California Becomes Largest State to Legalize Marijuana

03 January, 2018

California has become the largest American state to legalize the sale of marijuana.

The new law took effect on New Year's Day. California voters approved a measure to legalize the drug in November 2016.

The law permits adults, 21 years and older, to possess as much as 28 grams of marijuana. It also permits people to grow up to six marijuana plants at home.

California is the sixth U.S. state – along with the nation's capital Washington D.C. – to legalize recreational marijuana.

California became the first American state to approve marijuana use for medical purposes in 1996. At least 29 U.S. states now permit the use of medical marijuana. Maine and Massachusetts are expected to legalize recreational marijuana in 2018.

A pro-cannabis activist holds up a marijuana cigarette during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.
A pro-cannabis activist holds up a marijuana cigarette during a rally on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC.

The federal government still considers the sale and possession of marijuana a crime. U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions is an opponent of legalizing marijuana. He said in November that he is taking a close look at federal enforcement of anti-drug laws that include marijuana.

Chris Lindsey is with the Marijuana Policy Project, which seeks marijuana policy reforms in U.S. states. He says the federal government remains limited in how it can intervene in state laws.

"While Jeff Sessions may not like the fact that states have taken this path, they have. And there's very little that the federal government's going to be able to do to compel the state to basically re-implement prohibition."

The production and sale of marijuana will be ruled by California's Bureau of Cannabis Control. Businesses are required to have a license to sell the drug and sales will be taxed.

The state only recently started releasing the licenses, with about 90 businesses so far receiving permits. None went to the state's largest city, Los Angeles, or its third biggest, San Francisco.

California law does not permit the smoking of marijuana in public places or while driving. Local governments can set their own restrictions on sales.

Lindsey says the local licensing process will result in delays of marijuana sales in some communities.

"Some of them are embracing it, and rushing to implement rules and license businesses. Others are going so far as saying ‘We don't want it here at all,' and everything in between. And all of that has to be sorted out."

California is the largest state in the nation, with 39 million residents. It has the world's sixth-largest economy.

Experts have valued the state's marijuana market at several billion dollars a year. Marijuana sales are expected to create at least $684 million in tax money in 2018.

More than one in five Americans now live in states where marijuana is sold for general use as well as for medical purposes.

I'm Bryan Lynn.

Ken Bredemeier and Lori Lundin reported on this story for VOA News. Bryan Lynn adapted the reports for Learning English, with additional material from the Associated Press. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

recreational adj. done for enjoyment

compel v. force someone to do something

implement v. begin to carry out a law, plan or system

prohibition n. law or order that prevents something

license n. official document giving permission to do something

embrace v. to accept something readily or gladly

sort out v. find an answer or solution for something