Like it or not, the Green Rush is now upon us. Voters in California and eight other states considered marijuana-related measures on Tuesday and passed at least seven, including our Proposition 64, which legalized recreational use of the drug.
Californians who are 21 and older can now possess, transport, buy and use up to an ounce of weed without fear. And stores licensed to sell nonmedical pot can open on or before Jan. 1, 2018.
The only question now: Is California ready for this?
A lot rides on the answer, for the entire nation. As home to the world’s sixth-largest economy, the state is poised to be a bellwether in the long, national fight to legalize a drug that many argue has untapped benefits, but also poses some threat to public health.
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Emboldened by California, advocates are betting more states will legalize pot. Another hope, though more remote, is that the federal government will cease classifying weed as if it were on par with meth, as an addictive substance with no medical value.
If even some of this happens, it will put a major dent in the War on Drugs, a failed effort that has put far too many people behind bars, particularly people of color.
Already six states — home to more than 20 percent of the population — allow adults to use small amounts of weed for recreational purposes. They include Nevada and Massachusetts, where voters approved ballot initiatives Tuesday. Maine passed it narrowly, but a recount looms. The number is even higher for states with medical weed.
That means it’s crucial that California gets this right. We can’t afford a repeat of the regulatory messiness that followed the legalization of medical pot.
Cities must craft ordinances with care to capture what’s sure to be millions of dollars in tax revenue from commercial cultivation. Being shortsighted and greedy will only harm residents, particularly in poor neighborhoods that will be magnets for growing sites. So we understand why Sacramento City Councilmen Allen Warren and Eric Guerra want more money for their districts to negate the impacts.
Meanwhile, the state must come up with ways to discourage people from driving stoned, and to keep the drug away from teens and children.
Given that Proposition 64 was bankrolled by Silicon Valley investors, at least one of whom envisions becoming the Philip Morris of the marijuana business, we fear profit motives will trump ethical behavior. That’s why we recommended voters reject the initiative.
But while we remain unsure, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom swears California is ready, and the initiative was his baby. No matter what happens, there’s no disowning it.