As tortured as the path to legalization has been, now the hard part really begins.
Come Jan. 1, the new laws go into effect with a host of unresolved issues. Those issues will be left for a newly formed Cannabis Regulatory Commission (CRC), as well as the state attorney general. At the heart of these future policy decisions is how to create a $1 billion industry that will overtake the current illicit market and create tax revenue that will be used to help the minority communities (impact zones) hardest hit by disparate treatment by law enforcement in the so-called war on drugs.
Here are some issues they will have to address:
- The legalization bill calls for a 7% sales tax, 70% of which would be dedicated to those minority communities. The bill also establishes guidelines for an additional “social justice excise fee” — left to the discretion of the commission — that would also be allocated to minority communities. There is skepticism among social advocates that these funds will be used as promised.
- There is also distrust in these circles that a fair share of licenses awarded to grow, process, sell and deliver recreational marijuana will go to minority applicants. The commission will determine who will prosper in this new industry.
- How much tax is too much tax? Will the higher cost of legal marijuana give the black market a competitive edge? How many cultivating licenses will satisfy demand without overproduction, which could encourage growers to sell into the black market?
- How vigorously will police go after sellers and buyers who eschew the new legal market, which will be considerably more expensive? Will these arrests result in the same disparate treatment for communities of color as before? Will they actively pursue people growing their own pot?