Californians of a certain age are plenty familiar with big votes on cannabis.
Those qualified to cast a ballot in 1996, for instance, faced a choice on Prop 215. Recognized as the first statewide medical cannabis legislation in the U.S., the measure passed with 5,382,915 (55.6%) votes in favor. Then, exactly twenty years later, Prop 64 arrived.
Appearing on ballots alongside presidential candidates for the 2016 election, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act asked Californians to decide whether the state should also legalize adult-use sales. Again, the people said yes, with 7,979,041 (57.13%) votes in favor. However, while Prop 215 (also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996) left much of the fine print unwritten when it came to establishing a regulatory framework, Prop 64 was a far more complicated beast indeed.
To confuse Prop 64 with a bill solely intended to legalize the consumption of cannabis is to fail to appreciate how complex the sales side of the equation remains.
In attempting to define how everything from tax structures to organic testing would play out, there’s been a lot of confusion — and, subsequently, calls for changes – to the system Prop 64 established. Figuring out a meaningful way to incorporate equity operators into the equation has led some cities, like San Francisco, to create new offices focused on the task. Meanwhile, in Los Angeles, nearly two years after statewide sales went into effect, the city continues to amend its own attempt at an equity program.
And then there are the cities that simply opted out.
How is that possible? As we’ve previously reported, the reason nearly two-thirds of California remains without a brick-and-mortar cannabis business is because Prop 64 leaves the choice to legalize to individual cities and counties.
Ostensibly, the hope was that everyone would be all for it.
Instead, all of the state’s legal cannabis is today available to purchase in-store in only 30% of California’s cities. Further complicating the matter is an ongoing debate over whether this ban extends to delivery services, which have thus far continued to serve areas without retail locations. Currently with the Fresno State Superior Court, arguments in the case are scheduled for Nov. 16, though a tentative ruling from Judge Rosemary McGuire suggests delivery foes may fail in their quest.
At the same time, another election has arrived, and with it, a second chance for a number of cities and counties across California to give cannabis the green light in some form.
In total, there are 38 ballot measures addressing cannabis in 36 cities or counties across the state on the November 2020 ballot.
Ellen Komp of California NORML summarized the offerings thusly:
“Most measures would allow local officials to impose taxes on cannabis businesses,” Komp writes, “ranging from 1.25% up to 10%. For cultivation, most localities seek to place a square footage tax ranging from $0.5 – $25. Trinity County, by contrast, seeks to tax by weight of flower and leaves, while Calaveras voters will decide whether to move from a weight-based tax to a square footage-based one.”
But why tax measures?
“Many of the jurisdictions considering measures currently do not allow cannabis businesses, or all types of them,” Komp explains. “[A] tax measure is often the first step towards licensing cannabis businesses, since locals can only tax by voter mandate.”
In addition, there’s reason to be hopeful for the success of the scores of cannabis measures California voters are now pondering. According to Komp, of the over 200 ballot measures addressing cannabis in local elections in the past decade, “around 90% of them have passed.”
Now, voters everywhere from Costa Mesa in Orange County to Napa’s Yountville will test this green wave once more. From Vacaville to Tulare, Yuba to San Mateo, denizens of California are being faced with cannabis issues on the ballot. Should the majority pass, it will only further underscore the reality that to be in the state today is to have an opinion on cannabis. The sidelines are no longer an option.
Delightfully, it must also be noted that the Siskiyou County city of Weed is among the scores of places voting on the green stuff this fall. As detailed in California NORML’s voting guide, the residents of Weed are considering Measure B, which would regulate the commercial growth of cannabis within the city by establishing a licensing framework.