With the passage of Proposition 64 – the Adult Use of Marijuana Act – by California’s voters on November 8th, recreational marijuana will soon become legal in this state for adults age 21 and over. Possession of up to one ounce of marijuana will be legal for adults to possess, transport, purchase, consume and share. However, some pot smokers in southern California may still require the services of an experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney, because using marijuana in public will continue to be against the law, and the law against driving while impaired will remain in effect and will be aggressively enforced.

Proposition 64 also imposes a 15 percent excise tax on all marijuana sales in the state. For medical marijuana patients with a state ID card, they will be exempt from the state sales tax, but they will still pay the excise tax. All cannabis consumers may face additional local taxes as they are approved by voters in cities and counties throughout the state. In Long Beach, for example, the voters have already spoken.

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When voters in Long Beach went to the polls in November, they voted to allow marijuana dispensaries back into the city after a four-year ban, and they also voted for additional taxes on medical marijuana transactions in Long Beach. With all precincts reporting, Measure “MM” clinched victory with a 59 percent “yes” vote, and Measure “MA,” the city’s tax proposal, prevailed with 68 percent of the vote.

WHAT WILL MEASURES “MM” AND “MA” DO?

Measure MM rescinds the city’s prohibition on medical marijuana dispensaries that has been in effect since 2012, while Measure MA establishes the Long Beach tax rates for both recreational and medical marijuana. City officials placed Measure MA on the ballot late in the summer to make sure that Long Beach will obtain sufficient tax revenues to cover the expenses of regulating the pot industry.

Long Beach voters approved a separate sales tax increase in June, so Long Beach Mayor Robert Garcia thanked Long Beach voters for supporting the MA proposal. “We just appreciate that the community has so much trust in the city. Clearly voters have chosen to support marijuana use and sales … and thanks to MA, we will have enough public safety and public health resources so we can prepare for changes in this developing industry,” Mayor Garcia said.

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Measure MM will permit up to 32 marijuana dispensaries to be licensed in the city’s jurisdiction. Advocates of legalization say that all of these measures are long overdue, as medical marijuana was first approved by California voters two decades ago with Proposition 215, the Compassionate Use Act. Adam Hijazi, a board member for the Long Beach Collective Association, said on election night, “It’s something we have been supportive of for a very long time.”

Measure MA taxes the sale of medical marijuana in Long Beach – and each step in the supply chain – at 6 to 8 percent. On top of the state taxes, recreational marijuana sales will be taxed at 8 to 12 percent along with a $12 to $15 tax per square foot of grow space. Long Beach officials believe that Measure MA will generate $13 million annually with the passage of both Proposition 64 statewide and Measure MM in Long Beach.

WHO SUPPORTED MEASURE MM?

Congressman Alan Lowenthal and other elected officials – Long Beach city councilmembers Dee Andrews, Jeannine Pearce, and Roberto Uranga – had publicly supported Measure MM, and they urged Long Beach voters to approve it. Andrews said that Measure MM “provides safe, legal and easy access to medical marijuana for those who need it, and that’s really what’s important.”

The entire Long Beach City Council, along with Congressman Lowenthal and Congresswoman Janice Hahn, supported the tax proposal, Measure MA. Congresswoman Hahn called the MA proposal a “balanced and responsible” approach to securing tax resources to solve local problems. The measure will provide funding for police, fire, and other public safety and public health services.

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In 1996, California became the first state to allow medical marijuana use with the Compassionate Use Act. That measure gave municipalities regulatory rights regarding medical marijuana. Some cities passed various regulations and others banned medical cannabis entirely, leading to a patchwork of differing local ordinances across the state. Congressman Lowenthal said the “time is right” to repeal the Long Beach ban on medical marijuana. “California regulators have moved to put sensible boundaries around what was once the Wild West of the cannabis marketplace,” he told the Long Beach Press-Telegram.

Proposition 64 – the Adult Use of Marijuana Act – was also supported by Lt. Governor Gavin Newsom and a variety of other prominent state leaders. Employers will be allowed to maintain pot-free workplaces, and landlords may ban cultivation and possession on rental properties. However, the adoption of Proposition 64 could exacerbate the growing problem of drug-impaired motorists, according to Kathy Sieck, senior vice president of public affairs for the Automobile Club of Southern California, which opposed the proposal.

“Proposition 64 is a gamble on the public’s safety, which isn’t a risk worth taking, especially when drug-impaired driving is on the rise,” Ms. Sieck said, adding that, “The problem extends beyond recreational marijuana and illegal drug usage – many prescription drugs can impair skills that are critical to driving.” Ms. Sieck made the remarks at an Automobile Club of Southern California “Drugged Driving” conference in Los Angeles in October.

WHAT WILL PROPOSITION 64 DO?

It makes recreational cannabis consumption legal for adults, but Proposition 64 also compels the state of California to warn the public about the dangers of driving while high on pot “and the potential harms of using marijuana,” according to Californians for Responsible Marijuana Reform, a group that supported Proposition 64. The proposal also offers “strict safeguards against children accessing” marijuana, according to the same organization.

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Proposition 64 and Measure MM are good news for pot users in the Long Beach area – especially those who need pot for medical reasons. Along with protecting children, forbidding public use, and forbidding driving under the influence, the laws in our state also now spell out a number of provisions regarding the cultivation, transportation, and sale of marijuana, and dispensaries must comply with strict licensing regulations. An experienced Long Beach criminal defense attorney will be able to advise those in the dispensary business regarding compliance and will represent anyone charged with a violation of the new city and state marijuana ordinances.