California legalization, one year later:
Recreational marijuana has been legally sold in the state of California for a year now. Let´s take a deeper look at how the extensive process came to be, its current status and what´s to come, regarding recreational cannabis in "The Golden State”.
As you may already know, California has always lead the way towards the progress of marijuana nationwide, as well as around the world. On November 5th, 1996 California became the first state to legalize the consumption of medical cannabis in North America, supported by the approval of Proposition 215.
According to state laws, Proposition 215 (also known as the Compassionate Use Act), allowed personal consumption to those who qualified as medical marijuana patients. In addition, certified patients were also authorized to buy medical cannabis from certified dispensaries in California.
The Compassionate Use Act stated: "To ensure that patients and their primary caregivers who obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes upon the recommendation of a physician are not subject to criminal prosecution or sanction". This was certainly a great victory for medical marijuana in California as it exempted a select few from state and federal laws, which prohibited possession and cultivation of cannabis at the time.
Although a great deal of medical marijuana patients have truly benefited from it, a massively large group (constituted by recreational users) was left out by the implementation of Proposition 215. That was until a couple of years ago when the consumption of recreational cannabis was finally legalized in the state of California.
It took two decades (twenty years and four days to be exact) filled with fierce opposition from detractors, but California is known for never backing down when it comes to marijuana. The Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act became state law in California on November 9th, 2016.
The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), or "proposition 64" legalized the consumption of recreational cannabis in California. Nevertheless, it did not allow recreational marijuana to be sold at first. That wasn´t until the beginning of last year, 14 long months after California had been officially declared "recreational cannabis-friendly".
Thanks to the legalization of marijuana commercialization in California, 2018 marked a record-breaking high of 10.4 billion dollars for the cannabis industry across the United States. If that weren´t enough to consider it a productive market, the marijuana industry currently provides over 250.000 jobs solely related to cannabis handling.
However, productive doesn´t necessarily mean profitable, at least not for everyone. Severe government and federal tax policies, have made it extremely difficult for smaller independent businesses to stay afloat. Some have even gone out of business, claiming it was just too expensive for them to stay compliant.
Additionally, the Food and Drug Administration together with the California Department of Public Health, demand proper and extensive testing for safety and efficacy. The California Health and Safety code dictates that manufacturers must undergo a mandatory 18-month testing process, which is currently taking place and will end by June 2019.
This intense evaluation procedure is known as CAT (California Testing). It was put into effect in January 2018, at the same time as recreational cannabis began to be legally sold in California. Due to the fact that CAT is divided into three periods of six months each and consists of 14 different quality tests, it certainly represents a considerable investment for retailers and wholesalers. Add legal/financial fees into the mix and it all might paint a different picture to what one might expect from just looking at revenues.
Such expenses force manufacturers and distributors to raise their fares constantly, thus hurting the pockets of the regular consumer. Initially, this pushed many recreational users and medical cannabis patients to turn to the black market, since they could find products there that were more affordable for them. The downside: They realized they were getting lower quality products with inaccurate data on the packaging (if any).
On the other hand, investors did put in over 10 billion dollars in the American legal marijuana market in 2018 alone (twice as much as 2015, 2016 and 2017 combined) for a reason. 2019 is expected to be a year of much greater success, which could very well solidify the industry as a more sustainable financial project.
When it comes to medical cannabis, people usually do some kind of research and they tend to put efficiency and health over finances when purchasing a product. Although it has been a little different in the case of recreational marijuana, that seems to be slowly shifting. To a point where consumers are now learning a lot through social media and they are willing to pay more when they are certain they´ll have the best trip, they can get, every single time. Even the occasional user is knowledgeable enough to carry an articulate conversation about cannabis with a medical marijuana patient nowadays
More importantly, great technological breakthroughs are being constantly achieved in the production and development of medical/recreational cannabis. A wide variety of strains, genetically engineered for specific purposes, together with a myriad of products derived from them; make it that much more appealing not just to ever demanding customers, but also to potential new clients who might not be too savvy in the trade.
A person new to the world of cannabis will probably be more inclined to buy a properly packed, certified product from an approved distributor, than an unmarked Ziploc bag from some guy that "knows a guy". Edibles certainly apply to this rule of thumb, especially because it is commonly known that the psychedelic effect of cannabis is intensified when ingested orally. Novices will feel more comfortable knowing the product was properly made and carries a dosage corresponding to what its packaging indicates.
In the modern legal cannabis market, products come with a set of descriptions and a list of components, apart from many rigorous quality checks. Lab-tested marijuana products will always be a lot more advisable than consumables that come from unknown sources. Therefore, the legal cannabis industry requires as much investment as possible. The more support the industry receives, the better products will be made, the lower taxes will get and the more money will be put back into further research and development.
The business of marijuana, either medical or recreational, will continue to grow exponentially. It’s up to us to evolve accordingly as consumers and advocates of this great gift from nature.
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Felipe Caballero: Cannabis connoisseur/advocate/writer. Language professor.