You Can Now Buy Legal Recreational Marijuana In California After Decades Of Underground Dealing

The arrival of the new year in California brought with it broad legalization of marijuana, a much-anticipated change that comes two decades after the state was the first to allow pot for medical use.

A new gold rush is sweeping California as the state prepares to launch legal marijuana sales Monday, bringing the powerful and largely underground economy finally into public view.

Marijuana has long been one of California’s most important cash crops, albeit one many visitors would never see amid the vineyards and avocado farms. Now, tens of thousands of entrepreneurs are rushing to carve out a slice of an about-to-be-legal market that has grass-growing cannabis evangelists colliding with out-of-state suits eager to make a now-legal buck.

Legalization through voter approval of Prop. 64, which created a system for legally growing and selling cannabis, also raises concerns about whether kids will start using more marijuana thanks to increased visibility and whether the state is creating a new Big Tobacco industry that puts profits ahead of public health.

Eight states and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana, but only Colorado, Oregon, Nevada, Alaska and Washington have functioning marketplaces. Pot is now legal in California for adults 21 and older, and individuals can grow up to six plants and possess as much as an ounce of the drug. At first, pot shops will be able to sell marijuana harvested without full regulatory controls. But eventually, the state will require extensive testing for potency, pesticides and other contaminants. A program to track all pot from seed to sale will be phased in, along with other protections such as childproof containers.

So, Where Can You Buy It?

Just because marijuana is officially legal on Jan. 1 doesn’t mean your local corner store is going to start selling it. Businesses need to apply for a license through the California Department of Public Health. California growers must apply through the California Department of Food & Agriculture. Only a couple dozen shops have reportedly received licenses and will be ready to open on Jan. 1, and those are mostly in Oakland, San Diego, Berkeley and San Jose. Licenses are subject to municipality laws too.

What kinds of additional regulations are expected to be introduced?

For consumers, legislation and regulation will determine who is growing, handling and selling their marijuana – and how easy it is to purchase on the local level – but there are also quality control issues. One is the testing requirement established by law and reinforced with regulations, with both medical and recreational cannabis ultimately subject to strict testing requirements to identify and disclose known psychoactive compounds in marijuana in addition to identifying contamination with mold, fungus, pesticides, and other adulterants. Testing should keep consumers safer in addition to helping people to more accurately control their dosage, a particular concern for medical cannabis users.

A New Stream of Tourism

Perhaps what some in the cannabis industry are most excited about is what legalization will mean for California as a tourist hub for cannabis. According to a forecasting report by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center, there are more than 260 millions visits to California each year that bring more than $122 billion to the state. It’s estimated that tourists spend $7.2 billion on wine in California—some think the cost of legal cannabis use could reach similar heights.

What About Smoking & Driving?

Driving under the influence of marijuana will still be illegal because it’s a drug, and driving under the influence of drugs has always been a crime

California plans to eventually collect an estimated $1B in annual tax revenue from the industry.