Cannabis hit the ground running in 2018. The first week of January is not yet over but the media are all over California’s official legalisation of recreational cannabis. The enthusiasm is understandable: by legalising recreational cannabis, California becomes the largest legal cannabis market in the world.

The general feedback is positive. The Los Angeles Times and New York Times reported the excitement both industry players and consumers feel as the newly legal industry emerges in the most populated US State.

According to the LA Times, the recreational cannabis market in California should grow by $7 billion annually by 2020. Considering California is the 6th largest economy in the world, with a GDP of more than $2.5 trillion, there is a great opportunity for this progressive State to become a leader in the production of cannabis in the USA and the world.

Vox clearly state their vision for the future of cannabis: “California’s new legal marijuana market marks the beginning of the end for prohibition”. The magazine describes California as the “behemoth” of the US cannabis industry, when compared to the other relatively small state economies which have legalised cannabis. 

Just like in 1996 when California was the first US State to legalise medical cannabis and 20 years later more than half US States had done the same, Vox predicts the same will happen for recreational cannabis. Vox also mentions the appearance of “Big marijuana”, a very influential marijuana industry similar to the rise of “Big tobacco” companies in the 20th century.

Ethan Nadelmann, founder and Executive Director at the Drug Policy Alliance commented:

“I think 2016 may be the last year in which drug policy reform organizations, driven primarily by concerns of civil liberties and civil rights and other good public policy motivations, will be able to significantly shape the legislation. And I assume that as the years progress, various industry forces will loom ever larger.”

However, the NY Times doubts the ability of California to restrain the black market, reporting that “California produces seven times more marijuana than it consumes” and “unlike the other states that have legalised, California has a vast industry producing the drug, much of which is illegally sold across state lines”, which suggests that the legalisation of cannabis to close down the black market can only be effective by legalising cannabis in States bordering California.

Beyond this issue, the excitement about this new industry is mitigated by the mess that is the legalisation process. Leafly is indeed sceptic at the ability of the State to handle the process of legalisation correctly, and goes as far as suggesting cities such as San Diego could see cannabis shortages as lines started to form outside dispensaries throughout the State. California published as late as November 2017 the regulatory framework to become a licensed producer or seller, barely one month before the actual legalisation.

Source: Flickr

Most newspapers acknowledge the various problems emanating from the process of legalisation.

Along with the issues caused by a late regulatory framework and a lack of supply that may result from the former, US States are characterised by a strong independence between its different levels of Government. The Times in the UK reports that cannabis “remains a complicated business… Growers must reckon with a patchwork of local regulations where counties and towns can outlaw what the state makes legal. Companies seeking a state licence for recreational cannabis sales must first acquire a local permit. San Diego, Santa Cruz and Oakland have been dispensing these permits but Los Angeles and San Francisco will not begin the process until later this week.

In the Guardian, Alex Halperin questions the social implications of legalising cannabis on a massive scale: “with legalisation, many more people will spend much more of their time high. It will have profound consequences for how adults relax, yes, but also how they date, parent and work”. The journalists makes a interesting parallel with the social media wave that started 10 years ago, which we’re only starting to grasp the implications of.

Pierre-Yves Galléty is a Communications Officer at Volteface. Tweets @PYGallety

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