Letters + Opinion » The Week in Weed

A Brief Consumer's Guide to Legal Weed

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The day is almost here, after months of planning and speculation and decades of anticipation. On Jan. 1, Californians over the age of 21 who just want to get high will be able to walk into a storefront and buy some weed.

But while Humboldt County has been awash in headlines of permit applications and farmers working toward compliance, there has been relatively little to guide the local consumer who wants to buy some legal cannabis. Here's what you need to know:

There will be storefronts: Though there was a mad dash at the finish line to get their paperwork in order, it appears Humboldt County will see dispensaries opened for recreational sales in Myrtletown, Old Town and Arcata.

Bring your ID: While you can leave that 215 recommendation at home, you will need a government-issued ID to prove you are at least 21 years of age.

Bring cash: Federal prohibition continues to mean that cannabis is a cash-only industry, so plan accordingly.

Mind the rules: While it will suddenly be legal to buy recreational cannabis on Jan. 1, it is still wise to be mindful that this isn't a free-for-all. If your employer currently drug tests you, there's nothing in California's new marijuana laws that will spare you that indignity or the fallout from a positive test. Similarly, it will still be illegal to get really high and hop behind the wheel of a car. Speaking of cars, there are now open container laws — so if you've broken the seal on a cannabis product, put it in the trunk. Also, don't think you can just step out of the pot shop and light up — it's still illegal to smoke or ingest in public. This means you can be cited for smoking on the boardwalk, in front of the bar or in parks. Also, while possession is legal, there are limits, so keep it to less than an ounce of flowers or 8 grams of concentrates. (And note that for the concentrates, that's total grams of THC, so you could carry 16 edibles that each contain 500 milligrams.)

There will be a transition: You should also know that much — if not all — of what you see on shelves Jan. 1 will be products grown and produced before the state's new regulations went into effect. This means that while some of these products will have been tested for contaminants like pesticides and mold, the consumer protections designed to ensure tainted products don't make it to market will have yet to take effect. (Shops will have to label such products to note as much.)

Stock up on those gummies, if that's your jam: This aforementioned transition period means that shops will continue to sell some products that will be banned under the new paradigm. This includes cannabis-infused gummy bears and other products that could be seen as marketing to children. So, if you simply love getting high while feeding that gummy craving, you're on the clock.

There will also be sticker shock: While this may be phased in to some extent, too, as the full costs of testing, packaging and distribution take hold, there will be taxes that will immediately be tacked onto your purchases. In addition to the state's $9.25 per ounce cultivation tax that will undoubtedly be passed along to consumers, there will also be a 15 percent excise tax on retail sales, plus local and state sales taxes, which total 8.5 percent in Eureka and Arcata, penciling out to a 23.5 percent tax on your cannabis purchases.

Thadeus Greenson is the Journal's news editor. Reach him at 442-1400, extension 321, or thad@northcoastjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @thadeusgreenson.

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