Prop 64 would bring more than legal marijuana to California | TheUnion.com

Prop 64 would bring more than legal marijuana to California

Proposition 64, called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, would change California's cannabis policy overnight if passed.

Once the clock ticks into Nov. 9, adults 21 and older would be able to legally possess, transport and give away up to an ounce of marijuana. No doctor recommendation required.

Despite this green-tinged sea change, Nevada County is likely to see little everyday difference if Prop 64 passes.

Cultivation is limited throughout the unincorporated county and there are no brick-and-mortar dispensaries here, though Grass Valley and Nevada City are examining the possibility of allowing those businesses. Both cities in western Nevada County prohibit smoking in their downtowns.

Prop 64 changes none of that.

Nevada County residents, like people throughout the state, would be able to grow six plants indoors. The Nevada County Board of Supervisors could regulate those grows, but couldn't outright prohibit them.

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Prop 64 also changes certain felony offenses into misdemeanors, and wipes clean the criminal histories of others.

Nevada City attorney Heather Burke, a prominent marijuana lawyer, points to those criminal justice reforms as the reason she'll vote for Prop 64, despite her misgivings about other parts of the measure. She emphasized that she isn't happy about voting for Prop 64, but will check "Yes" at the ballot box.

"I think there is a very real possibility that it could harm the economic interests of the mom-and-pop growers, but it's a huge deal to make the felonies go away," Burke said.

Medicine

Patricia Smith, chairwoman of the Nevada County chapter of Americans for Safe Access, opposes Prop 64. It's a position that puts her in an odd situation; she finds herself siding with some law enforcement agencies against the recreational pot measure.

For Smith, it's about patients getting their medicine. Greed, she said, will make that more difficult.

According to Smith, a marijuana plant with large amounts of THC, the compound that gets people high, can produce three to five pounds of product. A plant that yields CBD, which proponents say has a variety of medical uses, only produces about three-fourths to two pounds of product.

Smith fears the market will push out CBD plants as growers move toward recreational cultivation.

"I'm so discouraged," Smith said. "I've worked at this for so long. They all want a piece of the pie and not one of them put patient needs at the top of their priority list."

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, shares some of Smith's concerns. He said growers are skeptical of having two sets of rules — the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act.

MCRSA passed the Legislature last year. Many aspects of it won't become effective until Jan. 1, 2018.

Allen has concerns that AUMA's passage would come too soon after MCRSA. Prop 64 would have benefitted from more time to study the issue, he said.

"But that's not in everyone's business plan," he added. "There's just not a lot of confidence and lack of clarity."

Allen has many questions, like whether a grower can have both recreational and medicinal grow licenses. He wants to know the process the state would use to issue licenses.

"The ambiguity comes down to how these two things (MCRSA and AUMA) relate to one another," he said.

The law

Prop 64 would allow a business to have both medical and recreational licenses. The licensee, however, must apply for them separately and comply with both systems' regulations, said Jason Kinney, spokesperson for the Yes on 64 Committee.

A basic framework exists for licensing, though state officials currently are creating a more robust system for medical marijuana. Kinney expects recreational licenses to conform to that future system.

Licenses won't be issued until Jan. 1, 2018, though Kinney said governments could grant temporary licenses next year, if it's determined that it serves the public's interest.

"You can't operate without a license," Kinney said. "And local governments, city and county, have complete control."

That means Nevada County can continue to have no dispensaries if it refuses to issue licenses.

Barring temporary licenses, recreational users across the state must rely in 2017 on their own grows or the kindness of others. Unlicensed sales are prohibited.

Once recreational dispensaries are in place, licensed medical customers will pay no sales tax. However, everyone must pay a 15 percent excise tax, Kinney said.

According to Kinney, annual state tax revenues are estimated at $1 billion if Prop 64 passes.

"We know marijuana pricing is going to go down in a regulated system," he added.

The opposition has claimed Prop 64 will lead to marijuana advertising reaching children, as well as more drivers high on pot.

Kinney said only licensed businesses could advertise. Additionally, federal law currently prohibits such advertising on television or radio.

Prop 64 contains rules for advertising on those prohibited mediums in case federal law changes, he added.

Concerning driving while high, Kinney said the measure would provide funding for law enforcement training and technology to better identify those drivers.

Kinney said Prop 64 reflects lessons learned from Colorado, the first state to legalize recreational use.

"Read what's in the measure and make the best decision for you and your family," Kinney said.

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.