Pot Prop promises busy 2017 for lawmakers, law enforcement

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California voters passed Proposition 64 in November, legalizing the recreational use of marijuana. But that’s just the start – as the calendar turns to 2017, lots of pot-related issues are still lying in the weeds.

The passage of Prop 64 raises numerous questions and poses numerous challenges that are only beginning to be dealt with. For city officials, for state legislators, for law-enforcement officers and prosecutors, 2017 figures to be a year filled with reefer madness.

“There’s a long way to go in terms of the regulatory processes, what they’re going to be — I expect a lot of activity on the regulatory front,’’ said Dan Carrigg, legislative director of the League of California Cities, a Sacramento-based association that advocates for 482 municipalities around the state.

“We’re still trying to help our members understand the nuances of (Prop) 64.’’

Joseph Montes, city attorney for the City of Santa Clarita, agreed, saying “I don’t think anybody has the answers yet.’’

“When an interest group pushes through legislation via the ballot, there is always going to be issues of integration with existing laws. The ramifications of adopting these, as new legislation, falls to the role of legislators and regulators and litigators to ultimately resolve.’’

Some of that is already under way. Some of that is only just beginning.

First, some Prop 64 basics: Under the new law, an individual 21 or older may possess up to 28.5 grams of non-concentrated marijuana or eight grams of marijuana in a concentrated form, such as so-called “edibles.’’

Technically, you can possess that now – you just can’t buy it legally. Yet.

That’s because, under the new law, the state will be licensing retail marijuana dispensaries, a process still in its nascent stages. The state has until Jan. 1, 2018 to begin issuing retail-store licenses – and it is expected to take about that long for the legislature to hammer out the regulations under which pot shops will be licensed, regulated and taxed.

“There are multiple state regulatory processes that will play out this year in Sacramento, whether it’s in regard to cultivation or sales, all aspects of marijuana … and many communities are tracking that,’’ Carrigg said.

Also under Prop 64, an individual may grow up to six marijuana plants at his or her private residence, provided that no more than six plants are being cultivated on the property at one time.

Cities may ban private outdoor marijuana cultivation, but cannot completely ban private indoor cultivation of six plants or fewer.

There can be no smoking in public places or in places that already ban the smoking of tobacco – nor can there be smoking of pot within 1,000 feet of schools, day-care centers or youth centers while kids are using them.

And, Prop 64 will allow people who have been convicted of felony marijuana crimes to petition Superior Court to reduce that conviction to a misdemeanor.

That’s a lot to process … and ponder.

In Santa Clarita, the City Council earlier this month started the pondering when it passed a moratorium on recreational pot shops in the city – even though such emporia won’t be opening anywhere in the state at least until that January 2018 target.

The Santa Clarita council will be just one of the city governments around the state in the spotlight as the pot process plays out, because, while Prop 64 legalizes marijuana state-wide, it does not prohibit local municipalities from imposing separate restrictions, or even bans altogether – as was the case when medical marijuana was passed.

In Santa Clarita, worries over potential crime increases were prominent among the council’s reasons for imposing the moratorium, which runs for 45 days but is expected to be extended in subsequent council votes.

One key element of the crime-increase worry, said Montes, is that recreational dispensaries will be cash businesses, at least for the time being — as marijuana remains against federal law, and federally regulated banks figure to steer clear of the pot business until that matter is cleared up.

That means, at the end of a business day, the proprietor of a pot dispensary could well have a ton cash on hand – and be ripe for robbery.

“It could potentially impact (banks’) participation in the FDIC, if they are receiving monies that are the result of the violation of a federal statute,’’ Montes said. “I think most banks are worried about jeopardizing their part in these federal programs.’’

Earlier this month, state Treasurer John Chiang formed a Task Force called the Cannabis Banking Working Group which, his office said, will “address a significant issue that could hamper the implementation of Proposition 64. … Of primary concern is the standoff between the state and federal government.’’

“Banks and other financial institutions generally refuse to provide services to cannabis-related business,’’ Chiang said. “The working group, made up of representatives from law enforcement, regulators, banks, taxing authorities, local government and the cannabis industry, is charged with finding practical and timely ways to address the state-federal conflict.’’

And that’s just one element of federal-law “overlay” that state and local lawmakers will have to grapple with in the coming year, Montes said.

