California Marijuana Legalization: America’s Biggest Domino Has Fallen

Smoke billows above a highway sign

Smoke billows above a highway sign | J. Emilio Flores/Getty Images

The band Phantom Planet made it big by singing the line “California, here we come,” but marijuana legalization advocates may as well adopt it as their own. It’s no secret that 2016 was destined to be huge for marijuana. Though the presidential election turned into an amazing spectacle that dominated news cycles, legislators around the country have been crafting legislation with the goal of mirroring the legal marijuana markets in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.

California’s legislators have been among them. Last year, California had an initiative on the ballot giving voters the option to make marijuana legal in the state.

And it passed.

California: here they come.

Why is this a big deal? We’ve already seen (or are seeing) several other states push legislation, and we’ve even seen a legalization push fail in Ohio (mostly due to the shady nature of the proposed law). The answer is that California is the biggest domino in the field. It’s the country’s most populous state, and the world’s eighth-largest economy. It holds tremendous sway, to say the least. Now that California has voted to legalize, it might be all but impossible to put the proverbial genie back in the bottle.

Sorry, Chris Christie, but should the initiative pass, the business opportunities for entrepreneurs and investors will be too great for anyone to blithely look the other way.

Containers of medical marijuana

Containers of medical marijuana | Justin Sullivan/Getty Images

It’s not just that, though. The number of jobs created will be too big. The amount of tax revenue raised will be far too high. And the amount of tax money saved in nixed enforcement costs should inspire even fervent opponents of marijuana legalization to see the benefits of ending prohibition.

With the current three states operating legal markets having been successful so far, it’s no surprise that other states are following suit. But the tricky part of the whole legalization experiment has been the fact that these new state laws — all of them, three already mentioned, and those in Alaska and Washington D.C. — directly conflict with federal law. Because of that, the federal government could have stepped in and pulled the plug at any time, and only the Obama administration’s apparently leniency on the issue has stopped that from happening.

Though there have been some promising signs from the feds that the progress made so far won’t be upended, it’s still a very real possibility that the next administration could change course.

But as California is able to push through a legalization measure, and see an influx of business and employment opportunities (in all likelihood, numbering in the tens of thousands), a sitting president or attorney general would find siccing federal agencies after operating marijuana firms a very, very unpopular decision. The key here is that California is, again, an enormous economic power all on its own. Seeing as how business interests carry a lot of weight in Washington D.C., an attempt at a federal shutdown would be met with some heavy backlash.

Workers trim the buds of marijuana plants

Workers trim the buds of marijuana plants | Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

As for these business interests? It’s not just a bunch of old hippies from Arcata. The initiative that is set to go before voters is backed by names like Sean Parker, the man behind Napster. He also had a hand in the creation of Facebook.

The initiative — the Adult Use of Marijuana Act — will allow adults over the age of 21 years of age to possess up to an ounce of pot. It also would allow residents to grow up to six cannabis plants. In all, the law closely resembles those passed by other states. Only Washington’s law forbids home cultivation, and instead only allows for growers licensed by the state to supply retail stores. It was a provision that led to shortages and high prices for a time, and something that legislators took note of.

In terms of taxes and prospective revenues for the state, the initiative would aim for a 15% retail sales tax.  Possibly, raising billions in revenue for state coffers.

Planned counter-offenses petered out, and legalization won in the end.  It’s likely to have huge implications as legalization sweeps the country. As a result, it might be too late to reverse course — even in Washington D.C.

Follow Sam on Facebook and Twitter @SliceOfGinger

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