Sean Parker

2016: The Year…Of What?

2016 is here. This is the year California will supposedly legalize small amounts of cannabis for adults. It’s the year when California will name a medical cannabis “czar” and when state regulators will at last become involved in the medical industry.

It could also be the year when other states take the lead and legalize recreational cannabis before us — again.

Here’s what we can look forward to — and what we should fear.

Friends Like These
Sean Parker
The bizarre situation presented by the “Parker Initiative.”

Here’s what are we dealing with in California: A legalization initiative, “funded” by a billionaire who has yet to explain why he cares (and has yet to throw down any funding), endorsed by a main proponent who has gone on record to the Los Angeles Times saying that marijuana is bad for your health.

And it’s the best — and only — shot we have at legalizing cannabis this year.

The Adult Use of Marijuana Act would legalize up to an ounce of cannabis for adults 21 and over. Retail bud would be sold in regulated stores and subjected to a 15 percent excise tax. All the statutes banning weed would still be on the books, but most weed-related violations would be punished by a fine, nothing more.

This effort is, we are told, funded by Facebook billionaire Sean Parker. Parker is, at least, now matching donations made to the Marijuana Policy Project.

But Dr. Donald Lyman, the former board member of the California Medical Association who is the official proponent of the bill, told the Times that cannabis is “dangerous and ill-advised.”

This is the same AUMA that has received endorsements from Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, who bankrolled 2010’s Prop. 19, and Emerald Cup founder Tim Blake.

So: A billionaire whose connection to the plant is unknown and a doctor who thinks it’s bad for us want to legalize cannabis on our behalf? Welcome to 2016.

Bans on the run
Yes, cities and counties in California have banned commercial cannabis activity. Many are doing so before March 1. But no, it’s not entirely a bad thing — and yes, there is something you can do about it.

In California, there are few things holier than “local control.” (Makes sense in a state with 39 million people, most of whom are about as alike as, say, Fresno and Fairfax.)

City councils and county supervisors can and will vote to ban dispensaries and commercial cultivation. They can’t ban patient cultivation or use, but they can regulate it.

This is how it is. Don’t like it? Then get involved in changing it back, by a petition drive or by lobbying the shit out of your local elected officials. Send emails, make phone calls. Be a pain in the ass — for change.

Q: What is changing with medical cannabis?

A: Lots — but not right away. And not everywhere.

Under the statewide regulations passed by the Legislature last fall, commercial cannabis activity is expressly allowed in California — but starting in 2017, it must be licensed, by both state and local authorities. The supply chain will also change, as retail cannabis must go through a processing stage, the exact nature of which has yet to be determined.

Existing businesses have priority to receive a license from the state — provided that the city or county in which the business is located also offers licenses. How many licenses are available and what they will cost also has yet to be determined.

No Feds allowed — again
Score two for states’ rights.

For the second year in a row, Congress has tied the hands of the federal Justice Department when it comes to state-legal cannabis. The Justice Department has had all funding for interfering with state law when it comes to marijuana removed from its budget. This means that as long as an enterprise is following state law, the only cops it needs to worry about are the locals — and that some California businesses shut down by feds can reopen.

No marijuana in the mail?
Oddly, the Postal Service may be the federal agency to take the strongest stance against cannabis this year. In December, the general counsel of the U.S. Postal Service informed several Oregon members of Congress that advertising for cannabis breaks federal law — and that newspapers and periodicals that run cannabis ads cannot be mailed. However, as the Washington Post reported, it’s unclear how the USPS plans to enforce this recent directive. Violations would have to be referred to law enforcement — and the federal Justice Department, recall, no longer has any budget to bust weed. And if it’s legal under local law, there’s nothing to worry about.

Las Vegas at night
The next up
Nevada voters could vote to legalize before California — and recreational marijuana shops could be on the Vegas Strip before they’re in the Sunset District. A legalization measure has already qualified for the Nov. 8 ballot. The proposal is similar to California’s: one ounce or less for adults 21 and over and a 15 percent excise tax on commercial activity.

Vermont could legalize cannabis in 2016 — no costly initiative process required. A pair of state lawmakers have introduced a bill that would legalize limited amounts of cannabis for adults ages 21 and up, regulate it at the state level, and have it all going by summer 2016. The bill will be discussed beginning Jan. 5.

America’s swing state could finally become medical. In 2014, a ballot measure to legalize medical cannabis won at the polls but failed to earn two-thirds of the vote, meaning a double-digit victory became a loss. The group behind 2014’s Amendment 2 is trying again this year.

Other efforts in Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, and elsewhere are attempting to gather signatures.

Photo Credits: AP Photo, Mike Koozmin