Culture: Pre-Legalization State

Pre-Legalization State

By Sean Donahoe


California is about to enter a weird state of existence. No, seriously—weirder than usual. Between now and November 8, 2016 the legalization of cannabis for adults will be an unmistakable part of everyday conversations around the state. California is known as the place where the future is constantly being invented, where ideas and policies are crafted, attempted, tweaked, and then fulfilled (or not) through the sheer diversity and energy of peoples that have been drawn to our Golden State. Often these shifts are simultaneously social, cultural, and economic in nature—look at Hollywood, the suburbs, the Internet, and (most interestingly) the cannabis industry. While four states have already legalized cannabis before California, let there be no doubt that the underlying professionalism found within the emerging global cannabis industry has as its backbone the artistry, risk taking, and respect for the plant that Californians cannabis devotees and farmers have demonstrated over the last 40+ years.

So this weird state of existence that California is about to enter? Let’s call it “pre-legalization”—which will be different than the exciting, diverse Prop 215-focused medical cannabis era that we've known up until now. That industry and that movement will persist, of course, but more and more often all of us from within the movement, from within the industry, will find ourselves involved in conversations with grandparents, employers, city governments, investors, law enforcement, and legislators as we move from the MMJ to the adult use era. You see this somewhat already, as acceptance of the new cannabis culture has seeped into cable news documentaries and casually joked about by celebrities.


Many in California already are in tune with the arc of history, are not afraid to change their attitude towards cannabis use, but the policymakers may take a bit more education before they accept that a new world is dawning. As we interact with the communities that we live in, with our elected officials, and with the mainstream media, those within the cannabis movement and industry should remember how much is at stake—we cannot treat legalization in 2016 as inevitable, as a foregone conclusion. Game face folks—okay?


Policy reform is hard work—thankfully in our case it is also fun work. As the cannabis movement gets geared up for 2016, over the next 22 months we'll be seeing everything from awareness campaigns at forward-thinking medical dispensaries to a constant presence at music and cannabis culture festivals. I encourage supporters to join the grassroots movement at and to provide financial support to its parent organization the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform and/or any of its many partner organizations. We can't take 2016 for granted and we should all be part of the cause—get plugged in, join up, be aware, represent our culture well, and let's enjoy this “pre-legalization” phase, as we celebrate the wins of the past, learn from our past mistakes, and  develop the grassroots movement that will legalize cannabis in California. But we shouldn't be interested in just chalking up another win for national organizations—won't it be great if we can run our measure, designed by us, which we can all be a part of, and happy to live within the years to come? Really, what California will accomplish in 2016 will have historic, irreversible implications. The war on drugs is already on its last legs—let's end it the right way, the Californian way. Are you ready? It's going to be great . . . join us.


Sean Donahoe has spent the last two years organizing the statewide and local political voice of the cannabis industry. He lives in Oakland and serves on the Cannabis Regulatory Commission there, and is on the leadership team of CCPR and and several other organizations.