Is California ready for legal pot?

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The number of states that allow recreational marijuana could double on Election Day. There are initiatives to legalize recreational pot on the ballot in five states, including California.

As the nation’s top producer of cannabis and the most populous state, California could bring marijuana into the mainstream on a much larger scale than any state before it.

If Proposition 64 passes, Californians over the age of 21 will be able to possess, transport and use up to an ounce of cannabis for recreational purposes and individuals would be able to  grow as many as six plants. The measure would also impose a 15 percent tax on retail sales of the drug. That’s on top of local taxes, like the nine percent sales tax in Los Angeles.

California’s legalization of recreational pot is expected to be the turning point nationwide. Even though only medical marijuana sales are legal in California, the state already tops Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska in marijuana sales. In Los Angeles alone, there are twice the number of medical pot dispensaries than there are licensed recreational shops in the entire state of Colorado.

Proposition 64 seems likely to pass. According to a USC Dornsife/L.A. Times poll, 58 percent of California voters are in favor of the initiative.

As California prepares for a future where pot is legal, we can still learn a thing or two about marijuana legalization from a state that’s been through it. Here are five things that California can learn from Colorado when it comes to legalization:

1. Taxes

Colorado has two different taxes on marijuana that add up to about 25 percent of the sale price, in addition to the sales tax. The state expected consumers to pay a premium for safe and regulated marijuana, but the underground market for the drug still exists simply because it’s cheaper.

2. Edibles

Legislators were slow to craft legislation to regulate edibles, and that got plenty of newcomers into trouble when they ate too many pot brownies. As recently as Oct. 1, the Marijuana Enforcement Division has issued new regulations that require all edibles to be stamped with the universal symbol for THC and limits the amount of marijuana in each edible.

3. Driving

Fatalities of drivers under the influence of THC in car accidents went up in Colorado after legalization, but that may be part of a larger nationwide trend of an increase in car accidents. Police are also better trained to test for marijuana in traffic stops, so the data regarding driving under the influence may actually represent increased awareness. Colorado, and other states that choose to legalize marijuana for recreational use, still need to figure out how much THC in the blood stream is too much. Police can no longer get away with arresting drivers because their car smells like weed.

4. Arrests

Arrests related to marijuana possession are down, but the racial disparity still exists–at least for teens of color. The arrest rate for youth aged 10- to 17-years-old that are black or Hispanic actually increased by 50 percent and 20 percent respectively.

5. Medical marijuana dispensaries

The trusty green doctors are still around, but with a smaller clientele. The number of medical marijuana cardholders and the revenue of medical marijuana dispensaries are still growing, but at a slower rate than its recreational counterparts. That isn’t all bad news for patients that need the drug. They can now get it for cheaper because of increased availability.

Listen to To the Point on marijuana legalization

When it comes to marijuana, drug warriors are on the defensive with almost two thirds of the country now favoring legalization. Next month’s ballots in several states may be the beginning of the end for prohibition on the federal level. But even advocates warn there are risks as well as benefits.

(Image by Tom Magliery/Flickr)