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In the shifting views about the health effects of marijuana, there is a general trend for states to relax the rules around this substance across the nation. Some states have already lifted the ban against marijuana for recreational purposes. The state of California set the pace in this discussion and shifting perceptions when it passed a proposal now popularly known as proposal 215 to allow possession of small amounts of the substance for medical uses (Murphy and Carnevale 2016). Other states have followed suit. The most notable among these states are the District of Columbia and six other states. They represent about 6% of the population of the nation. They have all allowed possession of marijuana; not for medical use only, but for recreational purposes.
There are several contributing factors to this phenomenon. One of the most outstanding reasons is that the much-touted war on drugs across the nation has failed. The impact of low enforcement, largely viewed as disproportionate, on low income communities and a wider justice reform focus are also influencing factors. Moreover, the public view has shifted tremendously over the years. Figures show that currently 58% of the American population support legalization of Marijuana. The figure was only 20% a couple of decades back. California has seen supporters of the legalization agenda increase by 6%age points over the past five years (Baldassare, Bonner, and Lopes 2015). The changing trends are likely to influence more than 12 other states to seek public opinion regarding the legalization of the drug. California is likely to present a proposal similar to the Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act on the ballot on November 16th. If the 12 states succeed in legalizing the use of Marijuana, it means that over 60% of the population will be living in areas where the substance is legally consumed. The challenge that the shift presents revolves around how to effectively legalize an industry that was illegal under the laws of the state and is still illegal under federal law.
Jurisdictions that have legalized the use of marijuana should embark on policies that will promote public health and ones that will monitor and control the production of marijuana. The message in this essay is to urge community leaders and planners to institute effective controls for the production and distribution of marijuana and its products and monitor taxation if they wish to realize the intended objectives.
Background and Context of the Research
California became the first state in the U.S. to legalize marijuana in 1996 through proposal 215. The state now has large formal groups of growers, processors and sellers of the product. The District of Columbia and 23 other states followed suit. Recent legalization of the product in Washington and Colorado were widely seen as experiments whose results could be analyzed by others to decide on the appropriate courses of action regarding the product. In fact, they were even viewed as an agenda that was pushed by interested organizations; particularly the national movement for legalization of marijuana (Murphy and Carnevale 2016). As has been observed if all states intending to legalize marijuana actually do it, over 60% of the population will live in marijuana prone areas. The intended actions can no longer be viewed as experiments. There is need to initiate regulatory mechanisms to handle the change. The federal government is in a dilemma on whether to thwart the efforts of the movement or respect the aspirations of the people in the affected states (Hollenhorst 2014). California is already considering whether to place marijuana under regulatory handling by voting on the legalization question with regard to recreational use.
California enacted three bills that affect the medical use of marijuana. These have come to be collectively known as MMRSA. The laws brought into operation a new set of regulation of marijuana for medical purposes that functions under the Department of Consumer Affairs. It laid out procedures for following up on the distribution of marijuana for medical use. There was also involvement of other departments for testing and regulating the marijuana industry for a healthy environment. These changes in various states are not reflected at the federal level (Baldassare et al. 2015).
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Marijuana remains illegal under federal laws and is categorized as schedule 1 drug that has no medical benefits (National Drug Intelligence Center 2011). The Controlled Substances Act outlaws any business related to marijuana including possession and any other activities surrounding its production and distribution. Despite the CSA prohibition staying in place, the Obama administration has taken steps to downscale prosecution of marijuana offenders at the federal level if they have complied with the state requirements. The federal government seems to be gradually listening to the intentions of the states that have intentions to legalize marijuana and, indeed those that have already instituted legal mechanisms to regulate the marijuana industry. It is possible that future administrations will change policy while ignoring the important question of federal enforcement unresolved.
Implications of Policy Change
The legalization of marijuana is undoubtedly a major change in policy that will impact the rates of use and public health. There is little research to draw lessons from (Caulkins et al. 2012). Although there are studies that demonstrate the health and social effects of illegal drug use, there is no clear link between such effects and how a legal market would turn out. California is set to enter a world of uncertainty with the intended policy change on marijuana. There is need for monitoring to report on both intended and unintended outcomes. This will ensure appropriate adjustments. The shift in the legal status of marijuana transcends just legality. It is a systematic transformation that exceeds the legal justice system. Careful planning and proactive monitoring will safeguard public interest.
A feedback policy that compares expectations and outcomes is desirable (Simeone et al. 2005). Such feedback mechanisms should constitute evaluation processes that are scientific and detailed. Systems need to be evaluated too and a descriptive report generated. So far, there is little information regarding recreational use of marijuana. The worrying facts remain that there are no process evaluation mechanisms instituted in any of the states where the change is apparent. Washington happens to be the only state that included process and outcome evaluations in its law. The state recently released a preliminary report that outlines plans for evaluation of outcomes (Darnell 2015). These efforts are indicative of good governance. The marijuana experiment is set to meet the expectations of the public and will generate the important information for the benefit of both residents and outsiders (Wallach 2015).
California should follow suit. The adoption of a governance framework being part of MMRSA was a great step forward. Such regulation is a good beginning. However, there is still need to collect data and make it available for analysis. There is need to decide whether to set up parallel legal statutes for medical and recreational use of marijuana. It is noted though that separation would make medical marijuana use attractive and harbor cheaters who use it for recreational purposes. Colorado has similar regulations but has separated medical sales from recreational sales (Murphy and Carnevale 2016). The figures in Colorado show that over 40% of the taxes are generated from medical sales. The suggestion is an open secret; there are cheaters in there because medical marijuana costs less.
In summary, for California, there is need to craft a unitary regulatory system for the sale of medical and recreational marijuana. Authorities should evaluate if here is need to create exceptions for medical marijuana use. A unitary system is less complex and easier to enforce (Alexander and Wiggins 2014). There are few examples where California regulates products under separate laws based on usage. We strongly suggest, therefore, that a unitary system should be adopted for a transparent restrictive approach that can be modified when there is need to do so.
There Is Need for California to Set Limits on the Location and Scale of Finance and Taxes
The four states that have legalized marijuana have imposed taxes for the purpose of raining revenue and deterring use. The taxes keep the prices of marijuana high but at a level that averts pursuit of illicit marijuana. The experience with legalized marijuana.....
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