Recreational marijuana is now legal in California — and that’s a game changer for public health. Though many other states have already legalized weed for medicinal purposes and four for recreational purposes, the size and population of California puts its decision in a different league and it could lead the way to figuring out policy around the drug.
Maine, Nevada, and Massachusetts also legalized recreational marijuana, though the initiative failed in Arizona.
Medical marijuana was also on the ballot for several states. North Dakota, Montana, Arkansas and Florida all approved medical marijuana.
The trend is clear: 60 percent of Americans support legalizing weed, up from 31 percent in 2000. California is the state with the largest economy and — now that it has legalized pot — the national weed industry has tripled in size. In fact, California’s marijuana industry could be bigger than its famed wine businesses. The market for both recreational and medicinal marijuana is now projected to grow to $22 billion by 2020, up from $7 billion this year.
California now needs to deal with issues such as how marijuana fits into the state economy and public policy surrounding stoned driving.
This may also put a lot more pressure on the federal government to lift its ban of the drug. The Drug Enforcement Administration has long classified cannabis as a Schedule I controlled substance, the most restrictive classification. This means it’s in the same category as heroin and monitored very closely. Just this August, the DEA rejected an appeal to stop classifying cannabis as Schedule I drug.
The gap between states’ legalization and the federal ban has led to some complications. For example, the federal government accepts taxes from marijuana companies. But because of the ban, those companies find it hard to accept credit cards or open bank accounts. These and other problems will become more common as side businesses grow around marijuana. There already are companies that track marijuana strains, medical marijuana startups, the “Yelp of marijuana,” and much more.
It’s unclear how much will get done with Trump in office. He told the Washington Post that it’s an issue that should be left up to the states, but his ally Chris Christie is very much against legalization; this could be a problem given that Christie will probably get a top job in the Trump administration.
This election has been a tipping point for weed. The national conversation will increasingly focus on the health effects of weed, how best to regulate the suppliers and businesses, and the consequences for public health.