It’s going to be a big New Year’s Day in California. No, correct that; it’s going to be a HUGE, HIGH New Year’s Day in California. Finally, what the voters wanted is coming true: Legal recreational cannabis sales.
At long last, Proposition 64, approved by voters in November 2016, is being fully implemented. Recreational cannabis will now not only be legal for adults 21 and older, come New Year’s Day, so will sales. Adults, under Prop 64, are allowed to possess, transport and share up to an ounce of marijuana and eight grams of cannabis concentrates. Adults can grow up to six plants at home.
California already has a 20 year record of dealing with legalized medical cannabis and, in fact, was the first state to do so in 1996. But, it turns out, switching from a medicinal-only model of legalization to one that makes weed legal for all adults complicates things. That’s why all of 2017 has been spent just getting ready for the big day when sales become legal. So where will recreational weed be available on Jan. 1? Here’s our comprehensive guide.
Finally, Storefront Recreational Weed Sales
While smoking marijuana has been legal in California since voters said so back in November 2016, it hasn’t been possible to go to a store and buy weed.
That’s the big change coming New Year’s Day. At least at the state level, retailers who have a license issued by the California Bureau of Cannabis Control—which used to be called the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation—will be allowed to sell pot legally. (If you don’t have a license, you can be fined $500, get six months in jail or both for selling weed. Sell to a minor and you can get three to seven years.)
The state is issuing temporary recreational licenses, good for 120 days, to existing medical dispensaries that can prove they’re complying with local regulations. The catch is it won’t matter if a dispensary has one of these temporary state licenses if they haven’t gotten the go-ahead from their city. This will include all dispensaries in Los Angeles and San Francisco, neither of which will have recreational sales on Jan. 1.
What Happens To Medical Cards?
Gov. Jerry Brown, back in June, signed a bill making regulations the same for medical and recreational marijuana. But people with a medical card should keep their patient status, according to the Drug Policy Alliance, because some shops will continue to specifically target patients’ needs with particularly medicinal strains and products.
“That will ultimately be really good for medical patients because it preserves strains that are meant to alleviate symptoms,” said Jolene Forman, a staff attorney for the DPA, reports Los Angeles Magazine. “For instance, for the most part you’re probably not going to see a lot of topical remedies in the A [recreational] category, for topical remedies for muscle spasms or chronic pain are common.”
Recreational marijuana purchase in L.A. will include a 15 percent state excise tax, as well as a 9.5 percent county sales tax. Some areas will levy an additional business tax. There are taxes associated with growing, distributing, and selling weed, but medical patients with a valid card will be exempt from sales tax.
Economists are estimating cannabis taxes could bring $1 billion a year in revenue to the state. Los Angeles alone could bring in at least $50 million in marijuana tax revenue every year, according to City Controller Ron Galperin.
Will smoking in public be allowed?
Weed legalization doesn’t mean you can legally make like Chong in public spaces. Just as you aren’t allowed to drink alcohol in public parks, you’re not supposed to smoke weed in public either.
Smoking weed in public carries a $100 fine. That jumps to $250 for smoking in places where tobacco is banned, like restaurants, offices, and in front of certain buildings.
While there won’t be any Amsterdam-style cannabis cafes, either, some “private clubs” like Alchemy Lounge in downtown L.A. ask that members fill out an application and pay a fee at the door, getting around the “no smoking in public” rule. Such clubs are considered, for now, in the “gray area” of the law.
L.A. and S.F. Won’t Have Rec Sales Jan. 1
In the realm of bureaucratic bummers, Los Angeles and San Francisco won’t be part of the celebration on January 1 when legal sales kick off. L.A. officials announced on Dec. 22 that dispensaries in the city won’t be making recreational sales on New Year’s Day, as the city won’t be accepting applications to sell recreational weed until January 3.
Medical marijuana dispensary applications for recreational sales will get priority in Los Angeles, provided they are submitted within 60 days of when licenses become available. The city still doesn’t have an exact date for that, unfortunately. Recreational cannabis delivery will also be available under L.A.’s proposed guidelines, which were released in September. They’ll need to be licensed just like brick-and-mortars.
It could be weeks after the city starts accepting applications on Jan. 3 before businesses are properly licensed and open, reports the Associated Press.
“Come Jan. 1 in the city of Los Angeles, there are no legal, adult-use sales,” Cat Packer, who heads L.A.’s Department of Cannabis Regulation, told reporters at City Hall. “We are starting a process. This is something that is not going to happen overnight.”
That’s unfortunate because L.A. is California’s largest weed market. The debut of legal adult sales had been widely anticipated there. The decision to delay licensing was a big disappointment for growers and sellers who are worried about getting squeezed out of the new market if L.A. lags in licensing.
No New Year’s Day Weed For Ski Towns, Either
Some of the most popular ski destinations, like South Lake Tahoe, Truckee, and Mammoth Lakes, have moratoriums on recreational marijuana businesses, reports USA Today. That means weed won’t be available on store shelves until late spring at the earliest.
“We’re going through it slow and easy,” said Tom Davis, mayor pro team of South Lake Tahoe. “We’re trying to learn what’s worked, what hasn’t worked. It’s not about money, it’s about doing it right.”
More than 90 percent of cities and counties in California won’t have legal sales on New Year’s Day. It’s important to remember that many small, rural, conservative-leaning towns are, for now, still looking at cannabis commerce with narrowed eyes.
Berkeley, Oakland, Santa Cruz, San Diego, San Jose, WeHo Say Yes To Jan. 1 Sales
The news isn’t all gloomy.
Berkeley, Oakland, Santa Cruz, San Diego, Shasta Lake, San Jose and West Hollywood are among the cities that will be ready for the big day. Businesses in all of those cities have already been authorized to hit the ground running with recreational sales on Jan. 1.
Berkeley Patients Group said they’re planning launch day festivities for New Year’s Day, as did Oakland’s Harborside. Other parties are planned, reports GreenState, at Torrey Holistics and Urbn Leaf in San Diego, KindPeoples in Santa Cruz, and outlets in San Jose. As for people in the L.A. area, they’ll be able to stock up on legal weed at Alternative Herbal Health Services in West Hollywood starting at 6 a.m. on Jan. 1.
Legal sales will also be available on Jan. 1 in Cathedral City, Desert Hot Springs, Eureka, Ukiah, and a few other places. (California Norml has a directory with all these shops.)
The race to sell the first legal gram
One of the world’s largest medical marijuana dispensaries, Harborside in Oakland, is ready, and will start serving all adults 21 and older with valid ID on New Year’s Day. Harborside, in fact, hopes to sell the state’s first legal gram of recreational cannabis around 6 a.m.
Harborside representatives said the store has gotten the necessary local and state waivers on rules saying marijuana sales can only happen between 9 a.m. and 10 p.m. That could allow them to enter the history books as the place where cannabis prohibition officially ended in California.
But Berkeley Patients Group could also grab that distinction, as they also plan to open at 6 a.m.
The Green Revolution: Educated Consumers
What can California cannabis consumers expect with the full legalization of cannabis? We talked to Serge Chistov, financial partner for Honest Marijuana Company, which uses natural cultivation methods to produce organic cannabis products.
“I certainly hope that California consumers would expect a higher quality and better manufacturing standards from their marketplace,” Chistov said. “I would love for them to expect transparency of the supply chain, the responsibility of the manufacturer to focus on the quality of the source and material testing, and more education so people know more and more about the products they use.”