California tokers, why you trippin’ so hard?
You keep saying that marijuana helps manage anxiety. But those of you in and around the cannabis industry sound like the most stressed-out people in California.
That leaves me wondering what’s in your bongs, especially since 2016 is supposed to be a year of great triumph for you. Cannabis is booming in California. New regulations on medical marijuana are coming together, and a November ballot initiative to legalize recreational use seems likely to pass.
California is thus well on its way to becoming Mary Jane’s global capital, and a national model for how to pull cannabis out of the black market shadows and into the legal light.
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If the future looks so dank (stoner-speak for awesome), why do you all look so wrecked?
Did you get some bad schwag or something?
In talking to some of you in recent weeks, I’ve learned there are two reasons why you’re stressed out.
The first involves all the necessary pressure you’re putting on yourselves. Cannabis is not just an industry, it’s a movement to end prohibition, and the hardest times for movements can come right when they are on the verge of winning what they want. Your movement’s victory requires a difficult transition that is stressful and scary.
In California, by one estimate, there are as many as 10,000 cannabis-related businesses – only a couple hundred of which have the proper zoning and licenses to operate a medical marijuana business. That leaves thousands of you trying to work out your futures very quickly – at least before 2018, when regulations for medical marijuana and for recreational use (assuming the ballot initiative passes) are supposed to be in place.
Some of you may have to shut down. But others of you are engulfed in the difficult, expensive process of making your businesses legal quickly – but not so quickly that you run afoul of local police, who are still conducting raids on your operations, or federal authorities who already make banking and paying taxes so difficult for you.
On top of all this stress comes the burden of being a political cause. Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom is building a gubernatorial campaign by backing the ballot initiative to legalize recreational use.
That brings me to the second source of pressure on you: the constant outside demands on your industry from what cinematic stoner Jeffrey “The Dude” Lebowski called “the Square Community.”
California leaders have gotten way too high on the possibilities of fully legal marijuana. Politicians and media suggest that legal cannabis in California will end the drug war, rationalize our prison and court systems, solve homelessness, save water through new agricultural technologies, create new jobs and economic opportunities in poor and rural areas of the state, preserve agriculture and replenish strained budgets with new taxes on weed.
Cannabis has come to be seen by its most zealous champions as a substance that can alter California realities – in ways reminiscent of our craze for gold in 1849 or for oil in the early 20th century. Broader legalization of marijuana will bring opportunities, but there are just too many expectations riding on this one plant.
Before exploiting legal marijuana for all manner of schemes, California governments need to get this transition right. The tax system for cannabis should be comprehensible and not so extortionate that it drives out small players (or creates incentives to keep the black market alive).
The regulatory regimes for medical marijuana and recreational use should fit together, and be transparent enough that California cannabis goes forward as a competitive market, not a state monopoly.
To ease the transition, state government needs to do everything it can to help you – the growers, processors, dispensary operators and customers – negotiate these changes, including protecting you from the feds and the banks.
If California gets this right, maybe some of the biggest dreams for marijuana can come true. At the very least, cannabis could be a thriving and well-regulated industry.
But for now, as the marijuana-friendly rap group Cypress Hill like to say, we all gots to chill. These are already stressful-enough times for stoners.
Joe Mathews writes the Connecting California column for Zocalo Public Square.