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Legalization Realization

What’s in store as California heads toward the legalization of cannabis?

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Chief David Bejarano

California Police Chiefs Association

Chief David Bejarano heads the police force in Chula Vista, Calif., and he's also top dog at the California Police Chiefs Association, a statewide organization whose hopes and concerns over the 2016 legalization of cannabis boil down to: We hope it doesn't; we're concerned that it will; and we hope to have a place at the table if it does.

In an interview, Bejarano identifies numerous areas of concern when it comes to cannabis legalization and its intersection with law enforcement; those concerns mirror many of those brought to bear by his organization as they've worked closely with lawmakers to come up with chiefs-friendly language in a statewide medical-cannabis policy hashed out by the Legislature this year.

If legalization must happen, says Bejarano, his organization is keyed on public-health concerns, especially among youth whose brains are at risk at an early age; an increase in drug-related DUIs on state roads; and heightened illicit sales if the state sets the cannabis tax so high that it encourages a black market. Which brings up that violent and entrenched Mexican drug cartel that Colorado doesn't have to deal with, notes Bejarano.

Despite whatever tax boon might come to the state, Bejarano argues that it won't "offset the social cost of cannabis," which he says will be paid in the criminal justice and healthcare systems.

"We're standing side by side with the [California] State Sheriffs' Association, and oppose legalization," he says. "But if it's voted upon by the voters, we have to be at the table to protect public safety, and push for strong regulation. And we should be at the table."

Bejarano says he hopes that if the state does go legal in 2016, it won't take 20 years for lawmakers to come up with a statewide regulatory apparatus, as happened with medical cannabis.

He hopes cannabis revenues that can be realized are redirected into healthcare, rehabilitation programs and in nipping back the "higher burden on the enforcement side, especially the drug DUIs. We need more drug-recognition experts. That is the challenge for us. We don't have enough of these officers."

Closer to home, I asked Sonoma County district attorney Jill Ravitch for her hopes and concerns over cannabis. A spokesman says she's not ready to go there yet. "She's going to choose not to comment on it. As we get closer to legalization, reach out again."—Tom Gogola

Anonymous Cannabis Grower

Pot growers are not a monolithic group. Some grow outdoors. Some grow inside. Some own their land and others rent. Some have quasi-legal status as suppliers to medical marijuana dispensaries, and others grow for the black market. So how legalization might affect them depends on what kind of grower they are. I spoke with one indoor grower (who requested anonymity) about what his hopes and fears are if legalization comes to pass. His biggest concern: price.

The price for a pound of weed (now about $3,000 to $3,600 for indoor-grown) continues to fall because of growing supply, but also changing techniques out-of-doors. Many outdoor growers now use a technique called light deprivation that involves tarps and hoop houses to compress growing cycles by getting plants to flower sooner and more often. That means that what once was a glut of outdoor-grown cannabis in October and November now gets spread out, eating into the premiums that indoor-grown herb commands outside of the "flood" of the traditional fall outdoor crop harvest.

His other concern is whether new legislation will protect small-scale growers or open the door to deep-pocketed mega-growers who force out little guys like him.

With those factors in play, this grower echoes what many in the industry say: "No one really knows what's going to happen."

On the upside, legalization may create greater demand and new opportunities for him. "Colorado ran out of weed when they legalized it. It's a weird supply-and-demand act people are doing in their heads."—Stett Holbrook

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