Since Washington and Colorado became the first states to decriminalize recreational marijuana, the ball has been rolling and states are decriminalizing left and right. But with California’s passage, the country is starting to see a bit more of what the future might look like.

Of course as it stands now, cannabis business is still remarkably difficult, even when a state has gotten on board. As Tiffany Wu writes on Canna Law Blog, federal law in this matter still makes even the smallest actions very complicated:

Those of us with years of experience in the state-regulated marijuana industry know all too well how the federal illegality of marijuana makes day to day business difficult and you need to start educating yourself on this as well. It’s not too early for you to start figuring out how you will deal with the difficulties of opening a bank account due to federal anti-money laundering laws or protecting your trade name and your brands without being able to register trademarks with the USPTO. To make IP matters worse for you California does not even allow for state registration of cannabis trademarks. It also makes sense to start navigating how you can best mitigate against federal income tax laws that prohibit all normal business deductions under IRC 280E, and add to that new California cannabis taxes under Prop 64 and local initiatives and the fact that bankruptcy isn’t a likely option in the event of failure. And, finally, how will you advertise your new cannabis business when Google and most major social media platforms will not allow you to do so, and California’s Prop 64 creates new limits on marijuana advertising?

But many see California’s step as one giant leap towards national decriminalization. The state is home to 12 percent of the American population, and accounted for 49 percent of the U.S. marijuana market in 2014—reportedly generating about $1.3 billion, as an industry. That’s a big get even before you include that eight of the nine states voting on marijuana this week moved cannabis decriminalization forward.

Photo Credit: Rusty Blazenhoff cc
Photo Credit: Rusty Blazenhoff cc

Though half of states have decriminalized marijuana in some respect or another, its placement as a Schedule I drug at the federal level still leaves many with the impression that use—let alone a conviction—of marijuana is somehow deviant behavior. Working in conjunction with the spread of “ban the box” laws, activists are trying to fight these philosophies. California’s handy victory lends even more legitimacy to it. Many see the legitimization of that market as a major coup, disrupting everything from the cartel to the image of “marijuana user.” And a big part of that is the chance to expunge the records of those with criminal convictions related to marijuana.

As we’ve written before, decriminalization does not suddenly create an even playing field. Most of the modern recreational cannabis businesses are run by white men, because they were in a better position to seize the opportunity; there’s no tabula rasa that can wipe away the imbalanced effects the war on drugs had on communities of color. As the reality of a greener era sets in, and more state adopt decriminalization, we’re seeing that even under the new regime people of color are still being arrested at higher rates for marijuana than their white counterparts. And now activists are turning their attention to how policies can help level the playing field some.

A lot of that starts with policies like that Nashville and California have, which allow past offenders a chance to get their criminal records expunged, as Time reports:

As of Nov. 9, criminal penalties will undergo change; some past offenders will have a chance to get their records expunged (or get out of jail early); and people under the age of 18 will be “sentenced” not with jail time but drug counseling and community service if they are caught with cannabis. When they come of age, those records will be destroyed.

…if someone earned a felony conviction for cultivating six plants or fewer in the past, which every Californian can now legally do, they’d have a case for getting that record wiped clean.

“We encourage people to think about cannabis in a new way,” says [Amanda Reiman, the Drug Policy Alliance’s manager of marijuana law and policy], “as something that is perfectly acceptable for adults to do in a responsible way. That’s one of the messages that legalization sends.”

By putting this foot forward, we’re certainly closer to understanding the public health questions around decriminalized cannabis. But as we welcome those answers, along with increased tax revenue and a future of unburdened criminal justice system, it’s worth making sure our policies are conscious of the cultural context they find themselves in. The future may look greener, but if more states aren’t aware of criminal justice like California, Maryland, New Jersey, and more, it’s not going to be a true joint effort.