Central San Joaquin Valley voters rejected marijuana legalization, but the new laws are here anyway. And with them came new rights for residents, as well as new headaches for law enforcement.
On Tuesday, Californians approved Proposition 64. The move immediately made recreational marijuana legal – almost exactly 20 years after the state legalized medical cannabis.
The 62-page proposition introduces new laws, but it also changes several existing ones. Here are some of the major changes:
▪ It is now legal for anyone 21 or older to possess 1 ounce (28.5 grams) of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated marijuana. Law enforcement may not confiscate marijuana if found in these amounts, and possession in this legal amount does not give police the right to search or detain you – unless you have violated some other law or probation terms. You can also keep up to six marijuana plants in your home.
▪ Buying marijuana is not yet legal, as lawful purchase requires that someone buy from a licensed dispensary. Licenses will likely not be given until late 2017. The state has until Jan. 1, 2018, to cement the licensing process. It is also not legal to use “volatile solvents” such as butane or propane to create concentrated cannabis, sometimes referred to as “honey oil,” without a license.
▪ You can only smoke pot in your home. Smoking in public could result in a $100 fine, which increases to $250 if you’re caught near a school, day care or youth center when children are present.
▪ Criminal laws concerning marijuana have changed. Possession with intent to sell to an adult went from a felony to a misdemeanor. It’s still a felony if someone tries to sell pot to a child. Trafficking more than an ounce also was downgraded to a misdemeanor. Minors possessing marijuana no longer will be charged with a misdemeanor. Instead, they are subject to mandatory drug rehabilitation courses if caught with pot.
▪ There are taxes. The state will levy a 15 percent tax on purchases, as well as a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce for flowers and $2.75 per ounce for leaves. According to the proposition, the money raised will be used to counteract the environmental factors of growing marijuana. Some tax revenue also will go to law enforcement.
▪ You can still get fired or denied a job for testing positive for marijuana.
Dyer, Mims lament passage
As of Saturday, 55 percent of Fresno County voters opposed legalization in Tuesday’s election. Kings, Madera and Tulare counties were even more opposed.
Count Fresno Police Chief Jerry Dyer and Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims among the opposition.
“It’s frustrating when we’re given the responsibility of keeping our citizens safe, but the tools are decided by people in Los Angeles or San Francisco,” Dyer said. “They decide the laws that impact us, and that’s unfortunate.”
“The idea that we are going to be ‘freed up’ to enforce other laws is false,” she said. “In reality, we expect more (marijuana-related) work.”
Both are concerned that enforcement of the new laws will further tax their already overburdened resources. Dyer notes that the Fresno Police Department receives 1,200 daily service calls, which are prioritized. Pleas to stop someone from smoking pot on the sidewalk are not likely to be the highest priority for an officer’s response, he added.
Mims has a specific concern regarding the reclassification of marijuana-related crimes. She fears that drug dealers will use children to carry marijuana for them, given that the possession charge for minors has been reduced from a misdemeanor to an infraction.
Dyer fears the new law actually will increase black-market marijuana sales, as the complex licensing process and heavy taxes may cause sellers to veer from the legitimate path.
The governments both leaders serve are in an adjustment period.
Fresno County Counsel Dan Cederborg said the Board of Supervisors likely will take some action soon to extend restrictions regarding medical pot cultivation and distribution to all marijuana. The county’s embattled $1,000 per plant fine remains in place, he added.
Fresno City Councilman Clint Olivier said the council is not scheduled to revisit Fresno’s marijuana ordinances.
Earlier this year, Clovis extended its medical marijuana restrictions to recreational pot.
The largest strides within Fresno County’s fledgling marijuana industry continue to be made by small towns.
Coalinga, which in July became the first city in the county to allow medical cannabis cultivation, had two marijuana-related initiatives on Tuesday’s ballot: a tax for its upcoming cultivations, which passed by a wide margin; and one to allow a dispensary within city limits, which was passing by a slim 73-vote margin as of Saturday.
If the results hold, Coalinga appears poised to have the only legal dispensary in the area, although the city may designate that it can only sell to medical cannabis patients.
Other Valley cities have banned dispensaries without a popular vote – Clovis, Hanford, Chowchilla and Lemoore. More will likely follow.