What you need to know about buying recreational marijuana in San Diego

A year after California voters legalized recreational marijuana, cities from San Diego to Eureka are about to find out whether consumers will flock to licensed stores to buy it.

The state and many cities are hustling to write and issue the permits that retailers would need to begin selling cannabis on January 1st, a long-standing goal.

San Diego has already authorized a marijuana supply chain that covers everything from cultivation to testing to manufacturing.

Other cities are strongly opposed to the sale of “adult use” marijuana, and have banned it.

The conflicting moves have created confusion about what is and isn’t permitted under Proposition 64, the law voters approved last year, giving people 21 and older the right to possess, grow and eventually buy recreational cannabis.

The Union-Tribune spoke to everyone from state officials to marijuana retailers to to police to provide this update of what’s about to happen.

Q: How many licensed stores will begin selling recreational marijuana on or about January 1st, and where will the stores be located?

A: The details are still being worked out, but it appears that there will be about a dozen stores in San Diego. The city has issued 17 licenses for the sale of medical marijuana, and roughly 12 stores are now open. Those stores are likely to get permission to sell recreational marijuana on January 1st, or shortly thereafter. The outlets are located in places like Bay Park, Kearny Mesa and Mission Valley.

The number of outlets is expected to grow. San Diego has embraced the sale of marijuana more fully than almost any other community in California, including San Francisco and Los Angeles. The city established a supply chain for marijuana that involves everything from cultivation to testing and manufacturing.

Like other cities, San Diego is hoping to generate a lot of money by taxing marijuana sales, and perhaps to deal a blow to the black market at the same time.

Q. What are other cities and unincorporated San Diego County doing?

The county Board of Supervisors has taken an opposite stance, outlawing cannabis stores and farms in unincorporated areas. The handful of licensed dispensaries that already exist in those areas will be limited to selling medical marijuana.

Many cities also have banned the commercial sale of recreational marijuana, including Poway, Santee, San Marcos and National City. It is possible that one or more will reconsider if things go smoothly in San Diego. Chula Vista is going to discuss legalization in December. Encinitas voters will decide next year whether to allow for the commercial cultivation of marijuana.

Despite these restrictions, people who are 21 or older can possess, transport and buy up to one ounce. That’s been true since California voters approved Proposition 64 in November 2016.

Q: Does that mean I can buy marijuana without worrying that my employer will fire me if I consume it?

A: Not necessarily. Employers can fire you if you test positive during a drug test. And landlords do not have to allow you to use marijuana on their properties. Those two provisions were included in Proposition 64, largely to increase its likelihood of passing.

Q: Are there places to buy marijuana other than licensed stores?

A: There are unlicensed medical marijuana dispensaries in the region, and its very easy to obtain the card you need to purchase cannabis. In most cases, all you need to do is answer a series of questions that are meant to suggest that you need the card, whether you do or not. You can apply at the offices of companies that sell these cards, or do everything online. In many cases, you can also arrange to have the marijuana delivered to your home.

Q: Will I have to show an ID to buy recreational marijuana?

A: You’ll need a state or federal ID. Your driver’s license will do. And, as noted, you have to be at least 21. Parents won’t be able to bring children into the stores, so plan accordingly. And don’t even think about asking for sample that you can consume in the store. That’s forbidden. So is consuming marijuana in public places.

Q: What kind of products do the stores sell?

A: They sell everything from loose marijuana to pre-rolled joints and cigars to battery-powered vaping devices that can be charged by sticking them in to the USB port of a laptop. They also sell a lot of edible marijuana products, including popcorn, cookies, syrup, chocolate and candy. Marijuana is available in a variety of drinks. And it is infused in butters and other things that are spread on bread and bananas. There are topical creams and soaps, some of which are designed to alleviate stress, pain or sleeplessness without get a person stoned. Some stores also sell marijuana to treat arthritis in dogs.

The marijuana you buy will come in a sealed container. You can transport cannabis in a motor vehicle. But don’t open it until you reach a place where you can legally use it, such as a private residence. In fact, place the marijuana in your trunk when you’re leaving the dispensary. Remove temptation.

And do not transport marijuana across state lines, even to states like Nevada, where recreational marijuana is legal. You’d be breaking the law.

Q: Can I use a credit card to buy pot?

A: No. The sale of marijuana is still illegal at the federal level, which means that these stores don’t have easy access to the banking system and financial service companies. For the most part, it is a cash-only businesses. Many stores feature cash machines.

Q: A lot of marijuana farms were damaged in Northern California during October’s wildfires. Does that mean that there would be an adequate supply in San Diego when recreational sales increase?

A: San Diego’s marijuana retailers are not dependent on one company or region for their supply. So the fires aren’t expected to cause a local shortage. But the stores could experience heavy demand when they begin recreational sales. It’s possible that there will be spot outages.

Q: Is it true that marijuana is far more potent today than it was years ago?

A: Scientists broadly agree that pot has become more potent based on the percentage of THC that they find in marijuana. THC refers to tetrahydrocannabinol, one of the chemical compounds found in the planet. THC is psychoactive; it’s the thing that gets you stoned.

