California makes 'pot' legal - but police fear worst
The arrival of the new year in California has brought with it the legal use of marijuana, a change that comes two decades after the state was the first to allow pot for medical use.
America's most populous state joins a growing list - including the nation's capital, Washington - where so-called recreational marijuana is permitted even though the federal government continues to classify the drug as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.
Pot is now legal in California for adults aged 21 and older, and individuals can grow up to six plants and possess as much as an ounce of the drug.
But finding a retail outlet to buy non-medical pot won't be easy, as only 90 businesses received licences yesterday to open in a state with a population of almost 40 million. They are concentrated in the San Diego, Santa Cruz, San Francisco Bay and Palm Springs areas.
Recreational pot will not be immediately available in Los Angeles and San Francisco as local regulations were not approved in time to start issuing city licences needed to get state permits.
Fresno, Bakersfield and Riverside are among the communities that have forbidden recreational sales.
Campaigners, however, admitted their satisfaction with the new regime.
"We're thrilled," said Khalil Moutawakkil, founder of KindPeoples, which grows and sells weed in Santa Cruz.
"We can talk about the good, the bad and the ugly of the specific regulations, but at the end of the day it's a giant step forward, and we'll have to work out the kinks as we go."
Problems are expected this year as more shops open and more stringent regulations take effect on the strains known as Sweet Skunk, Trainwreck and Russian Assassin.
The California Police Chiefs Association, which opposed the 2016 referendum that led to the change, repeated its fears about stoned drivers, the risk to young people and the cost of policing the new rules in addition to an existing black market.
"There's going to be a public health cost and a public safety cost enforcing these new laws and regulations," said Jonathan Feldman, a legislative advocate for the chiefs.
More than 6,100 tonnes of pot was produced by Californian growers last year, with 80pc illegally shipped out of state. Of the remaining 20pc, only a quarter was sold legally for medicinal purposes.