Recreational Marijuana: What Prop. 64 Will Actually Mean in California

California voters on November 8 approved Prop. 64, which is an initiative statute that legalizes marijuana and hemp under state law, with specified limitations. The ballot measure designates state agencies to license and regulate the recreational marijuana industry and it imposes a state excise tax on retail sales of marijuana equal to 15 percent of the sales price, as well as state cultivation taxes on marijuana of $9.25 per ounce of flowers and $2.75 per ounce of leaves.

In addition, Prop. 64 exempts medical marijuana from some taxation and establishes packaging, labeling, advertising and marketing standards and restrictions for marijuana products. The ballot measure allows local regulation and taxation of marijuana. Additionally, Prop. 64 prohibits marketing and advertising marijuana to minors and it authorizes resentencing and destruction of records for prior marijuana convictions under specified circumstances.

According to the fiscal estimate prepared by the Legislative Analyst and Director of Finance, the enactment of Prop. 64 will result in “net reduced costs ranging from tens of millions of dollars to potentially exceeding $100 million annually to state and local governments related to enforcing certain marijuana-related offenses, handling the related criminal cases in the court system, and incarcerating and supervising certain marijuana offenders.

“Net additional state and local tax revenues potentially ranging from the high hundreds of millions of dollars to over $1 billion annually related to the production and sale of marijuana. Most of these funds would be required to be spent for specific purposes such as substance use disorder education, prevention and treatment.”

According to the official ballot arguments, a YES vote on this measure meant: “Adults 21 years of age or older could legally grow, possess and use marijuana for nonmedical purposes, with certain restrictions. The state would regulate nonmedical marijuana businesses and tax the growing and selling of medical and nonmedical marijuana. Most of the revenue from such taxes would support youth programs, environmental protection, and law enforcement.

“Prop. 64 creates a safe, legal system for adult use of marijuana. It controls, regulates and taxes marijuana use, and has the nation’s strictest protections for children. It provides billions for afterschool programs, job training, drug treatment, and cracking down on impaired driving. Fix our approach to marijuana.”

A NO vote on this measure meant: “Growing, possessing or using marijuana for nonmedical purposes would remain illegal. It would still be legal to grow, possess or use marijuana for medical purposes.

“Proposition 64 purposely omits a DUI standard to keep marijuana-impaired drivers off our highways. California Association of Highway Patrolmen and Senator Dianne Feinstein strenuously oppose. Legalizes ads promoting smoking marijuana, Gummy candy and brownies on shows watched by millions of children and teens. Shows reckless disregard for child health and safety.”

According to a summary prepared by the independent Legislative Analyst Office, marijuana is generally illegal under existing state law – either to possess it or use it. In 1996, voters approved Proposition 215, which made it legal under state law for individuals of any age to use marijuana in California for certain medical purposes. Individuals must have a recommendation from a doctor to use medical marijuana.

In 2003, the Legislature legalized medical marijuana collectives, which are nonprofit organizations that grow and provide marijuana to their members. As a result of 2015 legislation passed by the Legislature, the state is currently adopting new medical cannabis regulations. Local governments will continue to have the ability to regulate where and how medical marijuana businesses operate in this state.

The LAO notes that, under federal law, it is illegal to possess or use marijuana, including for medical use. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2005 that federal agencies could continue under federal law to prosecute individuals who possess or use marijuana for medical purposes even if legal under a state’s law.

Currently, however, the U.S. Department of Justice chooses not to prosecute most marijuana users and businesses that follow state and local marijuana laws if those laws are consistent with federal priorities. These priorities include preventing minors from using marijuana and preventing marijuana from being taken to other states. More than half a dozen requirements must be met under the DOJ’s “Cole Memo.”

In addition to California, voters in Arizona, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts also passed ballot measures to legalize recreational use of marijuana. Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska currently allow its limited use. Medical marijuana was also on the ballot in four states this year.

Due to the voters’ enactment of Prop. 64, California now (1) legalizes adult nonmedical use of marijuana, (2) creates a system for regulating nonmedical marijuana businesses, (3) imposes taxes on marijuana, and (4) changes penalties for marijuana-related crimes.

Specifically, Prop. 64 changes state law to legalize the use of marijuana for nonmedical purposes by adults age 21 and over. As a result, adults age 21 and over will be able to purchase marijuana at state-licensed businesses or through their delivery services (effective January 1, 2018). Businesses can generally not be located within 600 feet of a school, day care center, or youth center, unless allowed by a local government. Proponents claim that marijuana will have limited access and that these are the strongest protections for youth of any other states’ measures.

