It took nearly 20 years, but California lawmakers have finally passed legislation to regulate the most booming medical marijuana industry in the nation. What exactly this means to patients, growers, and other members of the industry remains to be seen, but speculation is already rampant.
Here are the facts:
Friday night, California legislature passed three regulatory bills onto Gov. Jerry Brown – Assembly Bill 266 authored by Assemblymen Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-LA), and Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova); Senate Bill 643 authored by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg); and Assembly Bill 243 authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg).
While all three bills originated as separate entities, when their respective congressmen saw that one was unlikely to pass above the rest they combined forces, rewriting and linking the three together so as one could not pass without the rest. This was done with cooperation from the League of California Cities, the Police Chiefs’ Association, the United Food and Commercial Workers, and top players in the cannabis industry.
Friday was the final day of the 2015 legislative session, and as it came to a close, lawmakers approved regulations that took two decades for a majority to finally agree upon. Whether Gov. Brown will sign the bills into law remains to be seen, but most media outlets speculate that he will. Either way, he has 12 days after receiving the bills to decide.
If passed, the bills will impose a number of new regulations to the mostly unregulated California medical marijuana industry — often referred to as the “Wild West” of weed since the state originally approved medical marijuana back in 1996. One of its stipulations is the formation of a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement, which will include members of the Public Health, Agriculture, and Fish & Wildlife departments and fall under the control of the governor. Many fear this separate “marijuana task force” will confuse state’s rights with federal, become too gung-ho in its enforcement, or generally take us further back into the era of prohibition, but supporters of the bill argue it will enforce environmental regulations for growers and decrease black market activity. Either way, it is this Bureau that will dole out the newly required licenses every grower and dispensary must obtain to stay in business — this after almost 20 years of businesses functioning legally under CA law with no such license required.
More new regulations have been imposed upon growers, including requisites for organic marijuana farming and guidelines that require marijuana farmers to follow state environmental and safety rules that farmers of other crops already abide by. While this sounds like a great thing for the California landscape and environment, which has undeniably suffered some from unregulated backcountry grow techniques, regulations also impose new rules about the size and management of both outdoor and indoor grows. Outdoor grows are now limited to one acre, though there’s no language limiting the number of plants grown on these sites, while indoor grows are limited to half that. Furthermore, higher standards of quality assurance, testing, and tracking will be implemented.
Some changes that worry many in the industry (and patients themselves) include a new 100-sq.-ft. limit to private marijuana gardens, that it is now illegal to share marijuana from your personal garden with anyone (even another patient), and that individual cities and counties can now ban cultivation, storage, or transport of medical marijuana as they see fit..
These concerns have prompted the American Medical Marijuana Association (AMMA) to file suit against the California Legislature and Gov. Brown for the violation of Prop. 215 (the original proposition that legalized medical marijuana back in 1996).
“Our medical cannabis rights, protected for nearly 20 years by Prop. 215, have been hijacked, and Prop. 215 is under attack like never before,” said Executive Director of AMMA Steve Kubby. “The new law is an unacceptable and illegal infringement on our rights under Prop. 215.”
Another change the new regulations will enact is the gradual phasing out of “nonprofit collectives and cooperatives.” Also, dispensaries no longer have to be nonprofits as was required under Senate Bill 420, but — once licensed and approved — can function legally and openly as for-profit businesses.
While it is easy to see why so many in the industry are worried about the proposed regulations, it’s important to remember that these changes won’t take effect immediately (if Gov. Brown even signs them into law). In fact, businesses won’t be required to apply for the newly required licenses until 2018, and most of the specifics of the new regulations are yet to even be written. (That’ll be done by the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, once it is formed.) Even more, many of the changes are in direct conflict with the original wording of Prop. 215, which means many of the contradictions will most likely be hammered out in court by individual plaintiffs.
What exactly is in store for California’s medical marijuana industry can only be speculated upon at this point, but all parties involved can agree that there’s a reason legislature finally passed industry regulations almost 20 years later: like winter, the recreational market is coming.