In summary

Until the state provides full access to legal cannabis, Californians will do what they do best: Get their civic engagement on.

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By Bridget Hennessey, Special to CalMatters

Bridget Hennessey, of Tustin, is vice president for government relations at Weedmaps, the cannabis technology platform,

Californians will stop at nothing for safer, more reliable and convenient access to legal cannabis. There were more than 35 pro-cannabis ballot measures up for consideration throughout the Golden State on Election Day. Thirty-one of them were victorious.

But didn’t we deal with this issue in 2016, when Californians passed Proposition 64 – which legalized adult-use cannabis statewide? 

Proposition 64 didn’t completely seal the deal. It may have made adult-use cannabis legal, but it didn’t necessarily make it accessible. Nearly 75% of California cities and counties still ban cannabis sales. That’s not what voters wanted: a poll conducted last February by David Binder Research for Weedmaps found that nearly 80% of Californians who voted for adult-use cannabis in 2016 said dispensaries should be allowed to open in jurisdictions that supported the legislation. 

That’s finally beginning to happen. Local access will soon be available in La Habra, Costa Mesa, Pomona, Carson, unincorporated Ventura County and Marina thanks to ballot measure wins in those jurisdictions. Voters in Benicia, Fairfield, San Bruno, Vacaville and Oceanside approved tax measures that will pave the way for adult-use retailers in the future. 

Calabasas and Ojai passed tax measures that will serve as the pretext for future cannabis retailers there. Older, conservative voters in Laguna Woods, the Orange County retirement community, are poised to pass a measure signaling their support for cannabis retail. The city of Weed will now allow commercial cultivation of cannabis. 

A Mount Shasta measure to restrict cannabis expansion was soundly defeated. Solana Beach and Yountville voted to continue bans on cannabis sales.

The majority of these measures won despite the false claims from a chorus of Cassandras that cannabis legalization increases crime and decreases property values. These and other fallacious arguments are failing to stick here in California and across the country. Consider the other cannabis success story this cycle: Arizona, Montana and New Jersey legalized adult-use sales. Mississippi approved medical use. And South Dakota legalized both. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia now allow adult-use cannabis. Thirty-six allow for medical. On Jan. 1, one-in-three Americans will live in a place where cannabis is legal in some form.

For Californians, cannabis is an issue close to home and close to their heart. They are or love someone whose suffering is relieved by the plant. They’re familiar with a veteran using cannabis to treat PTSD; a cancer patient who uses cannabis to relieve the debilitating side effects of medication; and the despair of a mother whose severely autistic child is treated – with impressive results – by doctor-recommended cannabinoid oil. 

Californians also refuse to wait for the economic benefits of cannabis to be realized. Some local politicians – who apparently formed their opinion by watching “Dazed and Confused” one time on Netflix – are leaving billions of dollars on the table by banning cannabis retail or failing to issue licenses in a timely manner. According to one report, taxable sales of cannabis could quadruple, from $2.1 billion today to nearly $10 billion if jurisdictions allowed cannabis retail to meet demand. 

And let’s not forget job creation. There were an estimated 340,000 people working in legal-market cannabis jobs last year. That number is expected to grow to 743,000 by 2025. And the median salary for cannabis industry job openings is nearly 11% higher than the average U.S. median salary.

Until the deal is finally sealed and the state provides full access to legal cannabis, Californians will do what they do best: Get their civic engagement on and make local cannabis ballot measures a staple of Election Days to come. 

And Sacramento legislators who are out-of-step with their constituents about cannabis should take head. Ballot initiatives aren’t the only way voters effectuate change on Election Day.  

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