In addition, Prop. 64 changes the name of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation to the Bureau of Marijuana Control and makes the Bureau responsible for regulating and licensing nonmedical marijuana businesses (it is obviously already handling the regulation of medical cannabis in this state). In addition, the ballot measure requires other state agencies to regulate and license different parts of the nonmedical marijuana industry (including Department of Food & Agriculture and the Department of Public Health). These state agencies will have responsibilities similar to the ones they currently have for medical marijuana.

Under the ballot measure, cities and counties can regulate nonmedical marijuana businesses. For example, cities and counties can require nonmedical marijuana businesses to obtain local licenses and restrict where they could be located. Cities and counties can also completely ban marijuana-related businesses. However, they cannot ban the transportation of marijuana through their jurisdictions.

The ballot measure imposes new state taxes on growing and selling both medical and nonmedical marijuana. The new tax on growing marijuana will be based on a dollar amount per ounce of marijuana, and the new excise tax will be based on the retail price of marijuana products sold.

The measure will also affect sales tax revenue to the state and local governments.

After initial spending, revenues will be allocated as follows:

  • 60 percent for youth programs — including substance use disorder education, prevention and treatment.
  • 20 percent to clean up and prevent environmental damage resulting from the illegal growing of marijuana.
  • 20 percent for (1) programs designed to reduce driving under the influence of alcohol, marijuana and other drugs and (2) a grant program designed to reduce any potential negative impacts on public health or safety resulting from the measure.

In addition, Prop. 64 imposes packaging and labeling requirements so that all marijuana sales will include a standard warning label. These cannot be targeted towards children and packages must be child-proof. While Prop. 64 allows for the advertisement of marijuana-related products, it cannot be targeted toward children.

Prop. 64 also changes state marijuana penalties. And, under the ballot measure, individuals serving sentences for activities that are made legal or are subject to lesser penalties under the measure will be eligible for resentencing.

According to the proponents, “Proposition 64 finally creates a safe, legal, and comprehensive system for adult use of marijuana while protecting our children. Marijuana is available nearly everywhere in California — but without any protections for children, without assurances of product safety, and without generating tax revenue for the state.

“Prop. 64 controls, regulates and taxes adult use of marijuana, and ends California’s criminalization of responsible adult use. How Prop. 64 Works:

  • “Under this law, adults 21+ will be allowed to possess small amounts of nonmedical marijuana, and to grow small amounts at home for personal use. Sale of nonmedical marijuana will be legal only at highly regulated, licensed marijuana businesses, and only adults 21+ will be permitted to enter. Bars will not sell marijuana, nor will liquor stores or grocery stores.

“Child Protections:

  • Drug dealers don’t ask for proof of age and today can sell marijuana laced with dangerous drugs and chemicals. 64 includes toughest-in-the-nation protections for children, requiring purchasers to be 21, banning advertising directed to children, and requiring clear labeling and independent product testing to ensure safety. 64 prohibits marijuana businesses next to schools.”

On the other hand, opponents of Prop. 64 argued the following: “Flaw #1: Doubling of highway fatalities. Flaw #2: Allows marijuana growing near schools and parks. Flaw #3: Will increase, not decrease black market and drug cartel activity. Flaw #4: Could roll back the total prohibition of smoking ads on TV. Flaw #5: Proposition 64 is an all-out assault on underprivileged neighborhoods already reeling from alcohol and drug addiction problems.”

Prop. 64 as a practical matter allows adults aged 21 or older to buy, possess or transport small amounts of marijuana for personal use. They can also cultivate up to six plants as long as it is not visible to the public. They cannot sell it. The ballot measure also provides extensive state licensing schemes based upon the work currently being done by a number of state agencies that are charged with implementing the medical cannabis laws. The ballot measure establishes standards for marijuana products and it allows local government to regulate and tax marijuana.

Major concerns from opponents of marijuana legalization have focused on the advertising restrictions and whether enough will be done to protect children; the failure to include a DUI standard (Prop. 64 provides funding to the California Highway Patrol to undertake the determination of this standard); and whether so called “on-demand delivery” will be permitted (which the proponents claim is prohibited).

As a result of the enactment of Prop. 64, state agencies will be tasked with creating a regulatory program for both medical and recreational cannabis usage in this state. Local jurisdictions will have to decide whether they want marijuana-related activities to be sanctioned within their jurisdictions considering the societal and revenue impacts of the products. And the state may be looking at $1 billion annually in new state revenues as a result of Prop. 64.

Chris Micheli is an attorney and legislative advocate with the Sacramento governmental relations firm of Aprea & Micheli. He can be reached at (916) 448-3075.