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A New Golden Standard

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Election Day is in November, and for proponents of California’s Prop. 64, it means the wait for legalized recreational use of cannabis for adults in the state may finally become a reality.

Per the bill, Prop. 64 will make it legal for adults 21 and older to “possess, transport, purchase, consume, and share up to one ounce of marijuana and eight grams of marijuana concentrates.” Much of the bill focuses on how regulating and taxing the marijuana industry will provide a potential windfall for California, just as it did for Colorado when that state legalized recreational use in 2014. Nate Bradley, the executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, says his organization was one of the first to endorse Prop. 64.

“To pass an initiative, you need three things. You need money, you need a coalition, and you need a bill,” Bradley says. “The reason we got excited about Prop. 64 is because it had all three elements.”

He notes that never before has a coalition of this caliber been built for a pro-legalization bill in California. Organizations like the California Medical Association and numerous environmental protection groups have all come on board to lend their support. Bradley also points to organizations that have previously opposed similar legislation but are now adopting a neutral stance, including the California Chamber of Commerce and the State Association of Counties. It speaks to changing views and a rising tide of support from both the state and the country at large.

Comparing the efforts behind Prop. 64 to 2010’s Prop. 19 — a similar bill that was narrowly defeated — Bradley says the latter never evolved beyond a grassroots effort. This time around, big names like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and Napster co-founder Sean Parker have put their names — and in Parker’s case, his checkbook — behind the bill. Bradley believes that if Prop. 64 does pass, it will be the start of a chain reaction that sees legalization efforts multiply across the country.

“A lot of other states do follow our lead, and so once California does it, it’s sort of like a real thing,” he says.

As the CEO of Terra Tech, Derek Peterson also believes a success for Prop. 64 will have a substantial ripple effect. Peterson’s company encompasses a number of brands, including Edible Garden, which provides produce out of New Jersey to companies like Wal-Mart and Kroger; and Blum, a cannabis operation with retail locations in California and Nevada as well as cultivation facilities in Reno and Las Vegas. With a background in finance and economics, Peterson sees wide-ranging results if California can pass Prop. 64.

“I think this piece of legislation is bigger than the economics of the industry in the state,” he says. “It’s bigger than us, it’s bigger than the industry, it’s bigger than the players and the participators. It’s a tipping point. It’s really cranking Pandora’s box wide open.”

Citing a study conducted by the RAND Drug Policy Research Center and the University of California-Irvine last year, Peterson notes the states in which recreational adult usage of cannabis have been legalized have seen reduced numbers in opiate usage. He sees the stigma originally set in place by the Ronald Reagan-era propaganda touting marijuana as a “gateway drug” finally starting to subside, at least as evidenced by the polling numbers coming in on Prop. 64. A poll from the nonpartisan Public Policy Institute of California on Sept. 21 had Prop. 64 holding support from 60 percent of likely voters.

While cannabis enthusiasts are certainly motivated to see Prop. 64 succeed, they aren’t the only ones that will benefit if it does become law. Bradley adds that one thing legalization will do is increase public safety benefits.

“The public safety benefit is that we’re going to slowly but surely start pulling [cannabis] out of our schools. The reality is when you make something illegal, you don’t get rid of it — you just relegate it to an underground market, which in turn sells it directly to our kids and our schools. I was a police officer for six-and-a-half years, and I never had one case of Jim Beam bourbon being sold at my local high school.”

Bradley sees every minute a police officer doesn’t spend cutting down a cannabis plant as a minute he or she can spend going after real criminals. The tax money Prop. 64 will potentially generate also means that a regulated cannabis industry may directly lead to more teachers in schools and other job opportunities totally separate from the cannabis industry itself.

In discussing how those with no vested interest in legalized cannabis will still benefit if Prop. 64 is voted into law, Terra Tech’s Peterson points to the “multiplier effect,” which in essence speaks to how money spent in a local economy continues to recycle as it is spent again and again.

“When I come into a community and spend a dollar, that dollar turns into 80 cents, then 60 cents, then 50 cents. We just spent a million dollars at each one of [our four Nevada] facilities for union construction, plumbing, electrical jobs, lighting jobs, those types of things. And those people then went back out, and they went to restaurants and gas stations, and that’s what we can expect here. For voters who don’t care about cannabis, there is still in our opinion a significant economic impact on them that they don’t necessarily directly see.”