Politics has always had its share of smoke-filled rooms. The one in Oakland Tuesday night was a little different, as Proposition 64 supporters celebrated the end of marijuana prohibition.
Voters handily approved the statewide ballot measure, allowing recreational use of marijuana in California. At the neon-lit New Parish club in downtown Oakland, there was more than a hint of victory in the air.
People were sparking up joints and bowls all over the place, passing freely to anybody who happened to be nearby.
“Tonight is marijuana’s moment,” Troy Dayton, chief executive of Arcview, a company that connects investors with cannabis businesses, said through the haze. “There’s a moment in history when an idea’s time has come and tonight is the night. We are talking about the next great American industry.”
Arcview estimates the legal market for cannabis in California is $2.7 billion a year and could rise to $6.4 billion by 2020.
Medical marijuana use already is legal in California. Tuesday’s vote adds new fuel to a nationwide movement to end criminal prosecution, while inviting local jurisdictions to license and tax cannabis sales.
The California ballot measure was the most closely watched contest among nine states with marijuana-related proposals being decided on Tuesday. Every time another state passed its measure, cheers went up and the joints went around at the Oakland Proposition 64 party.
“This is what freedom feels like,” said Andrew DeAngelo, co-founder of Harborside dispensary.
It will take regulators a year to implement rules allowing commercial sale for non-medical users. But Mikki Norris said he was already feeling “really happy for this day when I am not considered a criminal anymore.”
Anticipating victory even before the polls closed, Proposition 64 supporters marched down the median along Broadway away from Oaksterdam Tuesday, inspiring a loud, “Yeah! Legalize it!” from across the street.
“I think people have learned that the current policies don’t work and have learned from other states that regulation does work,” said Lauren Vazquez, an attorney and statewide organizer for the Yes on 64 campaign. “It even took progressives in California a little while to catch up since Prop. 19.”
Proposition 64, the third marijuana initiative to reach voters in California, removes criminal penalties for the possession, cultivation or use of a limited amount of cannabis while setting up a complicated system to regulate and tax commercial sales. Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and Nevada joined California in legalizing cannabis for adult use. Nearly a quarter of the U.S. population will be living in states that allow people to smoke pot once all the new regulations are enacted.
Stuart Smith, co-owner of Aunt Zelda’s, a cannabis-oil company, said California now moves to the forefront of a national drug law reform movement.
“We’ve got the laws in place, California has the most progressive laws in the world and we want regulation,” he said. “Overall, it’s going to increase awareness of cannabis as an acceptable drug.”
Supporters of Proposition 64 said prohibition has ruined the lives of thousands of people charged with pot-related offenses. The Oakland Police Department made 4,000 felony and misdemeanor arrests for marijuana in Oakland from 2006 to 2015, according to crime statistics released by the California Attorney General’s office.
“My whole reason to be promoting this is I feel that we need to get everyone in jail out of jail so we can get to the best form of legalization,” said Nikki Romero, who’s worked in the industry as a trimmer and at a delivery service. “I can’t make a profit off a plant while other people are going to jail for it.”
But some marijuana growers in Humboldt and Mendocino counties said they are against legalizing and regulating cannabis because it will open the door for big business to come in, ending the small-business culture that’s been the backbone of the industry.
Melanie Pritchards, who said she has been a medical user for three years, predicted a period of tumult as legalization reshapes the cannabis scene on the West Coast.
“This industry is going to go completely insane and there will be some chaos,” she said, as industry players start “figuring out what will happen in terms of splitting the medical and recreational sides.”
Chris Conway, a former California resident, moved to Colorado to work in the legalized pot industry there. This week, he travelled back to California in support of Proposition 64. He said the proposition is a big move for the industry—perhaps the start of a worldwide movement.
“California is a big step forward globally,” he said. “People from America travel to Colorado but people from all over the world travel to California.”