Yep, Pot Goes Legit, Sort of
Sacramento County, CA (MPG) - In many cities across California, Sacramento included, the cultivation and sale of recreational cannabis becomes legal Jan. 1, opening the flood gates for an industry widely expected to generate a gold mine for municipalities who have said “yes” to the legitimization of the pot business.
However, Sacramento County, as well as the cities of Citrus Heights, Rancho Cordova and Folsom, among others in Placer County and points across the map, each have stuck to their guns and have banned what they view as the coming of the wild west of commerce.
Anticipating an uptick in violent crime, robberies, homelessness and headaches, coupled with a complicated process for management of the commercial side of the cannabis industry, these areas have echoed a resounding “NOT” to the cultivation of cannabis in their towns. There are also too many questions, they say, about how to affectively assess pot farmers on their profits from what is currently a cash-and-carry industry, not to mention the offense of the smell from burning weed wafting over their neighborhoods.
So pot is legit as of Jan. 1, and yet it isn’t, depending on where you reside and how you intend to consume or even grow it.
If you’re cloudy on the issues, there’s good reason for it. The medicinal marijuana laws passed several years ago that ushered in the growth of the pot dispensary market made it legal for those with a “prescription” from their physicians to purchase limited amounts of pot.
Proposition 64, passed in November 2016, effectively made it possible for weed growers who are lucky enough to obtain licenses from the state to come out of the shadows and begin cashing in on the commercial recreational pot market, which is expected to generate roughly $1 billion for the state annually. Tax proceeds on pot farmers’ bounties will, in part, support enforcement and oversight of the industry, among other programs.
In addition, Prop. 64 allows for the personal cultivation of up to six living pot plants for non-medical purposes, provided they are grown inside a person's private residence or a green house, but not in a field or backyard, as many cultivators have been doing under the radar for years.
So, where and when will it be legal to grow, sell or possess pot? And are pot dispensaries legal or not?
Because marijuana remains categorized as a controlled substance under federal law, the state has left it up to individual counties and cities to determine if they wanted in on the action or not, giving them a Dec. 31 deadline to say so, in order for the approval process for applications from prospective growers to begin Jan. 1.
The City of Sacramento voted this fall to join the party and is currently cultivating its own guidelines for commercial growing and distribution. Licensees will be taxed 4% of their proceeds, for starters. Applications for conditional use permits are required and renewable annually. Depending on the type of business you want to run, city fees for setting up a grow operation will run you anywhere between $9,000 and $15,000, and between $8,000 and $13,000 to renew the license each year.
But, since it’s a cash flow operation, there are many unanswered questions as to how growers will deposit and move earnings, just one of the headaches fueling the Rancho Cordova City Council’s “no” vote.
“We have been watching all the things the city of Sacramento is going through and we see it as just a headache we do not want to deal with,” said Vice Mayor Linda Budge following her council’s 3-2 vote against lifting the ban on commercial operations Dec. 4.
Sacramento currently has roughly three dozen pot dispensaries, again built out primarily after the medicinal pot laws went into effect, but there is a moratorium on approval of new applications for licenses. Pot cultivation beyond the legal limit of six plants inside a residence, delivery services and pot dispensaries all remain illegal in Citrus Heights, Folsom, Rancho Cordova and countywide.
Proponents of Prop. 64 and the decriminalization of the marijuana industry site the stigma of pot and previous felony-level charges for minor offenses that, they say, often stood between offenders’ abilities to find a job or, in some cases, obtain approval for adequate housing.
Opponents of the law, however, including city officials, law enforcement agencies and county prosecutors have repeatedly pointed to what they see as a direct through-line between cannabis cultivation and pot dispensaries and serious crime, including murder, which they expect will continue, despite the changes in the law.
“I’ve been a prosecutor for 30 years, and as long as I’ve been involved with cases involving crimes related to marijuana, it has always been a very high-risk, dangerous activity,” said Robert Gold, assistant chief deputy district attorney. “It is always going to be a dangerous activity whether legal or not, because so many of the growers are less sophisticated. The bad guys are going to believe that they have a lot of product, a lot of money and probably guns. And the other thing is, they won’t often report crimes against themselves, which makes them vulnerable victims.”
Gold also cautioned that it remains illegal, regardless of where you live, to carry more than an ounce of marijuana, but conceded the misdemeanor charges that now accompany most minor pot infractions, make it difficult to justify the costs of prosecuting such cases.
“The law certainly has resulted in changing the laws in favor of those who want to make this a business,” said Gold. “Whether you grow 25 plants illegally or 250,000 plants, it’s a misdemeanor and 180 days in the county Jail. So even for a convicted felon, it’s now like a speeding ticket.”
POT OR NOT:
The City of Sacramento: YES
Sacramento County: NO
Citrus Heights NO
Rancho Cordova: NO
Elk Grove: NO
Placer County: NO