Marijuana legalization rolls out

As of Jan 1, local cannabis dispensaries provide cannabis to anyone 21 and older. Tayler Reviere Verninas/The USD Vista

USD and the San Diego community grapple with recent policy changes regarding marijuana

Glenn McDonell | Contributor | USD Vista

This past week, many USD students stepped foot onto campus for the first time in the new year and returned to the familiar routines of campus life just as they were last December. Off campus, however, significant changes have occurred in the surrounding community which have catapulted the City of San Diego into completely unfamiliar territory.

On election day in November of 2016, while many USD students were gathered in Frank’s Lounge to follow the presidential election, California citizens voted in support of a landmark ballot initiative which has since changed the course of an emerging industry.

California Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, allows the possession, cultivation, and sale of marijuana for recreational use for those over the age of 21. The law allows legally licensed retailers to sell one ounce of cannabis, six ounces of THC concentrate, or six immature plants to customers.

The passing of this legislation has come in spite of the fact that the federal government has done nothing to change marijuana’s status as a Schedule I substance or to reduce the criminal penalties associated with its consumption and sale.

Earlier this year, CNN reported that the current Attorney General Jeff Sessions moved to rescind the Cole Memorandum, a memorandum which essentially made official the Obama administration’s passive enforcement stance on the issue.

If nothing else, this move by the Justice Department has created conditions of uncertainty and confusion in the states where marijuana has been legalized.

A congressional amendment blocks the justice department from interfering with medical marijuana programs in states where it is allowed. However, according to the Associated Press, several justice officials have said on record that they would follow this law, but would not preclude the possibility of federal prosecution.

This hovering threat has prevented several colleges and universities, which receive federal funding, from relaxing their internal policies.

On Jan. 26, the Chief of Public Safety James Miyashiro released a statement to the community regarding the recent policy changes with a clarification of the department’s stance on marijuana. The announcement, which was sent by email to the whole community, stated that marijuana is still illegal under federal law and is prohibited under the Drug-Free Schools and Communities Act. This act requires the prohibition of marijuana at any university receiving federal funding, and USD is no exception.

Junior Norah Beglane agreed with campus safety concerns but also believed that something needs to change at the federal level.

“I’m not really sure how USD is going to react to this but regardless of how you feel about legalization, one has to admit that the rates of incarceration are both appalling and absurd,” she said. “The fact that something which is becoming normalized in some communities can still land you in jail just seems off.”

College administrators aren’t the only ones grappling with how to react to the recent changes.

All throughout 2017, city and county governments wrestled with whether and how to allow the integration of these new firms into their local economies. More than 70 percent of these authorities opted out of the state rollout program, according to the San Diego Union-Tribune.

Last September, the City Council of San Diego defied this statewide majority and all other city governments in the county by voting 6-3 to legalize the local cultivation, manufacturing, and testing of marijuana products, as stated by the Los Angeles Times.

Without these three elements in place, the current medical dispensaries looking to take advantage of legalization would be forced to either truck it in from elsewhere, or operate their supply chain illegally within the county.

According to the same report from the LA Times, the council majority defended their position based on the notion that “creating a local supply chain for the city’s dispensaries would boost the economy, create jobs and improve the quality and safety of local marijuana.”

San Diego Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman took a different position on how legalization affect community.

According to a report from the San Diego Union-Tribune, Chief Zimmerman cited public health and safety issues as the department’s main concern. She has argued that the potential benefits which will be created through tax revenue will not outweigh these supposed threats to the community.

As part of the initiative which passed with the November 2016 vote, a five percent tax has been included as part of all marijuana purchases at all of San Diego’s seven licensed dispensaries.

This tax, which according to the San Diego Union Tribune could rise as high as 15 percent with council approval, is being used to support the local community through initiatives for everything from infrastructure to college funding for underprivileged youth.

Whether the addition of tax revenue and jobs into San Diego’s economy outweighs the types of risks alleged by the police department remains to be seen.

Junior Josh Rementeria finds that the struggle between those in favor of the new industry and those opposed has less to do with public health and more to do with money. “I’m convinced that the disconnect between federal policy and state policy on marijuana must have something to do with the efforts of lobbyists working for pharmaceutical companies,” Rementeria said. “As with most things in life, you gotta follow the money.”

As local firms, legislators, and the USD community navigate the new California with this new policy, these debates over public health, the new tax base, and medicinal use will likely continue within the San Diego community.

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