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The New Gold Rush: What (Sm)Oakland Should Know about Legal Weed

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As of January 1, Californians are able to legally purchase and recreationally enjoy marijuana just like booze. An era of prohibition has come to an end, and criminals will no longer be made of cannabis users.

The decision is cause for rejoicing—some convicted of marijuana-related offenses could be retroactively pardoned (if they petition for a re-sentencing).

Medical patients now have better access to their medicine, and unapologetic stoners will be able to get the devil’s lettuce without the morally duplicitous rigmarole of re-upping a medical card.

Oakland and Berkeley stand poised to become the legal weed Mecca of the Bay Area, both longtime social and legal proponents of the medical marijuana industry.

Oakland passed Proposition 215, The Compassionate Care Act, in 1996, and Berkeley is home to the oldest medical marijuana dispensary in the country, the Berkeley Patients Group, which turned 19 in November.

But the decision to legalize weed is more nuanced when you scratch off the paint. For businesses looking to get in on the action, there are steep fees and taxes to be paid.

Government is ready to cash in on the tax revenue (about $1 billion annually), but how much will be made when new businesses face license application fees (depending on business size) ranging from $135 to $8,655 and annual licensing fees costing $1,205 to $78,000 each year? That’s before taxes.

You, the customer, will also pay. The state is imposing a 15 percent excise tax on dispensary-bought weed, plus local taxes that range from 8 to 10 percent. If you’re looking to cultivate your own plants, that’ll be a hefty $9.25 tax on every ounce of flower, and $2.75 tax on every ounce of leaves.

Medical marijuana generated nearly $2 billion in California last year, and recreational marijuana is expected to make three times as much in the state—up to $7 billion by 2020.

But because selling marijuana is still a federal crime, none of that revenue from buying, selling, or taxes can be stored in banks. Trump’s Attorney General Jeff Sessions has vowed to crack down on weed (versus, say, crack) regardless of its legal status in the state. How will California transport this ocean of cash without the Feds playing nice?

Welcome to the new reality of Amerijuana: armored cars with fortunes to be pilfered, armed guards at every storefront, cops on new patrols in once-quiet neighborhoods, and a bootleg market run by greedy wolves and hapless hippies looking for the tax-free out.

That is to say nothing about the silent expanse of government this shift entails; $52 million of California’s 2017 budget was allocated to hire cannabis facility inspectors and tax collectors. About $3 million of that is going into the pockets of the California Highway Patrol to hire cops to sniff out stoners in their cars.

Jobs will be created, but bureaucracy and business don’t mix well. New taxes will be levied, and new regulations pushed. You’ll need to be rich to even think about starting a marijuana-growing business.

Oakland Cannabis Summit
Marijuana entrepreneurs attended a December 20 Winter Cannabis Summit at the Alameda County Board of Supervisors’ Chambers in Oakland to discuss the ramifications legal weed will exact upon the city. Various stakeholders in the industry weighed in on the challenges and opportunities at stake.

Established dispensaries are vowing to increase both their security and their surveillance. As of December 11, Oakland was the only city in the East Bay to approve any type of ordinance or regulation based on Prop 64, meaning logistics simply are not in place to accommodate the market sure to boom.

Smoking still limited
Despite Prop 64 passing, it remains illegal to light up a joint on the street. Counties are instituting new fines for those caught puffing in public—anywhere from $25 to $100; only slightly better than being charged with possession. Employers are also not beholden to the new law in any meaningful way and can still fire you if you fail their drug test.

Whatever you do, don’t even think about bringing that ounce to Yosemite, bro—all federally-owned land, including national parks, is off-limits to recreational weed smokers. Don’t smoke and drive, either–you can still be pulled over and charged with a DUI.

The move to legalize weed is an enlightened one, to be sure. California is the place where progressive policies become reality. But the new norm is not without its share of complications. The consequences of this change, bad and good, will be revealed in time–once the smoke has cleared.

You know anybody?
Many dispensaries are still in the complicated and expensive process of applying for licensing. Here are four spots in Oakland you can go on January 1 to get that first bag of legal, Uncle Sam-approved chronic. But be prepared to wait—marijuana connoisseurs were lined up to get into Harborside at 6 a.m. New Year’s Day.

Harborside
1840 Embarcadero
(888) 994-2726
shopharborside.com

Magnolia Wellness
161 Adeline St.
(510) 628-2119
magnoliawellness.org

Telegraph Health Center
3003 Telegraph Ave.
(510) 808-5121
telegraphhealth.com

Blum
578 W. Grand Ave.
(510) 338-3632
blumoak.com

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James Gage

James Gage

Will write 4 food.