis. Its use for mental disorders is more inconclusive such as PTSD, anxiety and depression. Cannabis can have adverse effects, including cognitive impairment and psychosis. However, these effects differ from person to person. Its medicinal purposes, while they doubtlessly exist, are not supported by overwhelming evidence due to laws over its legality restricting research.
5. What are the legal issues?
As of the beginning of 2018, cannabis is legal for recreational use in the state of California. Despite this, there are still certain restrictions in place regarding its consumption and distribution. Users of cannabis must be over the age of 21, the same as alcohol. Furthermore, like alcohol, consumption is legally prohibited in public spaces and there is a penalty of a $100 fine for those who do this. Cannabis in excess of one ounce must be privately stored in one’s residential property away from a public space. There is a limit of six plants at any one residence. Consumption of cannabis while driving is also illegal, as is possession within a school area.
6. Is there a similar boom in the number of growers?
Cannabis plantations can be found throughout the entire state, although production is mainly in the region of Northern California nicknamed the ‘Emerald Triangle’. Prior to legalisation, a vast network of authorised growers were active, producing vast quantities of cannabis for medicinal consumption. Following legalisation, the law allowing adults to grow up to six plants within their own residence has been ratified. There are no limits to the amount those growing marijuana for medicinal purposes, although these laws are rumoured to change. There are over 68,000 cannabis cultivators in California, although fewer than 1% of these are licensed. Many growers have struggled to adapt to the new regulations of cannabis production. Despite the legalisation, a black market still remains intact.
7. How is cannabis taxed? Is it a revenue earner for the government?
Since legalisation, a number of different taxes have been imposed upon the emerging cannabis industry. In the first quarter of 2018, the California State Government collected $60 million in tax from cannabis, well below expectations. The excise tax generated $32 million. Cultivation tax comprised $1.6 million while the sales tax comprised the remaining $27.3 million. Despite falling short of initial predictions, cannabis is projected to generate a considerable tax windfall for the Californian government in the coming years. Prices are increasing from an average of $54 per ounce to $65 per ounce.
8. Is big business getting involved?
There are so far 6,000 licensed cannabis businesses operating within California. A wealth of start-ups have emerged in tech hotspots such as Silicon Valley and Los Angeles in addition to boutique businesses. Larger conglomerates, having sensed the industry’s highly lucrative potential, have gotten involved. This development has left a number of smaller operations concerned, with there being government motions drawn up to protect small-level businesses from being put out of businesses. Despite this, given the ripe potential for the cannabis industry, it is only a matter of time before major companies become more intimately involved. With taxes driving up prices, wealthy companies may look to combat this by flooding the market and dominating supply and demand. This will drive small businesses out of work or alternatively consolidate them.
9. What other states and counties allow cannabis for sale?
Currently, cannabis is legal for recreational use in 9 US states – Alaska, California, Colorado, Maine, Massachussetts, Nevada, Oregon, Vermont and Washington as well as in the District of Columbia. With the exception of Vermont and the District of Columbia wherein the commercialisation of cannabis is prohibited, the laws are generally the same between these states. An additional 13 states have decriminalised recreational marijuana use. Furthermore, medicinal marijuana is legal in 31 states. Indeed, only in 3 states – Idaho, Kansas and South Dakota – is cannabis consumption entirely illegal. Despite this, cannabis use and possession is classified as illegal under federal law, which causes conflict and confusion over laws surrounding the drug throughout the country.
Outside of the United States, only three countries have legalised recreational cannabis use – Canada, Georgia and Uruguay. However, a wealth of countries around the world have decriminalised cannabis or have some form of medicinal marijuana laws. Portugal and Spain are well-known for their relaxed laws and the Netherlands is particularly well-known for its cannabis culture. While it is not legal all across the country, in certain areas such as the capital city Amsterdam, it is legal to consume cannabis within coffee shops. This style of cannabis culture differs from the more heavily-regulated one which exists in California and elsewhere in the United States.
10. Can anybody buy cannabis? What documents do you need to produce when purchasing?
Cannabis is available to purchase for those who are over the age of 21, producing a valid form of ID such as a passport or a driver’s license. In regards to medicinal marijuana, customers must be over the age of 18. Since the legalisation as of the beginning of 2018, it is legal for non-citizens to buy and consume, although it remains federally illegal.
Interested in all things Californian and revolutionary? In our Metropolis – Los Angeles episode presenter Charlie Luxton learns that LA’s unique architectural legacy stemmed from a freedom afforded no-where else on earth. In many ways, this was a city where anything goes, and did. Here, revolutionary ideas were tried and tested with spectacular results.