On November 8, 2016, California voters voted, by a margin of 56% to 44%, to pass Proposition 64 to legalize recreational marijuana for adults over the age of 21 in the state. The details of the 60-page proposition are complex. The vote to legalize recreational cannabis use came 20 years after California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996. Now that voters have decided to make recreational cannabis legal, what will become of California medical marijuana card holders? How will their rights be affected? Will medical marijuana users still need a California medical marijuana card to consume their medicine in the state?
For the calendar year 2017 at least, the answer is a definite yes. Proposition 64 will not come in effect until January 2018 at the earliest, which means dispensaries won’t start serving recreational users until at least that date. Implementing regulations is a complicated and time consuming process. Under the new law the ‘Bureau of Marijuana Control’ will not start issuing recreational licenses until at least 2018, and so a cannabis card is fully essential for the entirety of 2017 at least.
Until the new law comes into effect, anybody who needs to use cannabis for what the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 calls “any condition for which marijuana provides relief” will need to visit their primary physician and request them to write a recommendation, or visit a specialized ‘cannabis doctor’, or get a California medical marijuana card through one of the many online doctor services that enable patients to get a medical marijuana card online.
But even come 2018, when the state is required to begin issuing licenses to recreational weed shops, different localities have the right to set different rules, so it is by no means clear how recreational use will play out. There is a lot of red tape to be hacked through.
There has been some apprehension amongst long-term MMJ users, who rely on easy and reliable access to medical marijuana to control debilitating physical and/or psychological pain. Some patients fear that people who don’t respect the drug and just want to get high are going to clog up the market and give the plant a bad name, while people who genuinely need marijuana as medicine will be forgotten about. They also worry that Proposition 64 will impose stricter regulations on where California medical marijuana card patients can consume their medicine and how much they could grow.
Some patients have also been concerned about how the measure might affect the cost of their medicine. But it looks as though the law will not have an adverse effect on MMJ pricing because it exempts California medical marijuana card patients from paying sales taxes, which will keep consumer costs down. It also caps the cost of getting an optional ID card confirming a person’s status as an MMJ patient at $100, and with many counties now charging up to $175, that could also lead to savings.
Indeed, experts have stated that the passing of Proposition 64 does not negatively affect the rights of medical marijuana patients established in the Compassionate Use Act of 1996, and will in fact improve them, so even once Proposition 64 is fully in effect, there will still be advantages to being a certified medical marijuana patient.
While recreational use will not be allowed in public, card-carrying medical patients will still be permitted to smoke medical cannabis in most areas in which tobacco smoking is allowed. And, while recreational consumers will be limited to growing six plants at a time, medical marijuana patients will continue to be able to grow up to 100 square feet of plants.
Proponents of the law believe its implementation will certainly broaden rights and access for California’s 1M+ medical cannabis users.
Matt Kumin, a San Francisco attorney who has represented medical cannabis clients for twenty years, is confident. He has stated “The sky is not going to fall, I think this is actually a new day for medical cannabis patients.”
How will the new law look? Many people predict California dispensaries will simply have two lines, with one for 420 card patients and one for recreational customers. Colorado legalized recreational cannabis in 2012, and recreational sales now account for 60-70% of the market. But both recreational and medical sectors continue to grow year on year in the state.
Much of how Proposition 64 plays out in California will depend on how cities and counties decide to implement it, since each jurisdiction controls what types of cannabis businesses can open and operate inside their boundaries.
Local governments also have the right to impose local taxes on top of state taxes, so while there’s a lot to be hopeful about, things are still a bit unclear, and may be for some time to come, especially in terms of differences between different jurisdictions within the state. For example, there could be areas in California where medical dispensaries are operating, but recreational use is still not happening.
So for the next year for sure, and maybe even beyond, there are definite advantages to being legally recognized as a medical cannabis patient, and having a California medicinal marijuana card, as opposed to being a mere recreational user.