California might just be the leading medical marijuana state in the country. It has consistently been ahead of the curve when it comes to marijuana legislature, both recreational and medical, and its liberal approach to the medicine has no doubt eased many patients’ suffering in the 21 years it’s been legalized. As the number of states who have legalized MMJ tips over the halfway mark (29 and counting), the question is, will California retain its frontrunner position as the leading state in the medical marijuana arena? And what exactly does the future hold at this critical juncture in marijuana law, when the state’s government tries to introduce a recreational rollout against the well-established and successful California MMJ program?
California’s liberal leanings towards marijuana started way back in 1975, when it was among the first states to decriminalize the drug, under the Moscone Act. In 2010, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger added further measures to decriminalization in the form of State Senate Bill 1449, which further reduced the charge of possession on one ounce of cannabis or less, levelling it with an infraction, which constitutes a small fine and no court appearance.
The 1975 decriminalization program paved the way for the California MMJ bill to be passed in 1996. Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, passed with a narrow 55% majority, making California the first state to legalize medical marijuana for people suffering from cancer, AIDS, migraines glaucoma, arthritis, and other chronic illnesses, demonstrating a remarkable range of qualifying conditions, even back in 1996. Over the years, the wording surrounding this law has been strengthened and clarified, and in 2010, the limit of possession on medical marijuana was lifted after the California Supreme Court ruled in People vs. Kelly. The key wording now lists a number of conditions, followed by the phrase, “and any other condition for which marijuana provides relief.” While other states have faltered in their ascribing of qualifying conditions, California has made the medicine accessible to every single patient who can possibly benefit from it, and in turn has reduced the pressure on doctors, who may worry about breaking the law if their patient’s illness doesn’t adhere to the qualifying conditions.
The passing of Proposition 215 was a watershed moment in the history of medical marijuana, and paved the way for many other states to follow in California’s footsteps. In the intervening 21 years, as a further 28 states have come on board the MMJ train, California has never wavered in its commitment to its program, and has gone to great lengths to implement a successful dispensary rollout across the state. The result is a program which is much more progressive than many other states, including the likes of New York, which implemented a surprisingly regressive MMJ bill in 2014.
Under Proposition 215, patients with a physician’s recommendation, and their primary caregivers, are allowed to cultivate their own strains of MMJ, and as an alternative, SB 420 allows patients to come together in collectives to grow their own medicine. The amount of medical marijuana grown must be in concordance with the size of the collective, and growth that exceeds this number is still liable for prosecution. However, this setup is set to change at the end of 2018, and all collectives must be licenced within the state. This gives patients a large range of options for growing and acquiring their medicine, and makes access easy for any patients that wants (or needs) to avail of the drug.
On January 9th 2016, California voted to legalize recreational marijuana. Although they’re not the first state to do this, they have long been proponents and advocates of marijuana in general, so it came as little surprise to most people that they were among the frontrunners to legalize. Many people wondered how the recreational program would line up against the well-established California MMJ program, and indeed, that is the question that dominates conversations about the future of marijuana in the Golden State.
California has a lead-in time of 14 months to roll out their recreational program, with recreational marijuana becoming legal on the 1st January 2018. However, this proved to be too little time to completely overhaul a previously underground and decidedly massive industry; as it stands, it is actually impossible to purchase recreational marijuana anywhere in California, and that looks to be the case for some time.
A medical marijuana card is still the best way to procure the medicine in 2018, and will remain so for the foreseeable future. Just because both forms of marijuana are legal, it doesn’t mean that MMJ will become obsolete; in fact, it’s quite the contrary. The government actually imposed sales tax rebates on California MMJ when they passed the recreational law, renewing their commitment to the long-established MMJ program and providing patients with a cheaper cost for their medicine in the process. Ultimately, California looks set to continue being the shining example of MMJ progressiveness that it has always been.