Riding the wave of victory generated by the legalization of marijuana in California back in November, Los Angeles voters cemented their commitment for marijuana reform on March 7 by voting overwhelmingly yes for Measure M. This measure, approved by 79.36% of more than 242,000 voting Los Angelenos, allows the city to repeal the current ban on medical marijuana dispensaries, and give the city tools to enforce regulations, such as authorizing fines and criminal penalties. In addition, Measure M gives the city the power to issue licenses to marijuana businesses for the first time, and lays the groundwork for marijuana sales tax revenue for the city once recreational sales begin next year.
Before Measure M
In 2013, Proposition D was approved by voters, essentially outlawing marijuana shops by limiting the number of medical marijuana dispensaries to 135. Under this proposition, Los Angeles succeeded in shutting down hundreds of illegal businesses that failed to meet the requirements for immunity. Prop D also made illegal any delivery services and required every manager of a marijuana business to publicly display results of annual LAPD background checks. Just a week before Measure M was approved, city officials were considering raids on more than 70 dispensaries.
Los Angeles County Sheriff Jim McDonnell expects the legalization of recreational marijuana in California to bring additional challenges for his deputies. He anticipates an increase in crime and fatal traffic collisions due to a rise in overdoses caused by THC edibles with uneven dosages. McDonnell also believes there will be an expensive increase in cost associated with training officers to be able to identify drugged drivers. Also, considering the fact that marijuana is still federally illegal, the sheriff says that it is very likely there will be federal raids targeting the marijuana industry in California.
Impact of Measure M
“The passing of Proposition M is a great victory for common sense, law enforcement and all Angelenos. We gave communities a voice in the process, and their voices will be continued to be heard,” said Los Angeles City Council President Herb Wesson. An important consequence of Measure M is the promotion of dialogue by requiring public hearings, where neighborhood councils, homeowners’ associations, law enforcement, and the business community can participate.
Measure M sets up plans for educational programs to assist parents and teachers in determining how to keep children from being exposed to marijuana and advertising for marijuana products. The measure will establish limits on how far marijuana stores must be from schools, youth centers, and parks, and gives neighborhood associations a say in deciding how many marijuana stores are allowed in their neighborhood and how far they must be from residential areas. This type of democratic decision making and open discourse is the next essential step to combat the stigma against marijuana users and to achieve public acceptance by allowing many opposing viewpoints to come together rather than cutting a rift between groups.
“We are thrilled Angelenos voted yes on Proposition M. The measure will … provide the city with more jobs, along with millions in tax revenue toward city services each year,” said executive director of the Southern California Coalition Adam Spiker. Total marijuana sales in 2016 neared $56 billion in all of North America, and only $6.9 billion of that were from legal sales, indicating a substantial amount of potential tax revenue that has been untapped thus far. California is expected to generate approximately $1 billion in new marijuana-related taxes, under the assumption that the various counties and cities are able to work in a cohesive manner while avoiding excessively oppressive taxes that push sales back to the cartels and the illegal market. With the Trump administration threatening the federal funding of so-called “sanctuary cities” such as Los Angeles, Measure M seems like a strong fortification of the city’s funds.
Additionally, Measure M sets tough fines and penalties for unauthorized marijuana sales, helps local police prevent crime, and assures the city the ability to close down illegal marijuana stores remains. This agreeable mobilization of law enforcement resources is important to quell the fears of individuals like Sheriff McDonnell who expect an increase in crime rate. The sheriff does have a point though; there will likely be tension as a result of legal marijuana sales competing against the cartel and the illegal market. Law enforcement ramp-up is a necessary initial step to get a feel of and control the social climate that results from such a dramatic change in allowable substance use. Once statistics on crime rates and driving related fatalities are gathered, the necessity of policing marijuana related sales is expected to change.
Most importantly, Measure M creates a regulatory framework for businesses to operate legally. This facilitates the creation of new marijuana dispensaries, cultivation facilities, delivery services, and testing labs, and also allows all existing operations the opportunity to legitimize their business in the critical eyes of the public.