How Recreational are California’s New Marijuana Laws?

For over 20 years now medical marijuana has been legal in California. After a protracted legal battle the state finally allowed adults aged 21 and above to use the drug recreationally. Starting 1st January, California introduced the sale of recreational marijuana following similar legislation in five other states including Washington, Oregon, and Nevada.

Even as thousands of marijuana enthusiasts express joy at the landmark decision, legalization in California may still cause tension between the state and federal drug enforcers. Keep in mind the FDA still classifies cannabis a schedule 1 drug – a standard normally associated with hard drugs like cocaine, heroin, and LSD.

“I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store. And I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful,” Said attorney general Jeff Sessions before law makers last year.

A look at existing marijuana laws in California

California legalized the use of medical marijuana in 1996, making it the first in the U.S. to do so. In 2003, a senate bill was passed which outlined a legal framework for monitoring the use of the substance. In 2010 the state deprioritized prosecution of marijuana possession to a misdemeanor (for individuals caught holding 28.5 grams or less).

By 2015 the state had moved to overhaul existing marijuana infrastructure through the MCRSA act. This act was meant to highlight laws describing how and where businesses could sell medical marijuana. This legislation led to the creation of laws that now govern the issuing of licenses and setting of standards.

2018 Legislation

California now faces a distinct challenge with the passage of the Adult Usage of Marijuana Act (AUMA) and the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA). By pushing for two separate frameworks (one for medical and one recreational), the state faces a potentially messy roll out. Washington state has had serious challenges with implementation of frameworks meant to direct the use of medical and recreational marijuana.

By comparison, Colorado opted for a smoother process of implementation by focusing on one distinct factor for all cannabis use: the rate at which different products are taxed.


California produces a surprisingly large amount of cannabis, most of which is sold illegally across state lines. With projected revenue earnings set at over $1 billion per year, legalization is expected to encourage the thousands of black market vendors and growers to join the legal market.

Studies are still being conducted to determine how legalization will affect consumption in the coming years. The Attorney General’s argument is that the state is already plagued with illegal drug use and introducing another powerful mind altering substance will only serve to complicate the issue.

Since 1996 marijuana has been widely distributed across medical dispensaries to be used by adults with a recommendation card; however the drug still found its way into pockets of people without any medical card. Users in the state have little fear of prosecution as it has been a long time since the police made an arrest strictly for possession of small amounts. For the moment California is still trying to adopt a working standard for marijuana; there are still many issues to address.

Cover Photo: Ed Uthman

Editorial Staff

Editorial Staff

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