Two years ago, Charas Scientific, a potency testing lab in Colorado, reported that the level of THC in samples it measured was about 20 percent. Some samples hit 30 percent. The THC level was believed to be less than 10 percent in the 1970s and 1980s.

The University of Washington offers a different perspective on THC levels, stating on its website: “The marijuana used today is stronger than it used to be, but not as strong as has been written in some media reports (claiming marijuana is 30 times stronger today than during the 1970s).”

Q: How will a consumer know whether the marijuana they buy from January 1st on is free of harmful pesticides?

A: Dallin Young, executive director of the Association of Cannabis Professionals in San Diego, told us, “Each and every product must be tested for each of these contaminants before they reach retail shelves

“Because of this, each time a product changes hands along the entirety of the supply chain, it will most likely be tested to ensure that the buyer is not at risk of a contaminated product.”

Q: California has a clearly stated law on alcohol and driving. How clear is the law when it involves marijuana?

A: California Vehicle Code 23152 says, in part, “It is unlawful for a person who is under the influence of any drug to drive a vehicle.”

Police use a variety of roadside techniques to determine if a person is impaired. They also can administer a blood test, which will reveal THC levels. But the test does not clearly indicate when a person used pot. And the amount of THC does not always match how high a person is.

Young notes: “Marijuana effects everyone differently. What makes one person much too high to drive a vehicle might not even cause another person to be impaired at all.”

The state legislature turned to UC San Diego for help, giving researchers $1.8 million to develop a better, faster roadside sobriety test for marijuana. The research is underway right now.

Q: The sale of marijuana is illegal under federal law. Could the government simply shut down all of these stores?

A: “Theoretically yes,” said Lincoln Fish, co-founder of Outco, a licensed “seed-to-sale” marijuana company in El Cajon.

“Practically it would be incredibly challenging. The Rohrbacher-Farr amendment, which is likely to be renewed in the next budget, completely restricts the use of federal dollars for enforcement or prosecution of cannabis-related crimes in states where it is legal.

“So they have no money to go after dispensaries, grows. And since the American public is now 94-percent in favor of medical marijuana (Quinnipiac poll) and over 60-percent for recreational, it's unlikely the feds will try to make such a bold move.”

Union-Tribune staff writer David Garrick contributed to this story.

Sources: California Bureau for Cannabis Control, Association of Cannabis Professionals, San Diego Police Department, UCLA Cannabis Research Institute, UC San Diego, Urbn Leaf, Outco, Mankind Cooperative, Citizens Against Legalizing Marijuana, and “How to Smoke Pot (Properly) by David Bienenstock.

THE WILL OF THE VOTERS

On November 8, 2016, California voters approved Proposition 64, which made recreational marijuana legal for people 21 and older. The measure passed by a margin of 57.1 percent to 42.9 percent. In San Diego County, 744,836 people voted in favor of the proposal, and 561,478 opposed it.

The new law permits people to possess up to one ounce of marijuana, and gives them the right to grow up to six plants in their home. The law also prohibits the smoking of marijuana in public, and it reaffirms that driving while impaired by cannabis is illegal.

Recreational marijuana is now legal in seven states, and the District of Columbia. Medical marijuana has been approved in 29 states, and the District of Columbia. California approved medical marijuana in 1996, becoming the first state to do so.

BY THE NUMBERS

$7 billion

The state estimates that legal marijuana sales could raise $7 billion a year

$1 billion

The state estimates that Proposition 64 could raise up to $1 billion a year in tax revenue by 2021.

183 million

The United Nations estimates that 183 million people used marijuana around the world in 2014.

1,000

Number of pounds of marijuana that were grown over the past year by Outco, a licensed commercial grower based in El Cajon.

WORTH QUOTING

“We are producing too much (marijuana and) are going to have to scale back. We are on a painful downsizing curve.”

-- Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers’ Association, in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.

“I believe that recreational marijuana will become as mainstream as craft beers.”

Will Senn, founder of Urbn Leaf, a San Diego-based marijuana retailer

WORDS TO KNOW

The federal government says the word marijuana refers to “the dried leaves, flowers, stems, and seeds from the Cannabis sativa or Cannabis indica plant.”

The website Zamnesia attribute the following traits to the two strains:

Sativa: Energizing and uplifting. Stimulates creativity and thoughts. Promotes sense of well-being. Relieves headaches and migraines. Reduces nausea. Stimulates the appetite. Relieves depression.

Indica: Relaxing and laid back. Relieves pain and aches. Reduces anxiety and stress. Aids sleep. Reduces inflammation. Helps relieve spasms and seizures. Stimulates the appetite.

Independently, marijuana experts note that the plants can also create the opposite effects of the ones stated above.

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency considers marijuana to be a harmful drug, stating on its website: “Short-term physical effects from marijuana use may include sedation, blood shot eyes, increased heart rate, coughing from lung irritation, increased appetite, and decreased blood pressure. Like tobacco smokers, marijuana smokers experience serious health problems such as bronchitis, emphysema, and bronchial asthma. Extended use may cause suppression of the immune system. Because marijuana contains toxins and carcinogens, marijuana smokers increase their risk of cancer of the head, neck, lungs and respiratory track.”

Twitter: @grobbins

gary.robbins@sduniontribune.com

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