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Recreational Legalization in California: How’s It Going?

A Therapeutic Alternative's Kim Cargile

Weed sales have been legal in California since January 1. People can buy recreational cannabis in places that used to provide marijuana just for patients, so business is booming. Lines are long and spirits are high.

Jobs are being created. Cannabis businesses are hiring. Billboards are chock-full of pot-themed ads. Lawyers and consultants and marketers and packaging suppliers and all kinds of folks are making money on the new green industry.

RELATED: The Future of Weed Sales in California

During a recent visit to A Therapeutic Alternative on H Street in midtown Sacramento, the joint was jumping. Store owner Kim Cargile (pictured above) told me that while she was happy to have the extra customers, the new regulations have made doing business twice as expensive than it used to be, though it’s still worthwhile.

However, simply put, the taxes are too damn high. After the excise tax, the state tax, the city tax and whatever other random fees that get added on, cannabis taxes are in the area of 25%-30%. Exorbitant taxes will not make the black market go away.

Berkeley is already considering lowering its cannabis tax. Other cities may follow suit.

Most cities don’t have recreational-pot stores yet. San Diego, Sacramento and the Bay Area are ahead of the curve, but Los Angeles has lagged behind in accepting applications. Places like Fresno, Bakersfield and most of the Central Valley will probably never allow recreational cannabis for adults.

Calaveras County, in the Sierra Nevada foothills southeast of Sacramento, started recruiting cannabis cultivators two years ago, but pulled a bait-and-switch in January, when it banned commercial cultivation completely. This move left farmers and investors on the hook for millions of dollars and will most likely spark several lawsuits.

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Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, has filed a lawsuit challenging the removal of the one-acre cap on commercial farms. Prop 64 was designed and sold to small growers as a way to give the “mom and pop” small-scale cannabis operators a head start before giant corporate farms tried to corner the market. Removing this cap makes it harder for outlaws to go legit.

People are getting out of jail and having their criminal records expunged. Prop 64 allows anyone with a cannabis conviction to petition the court to have the record changed if the past infraction is no longer a crime or if the “crime” is now a misdemeanor instead of a felony. Some cities, such as San Francisco and San Diego, are searching their databases in an effort to provide relief to the thousands of people that have been unfairly punished by the Drug War. Other cities (ahem, Los Angeles), not so much.

That people can petition the courts to have charges and convictions removed from their records is probably the best thing about California’s cannabis legalization so far.