The legalisation of Pot in California

Sociological perspectives on the legalization of marijuana in California and other states

Last Updated on October 3, 2023 by Karl Thompson

California has become (in January 2018) the 6th state in America to legalize the sale of marijuana for recreational use, following a 2016 referendum of Californian residents.

legalisation pot

This has clearly been a popular change in the law for some: In Berkeley, queues of people snaked around the block from 6 a.m. (odd time to be buying weed?) to late into the evening as one the first dispensaries to open struggled to cope with demand, suggesting that there are eventually going to be many licensed venues selling legal weed.

However, there are those that are opposed to the legalization of marijuana movement, the most powerful being the entire Trump administration, who are looking for ways to derail those 6 states which have legalized the drug.

Pot in California in 2023

Eight years on from the legalisation of pot in California it seems that the impact has been minimal.

An estimated 90% of weed related business is still illegal, rather than legal. This is is because the regulations for legal growers are too complex and taxes are so high it is hard to make a profit for small businesses.

Small businesses find themselves unable to compete with large legal corporations and illegal drugs cartels.

Many small legal growers still trade in unlicensed illegal pot as a result.

Comments/m relevance to A level Sociology

This material is mainly relevant to the Crime and Deviance module.

This whole issue is a great example of how ‘crime is socially constructed‘ – you can quite literally hope over from California into the state of Arizona while smoking a joint and tada: you’re a criminal!

Given the situation in 2023 this also shows how changing the law can make very little difference to an already established illegal market. It demonstrates the limited capacity of social policy to make social changes.

From a Functionalist point of view, it might be worth thinking about whether this is happening as a sort of ‘safety valve’ mechanism – there’s so much strain in America, and so many people already using drugs to cope with it, we may as well legalise it because it’s easier for the system to cope with it, and focus more on the ‘real criminals’.

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