Perhaps you were among those in California who awakened on Monday, threw open the curtains, turned to a loved one, and said, “Happy new year! Let’s go buy some legal weed!”
If so, you were no doubt among those who arrived at your local cannabis store to discover that not much had changed since 2017.
Yes, there were some lines at a few shops around the state, but not many. There were no runs on cash at ATMs, no wild 420, stick-it-to-The-Man celebrations. Just the usual sunny New Year’s Day morning in California, with perhaps a few more aging boomers than usual driving around in search of a happening.
Commercial sales of cannabis certainly will bring about social, environmental and economic changes here, but not in the short term. Here where shifting the culture is a tradition, the trick will be in managing the consequences over time.
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Loopholes intentionally and unintentionally written into Proposition 64, the 2016 initiative legalizing commercial weed sales, are still being sorted out, similar to what happened after Indian casinos became legal in 2000, and after Prohibition ended in the 1930s.
Sacramento’s homegrown industry, lobbying, will be one beneficiary in 2018, as it was 2017, and weed merchants in various forms will spread campaign money liberally among candidates in 2018.
Look for fights as corporate interests seek to advertise, deliver product to your doorstep, and seize bigger slices of the market, from seed to store, despite campaign promises to the contrary, as detailed by the online journalism site CALmatters.
Look, too, for corporate triumph. In 1849, smart merchants made money by selling jeans and pans to California miners. Now, fast-food chain Jack in the Box has formed a “budding” arrangement with Merry Jane, a company launched by Snoop Dogg, to sell a “Munchie Meals,” priced at $4.20, The San Diego Union reported. Can marketers of Doritos be far behind?
None of this is new. Californians so inclined were getting stoned long before 1996 when voters authorized the medical marijuana. Since ’96, getting a pot doctor’s approval to enter a dispensary has been easy.
Still, commercial sales have begun before the regulatory apparatus is fully in place, and before scientists fully understand effects on our bodies and brains. There’s no way to bank profits easily, so it remains a cash business, and there is no standard for driving while high.
On Christmas Eve, California Highway Patrol Officer Andrew Camilleri died after a man who apparently was drinking alcohol and smoking marijuana slammed into the rear of his vehicle on Interstate 880 in Hayward.
Now, the California Office of Traffic Safety is spending $1 million on a television ad buy that includes a spot that could be misread as a promotion. The 30-second ad features people who spend a long time extolling the reasons they like weed (it helps with menstrual cramps, or with appetite, or because it’s fun) before they finally add that, by the way, they never drive while stoned.
“This is exactly what I was afraid what was going to happen,” UC San Francisco Medical School professor Stanton Glantz, who has spent his career researching tobacco use and advocating against it, said upon viewing the ad. “It is selling pot as being good for everything.”
Substitute tobacco, then see how the ad plays. It would be like telling kids that smoking makes them look cool, steadies nerves, and transforms them into adults, while cautioning against smoking till they’re 21. It’d make Joe Camel blush, and is an embarrassment given California’s leadership in an earlier time against tobacco use.
Such blunders aside, the reaction on Day One makes it clear: The novelty of going into a store and walking out with a legal stash was gone by about 12:01 a.m. on New Year’s Day in California.
Now state and local governments will take their cuts, in the form of 15 percent in taxes, or more, and another vice will go mainstream. So much for sticking it to The Man.