Further complicating the puzzle will be the new presidential administration and a new (though yet unconfirmed) attorney general, Jeff Sessions, who once testified before Congress by saying, “We need grown-ups in charge in Washington saying marijuana is not the kind of thing that ought to be legalized — it ought to be minimized, that it is in fact a very real danger.’’

Said Montes, “The previous administration took a largely hands-off approach, and that may change. Where does that put individuals who are using, and cities that are authorizing under state law?

Santa Clarita’s moratorium passed the Council unanimously, with Mayor Pro Tem Laurene Weste telling The Signal it was a way for the city to stay ahead of what figures to be a fast-moving issue.

“We have concerns there will be a rush of non-medical marijuana businesses,’’ she said. “I can see how it can become, real fast, a large issue if you didn’t get some clear guidance. This is going to require some research and study to do what’s best for the community under state law.’’

Santa Clarita has long banned medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. Recreational pot doesn’t figure to get any warmer a welcome.

Councilman Bob Kellar, a former LAPD officer, said that when he heard of Pro 64’s passage, he thought to himself, “You’ve got to be kidding me. We’ve done what? … Have we lost out ever-lovin’ minds?

“Of all the arrests I made over the years for drugs … when you get to the higher-end stuff, the cocaine and heroin …. I’d ask ‘How did you wind up doing this?’ And the answer was always, ‘I started with marijuana.’ Almost to a person.

“Here we are spending money on a local level – we’re trying to do anything we can to protect people, particularly kids, from drug use.’’

As to what that means, long-term, for recreational marijuana in Santa Clarita, Kellar said, “You follow the law. … (but) Santa Clarita is going to be a family-oriented community, and that doesn’t mean a bunch of night clubs and drug dispensaries. We need to pay attention and keep on top of things.

“Speaking for myself, we’re going to work within the law to preclude … to do anything we can do to stop it — anything we can do within the law to discourage it, we will.’’

Then there are the law-enforcement aspects of Prop 64.

“All of us, we’re trying to come to grips on how we’re going to deal with it,’’ said Lt. Rob Hahnlein of the Santa Clarita Sheriff’s station.

There is, of course, the worry that legalization will promote increased use and, hence, increases of driving under the influence.

In Colorado and Washington, which legalized recreational pot in 2012, there is some statistical evidence of increases in marijuana-related traffic deaths, emergency-room visits and hospitalizations – though critics of those stats point to the fact it is still early in the data-gathering process, and that, while marijuana may have shown up in toxicology tests of drivers, it was not necessarily the cause of an accident, as traces of marijuana can last for weeks.

Still, it is a concern, and a challenge, for law-enforcement officers as California’s Prop 64 Era dawns.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey remains dubious of Prop 64 and its ramifications. Earlier this month, the Palmdale Republican introduced a bill (Assembly Bill 6) that would authorize the eventual use of new, high-tech roadside drug testing – using non-invasive saliva testing to check for the presence of marijuana.

According to a release from Lackey’s office, “Statistics from states with legalized recreational marijuana show that drugged driving is a significant problem. A 2016 report by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety found that Washington’s rate of drivers who had recently used marijuana and were involved in fatal crashes doubled from eight percent to 17 percent in the first year following legalization. It also found that one in six drivers involved in fatal crashes had recently used marijuana.’’

Lackey’s report also quotes Ken Corney, President of the California Police Chiefs Association, as saying, “The ballot initiative passed this year to legalize marijuana will result in more marijuana consumers on our state’s highways and roads. It is imperative that we invest in a broad spectrum of technologies and research to best identify marijuana-impaired drivers.’’

Said Lackey: “California cannot wait any longer to take meaningful action against drugged driving now that voters have passed Proposition 64. Using new technology to identify and get stoned drivers off the road is something we need to embrace.”

In the meantime, officers will have to rely on their field observations when it comes to DUI, Hahnlein said.

“If they’ve exhibiting signs that they are impaired, they can be arrested for driving under the influence,’’ he said. “When we finally get our body cameras, that will have a lot to say — that will show the courts a lot. … (But now) it’s what we observe, and what (kind of a behavior) they are exhibiting.’’

“Society changes, and we have to learn how to deal with the new guidelines that are presented.’’

In California, it all adds up to a busy year ahead for all matters marijuana.

“We ended up not taking a position (on Prop 64) because of the diversity of opinion among our cities,’’ said Carrigg, of the League of California Cities. “But there was a healthy amount of debate, and we expect further scrutiny.

“It’s going to be a new world, pretty much from every perspective.”

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