The state of California has the most long-standing, established cannabis-based economies in the entire United States, if not world. Starting back in the 1960’s and 1970’s, Northern California counties such as Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity replaced their once booming logging industries with outdoor marijuana farms.
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This socioeconomic turn came as the result of an influx of hippies from the San Francisco Bay area moving north and “dropping out” of modern society coming in conjunction with depleted forest reserves for logging businesses on the California Coast. For approximately four decades, these counter culture transplants and Northern California locals alike took advantage of the premier outdoor cultivation climates in these regions—and established an entire economic base within the continental U.S. based solely on the illegal drug trade.
The passing of Proposition 215 in California in 2002—the first medical marijuana program in the United States—literally set the stage for the first-known cannabis “green rush” in history. As California cultivators, dispensary owners, and cannabis doctors realized the state was really going to let them conduct a legitimized marijuana market, word rapidly spread across the nation. The sizeable influx of wide-eyed cannabis industry enthusiasts flocking to California to make a living growing and selling medical marijuana can accurately be measured in the price fluctuations of marijuana pounds. In 2004, indoor marijuana pounds could be sold for $4,500 in the state of California—in 2017 this price has dropped to approximately $1,500.
The medical marijuana industry in California has continuously been manipulated and altered since its inception with Prop 215. For starters, the multi-billion dollar industry still operates almost exclusively within the realm of the grey and black markets. A vast majority of California grown “medical marijuana” is shipped to other regions of the nation for a hefty profit. Also, cannabis dispensaries in CA buy all of their products with cash, generally from unlicensed growers—often negating laboratory testing as well as standardized sales tax procedures. Also, within the California marijuana market there are great disparages between federal, state, and county laws concerning what is legal and what is not. These laws also change once, if not two times a year. Point being, the medical marijuana industry in California is a mess.
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In the November 2016 elections, the citizens of California voted Proposition 64 into place—opening up California’s first recreational cannabis market. Included in Prop 64 are a number of measures that will force the long-standing underground cannabis market into the limelight, with commercial cultivation operations having to undergo expensive, thorough licensing procedures. Moreover, dispensaries will only be able to purchase cannabis products from licensed cultivators who have put their products through rigorous laboratory testing. Also, anyone over the age of 21 can now carry legally carry up to an ounce of cannabis products as well as grow six plants. However, the novel cannabis market initiatives of Prop 64 are not without their complexities. One of the primary complications with Prop 64 is that California state and county laws will still be at odds—with some counties embracing commercial cultivation and others outlawing it entirely.
The state of California has set a launch date of January 1, 2018 for the recreational cannabis program, its goal is to have the entire state compliant to the many legal nuances of Prop 64 within this ever-shrinking time frame. However, many feel that the implementation of Prop 64 will only serve to make an already confusing system and economic model even more complex. This is largely because, there are several “layers” of cannabis business culture in California that must be “peeled back” with this novel legislature. Policy makers and law makers alike must now attempt to uproot an underground business model that has supported families and communities alike for over four decades in areas like Mendocino County. Moreover, there is an overabundance of CA State medical marijuana green rush migrants who have now established a thorough economic foothold throughout the state—many of these individuals base the lively-hood of themselves and their families on cannabis cultivation. To sum it up, it is likely that for some time at least, the dawn of 2018 and Prop 64 in California will bring a slow, confusing, and painful evolution of the cannabis industry in the Golden State—with the realization of a mature, regulated market still on a distant horizon.