Column: From weed to wages, the new year ushers in new laws affecting consumers
Hundreds of new California laws took effect Monday with the beginning of the new year. For consumers, some are real standouts.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Legal weed: The arrival of legal recreational marijuana is possibly the biggest change affecting the Golden State this year. Adults age 21 and older can buy pot from licensed dispensaries between the hours of 6 in the morning and 10 at night.
I’m not advocating anyone to toke up — it’s been more than 20 years since I’ve had a puff (yes, I inhaled) — but it’s about time we treated weed the same as its closest commercial cousin, alcohol.
Unless you’re an anti-pot obsessive like U.S. Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions, you accept the scientific consensus that marijuana is not a gateway to more dangerous drugs, and is no more potentially harmful than liquor and tobacco.
More important, it’s foolish that we’ve gone for so long without regulating and taxing what is clearly a popular and commonly used product among many adults.
The legal market for pot in California is estimated at about $5 billion. Many users will continue buying black-market weed at first to avoid the 15% tax on its retail value, according to a study by the University of California Agricultural Issues Center.
But they’ll gradually come around as the regulated market becomes more common and convenient, bringing state and local governments an estimated $1 billion in tax revenue and creating more than 1,200 jobs.
State officials project that legal recreational marijuana soon will make up 61.5% of the overall market, while nearly a third of users will continue buying pot illegally and 9% will purchase medical marijuana.
The basic rule of thumb is that you can now smoke recreational pot anywhere you can smoke a cigarette, which means forget about copping a cannabis buzz at indoor workplaces, restaurants, bars, theaters and most public places. Also, no imbibing within 1,000 feet of a school, day-care center or youth center while kids are present.
It’s still illegal to drive while high or to have an open bag of pot in the car. Under the new law, you can’t smoke pot or munch marijuana edibles while driving or riding in a vehicle, punishable by a $70 fine.
Salary history: California employers no longer can ask a job applicant to reveal their past or present salary, compensation or benefits. Also, if the applicant asks, the employer must provide a pay range for the open position.
This is a big deal, as anyone who’s experienced the job-application process will tell you. Revealing your current or former pay package and not knowing the pay range for the new gig puts you at a distinct disadvantage in salary negotiations.
The new law also is intended to level the playing field for women, who are paid on average 80 cents for every dollar a guy makes, for no good reason whatsoever.
In fact, a woman working full time in California makes a median income of $43,335, compared with a median of $50,562 for a man, according to the National Partnership for Women and Families. In theory, the new law will boost the total mean pay of women statewide by almost $79 billion.
When you apply for a job, employers are prohibited from “orally or in writing, personally or through an agent,” asking about your present or previous pay.
However, if you provide such info “voluntarily and without prompting,” the employer can legally use it “in determining the salary for that applicant.”
Minimum wage: For workers at the lower end of the economic spectrum, life has just gotten a little better. The minimum wage went up Monday at businesses with 26 or more employees to $11 an hour.
Under legislation passed in 2016, California’s minimum wage will keep rising by $1 a year until it reaches $15 an hour by 2022. Businesses with 25 or fewer workers will reach that milestone a year later.
This is obviously some much-needed assistance for about 5 million low-income earners in a state with some of the highest housing costs in the nation. But the broader economic ramifications remain to be seen.
The state’s Legislative Analyst’s Office says that “when the minimum wage goes up, workers’ wages increase, but employers’ costs also increase — giving them an incentive to hire fewer workers. As a result, basic economic models predict that minimum wages reduce employment.”
But researchers at UC Berkeley found that a higher minimum wage also can have a positive influence on the economy. They predict that a bigger paycheck will improve workers’ productivity and increase their purchasing power, thus boosting the fortunes of other businesses.
File this under “wait and see.”
Parental leave: Companies with between 20 and 49 employees must now provide up to 12 weeks of unpaid maternity or paternity leave for new parents. And new parents can’t lose their job and healthcare benefits while bonding with baby.
The United States is the only developed country that doesn’t require businesses to provide paid parental leave, although the federal Family and Medical Leave Act requires companies with 50 or more workers to allow up to 12 weeks of time off — without pay.
“This is a great victory for working parents and children in California,” said state Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara), author of the new law. “With more women in the workforce, and more parents struggling to balance work and family responsibilities, our policies must catch up to the realities of our economy and the daily lives of working families.”
The California Chamber of Commerce, that champion of family values, calls the new law a “job killer.”
Rent-to-own pets: I never knew this was a thing, but apparently it was.
As of Monday, Californians can no longer buy dogs and cats on installment plans. Ownership is now contingent on making all payments before you can take possession of your critter.
This law has its roots in reports of people thinking they were buying pricey pedigreed pets and discovering after the fact they were in fact on rent-to-own plans, and running up hefty financing charges in the process.
And if payments went unmade for too long, your pooch might get a visit from the repo man.
If you’re desperate for a fancy animal, at least use a credit card. That’ll grant you immediate ownership.
Better still, adopt a dog or cat from your local shelter. That’s what I did, and it’s one of the smartest (and most loving) deals I ever made.