What Does Legal Marijuana in California Mean for the Rest of the Country?

shutterstock 539633905
shutterstock 539633905

Sales of recreational marijuana are now officially legal in California. But will legal sales in America’s most populous state impact other states?

Although the rollout of legal recreational marijuana sales is still underway in California, there is no doubt that the rest of country will be keeping a close eye to see how the new regulations impact the nation.


Simply put, California has a massive population. With good weather down south and natural beauty up north, its no wonder the Golden State has the largest population in the United States. There are almost 40 million people living in California. With recreational marijuana sales now legal, over 10 percent of the nation just joined those who can purchase legally in one fell swoop. Perhaps other states will not feel as if they are going out on a limb. With California legalizing, about 20 percent of the country now lives in a state with legal adult-use marijuana.


Criminal Justice Reform

One of the most egregious results of the War on Drugs is the impact that mass incarcerations have had on communities. Sure, no one wants violent drug dealers running amock in their communities. But what about a teenager caught with a joint? A felony arrest can have a detrimental effect on an individual for the rest of their lives. Also, there is a racial component to these arrests that should be addressed. Non-whites are significantly more likely to be arrested and jailed for marijuana possession.

California’s Prop. 64 set out to correct this. Not only are penalties being reduced for low-level possession, but individuals will now have a process for reducing or eliminating certain possession charges from their criminal record. “California’s Proposition 64 ballot measure was not only about marijuana legalization, it was one of the most progressive sentencing and criminal justice reforms in the entire country,” said Eunisses Hernandez, a policy coordinator at Drug Policy Alliance recently told HuffPost.

Approximately 90 percent of Americans support criminal justice reform. Legal marijuana provides the perfect opportunity for lawmakers to open a dialogue in their state about improving the fairness of their justice systems.

Tax Revenues

Adult-use marijuana is expected to generate $5 billion in tax revenues for California. While smaller states would not expect to receive as much from legal marijuana sales, California could be creating the blueprint for how states can keep services and programs funded in the future without raising income or sales taxes. With a new tax plan expected to add over $1 trillion to the national debt, states are likely going to have to tighten their budgets. Perhaps legal marijuana could help alleviate some of this pressure.


While the media focus has largely and understandably been on recreational marijuana use recently, it is important to consider how medical marijuana could be impacted by the Californian adult-use market. With so many Americans now having access to recreational marijuana, could medical become a less controversial option for conservative states? Right now, there are 29 states that have legalized medical marijuana. An overwhelming majority of Americans (88 percent according to a CBS poll) support a patient’s right to medicate with marijuana. For the states that have yet to legalize, supporting medical use could provide a comfortable political middle ground.

The Upcoming Year

2018 is poised to be a huge year for legal marijuana. Many states are expected to consider legalizing recreational or medicinal use. Momentum is strong in New Jersey, Vermont, and Michigan to follow California’s lead and approve recreational marijuana while residents in conservative states such as Oklahoma, Utah, and Missouri are pushing to legalize medical marijuana.