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Monday, October 12, 2015

Medical Marijuana is Regulated. What's Different? (Nothing, yet.)

Posted By on Mon, Oct 12, 2015 at 11:19 AM

click to enlarge It's a celebration... just like before. - WIKIMEDIA
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  • It's a celebration... just like before.
On Friday, Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law three bills that, for the first time, regulate California's massive multi billion-dollar medical cannabis industry on a state level.

For the first time, commercial marijuana activity is expressly allowed under state law. Sales and turning a profit — both long considered no-no's for cannabis growers and sellers by law enforcement — are OK. Growers, sellers, testers, transporters and manufacturers will be licensed, and all of it will be overseen by a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana regulation, run by a "weed czar" to be appointed by the governor.

Meanwhile, individual medical cannabis patients will be allowed to grow and smoke limited amounts without any license required.

The passage of AB 243, AB 266 and SB 643 required cooperation between the state's marijuana industry players, law enforcement, local government, and organized labor, and is no doubt a big deal. This is what the federal Justice Department has demanded for several years. It is also the first time the state Legislature has accomplished anything on marijuana since 2003, when SB 420's passage — seven years after Prop. 215 in 1996 first legalized medical cannabis — led to the state's first boom in cannabis grows and dispensaries (which, to date, have all had to operate as nonprofit collectives or cooperatives).

So what's different? Right now, nothing. 

The laws don't take effect until 2018. And these laws pass on most of the responsibility for regulating marijuana to localities. In places that already have local weed laws on the books — like, say, San Francisco and most of the Bay Area — everything is the same.

That means cities and counties that have moved to ban or severely restrict medical marijuana activity can continue to do so. There are bans on the books across the state, including in Bay Area cities like Palo Alto, Mountain View, and in most of San Mateo County. Various bans have been passed on dispensaries, on deliveries, and on cultivation. Thus far, it seems that those bans will stand, though there are efforts underway to undo some of those bans via voter initiative right now. 

In San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley — where marijuana activity is already regulated by local law — not a thing will change, as the statewide rules expressly allow a locality to do whatever it pleases with cannabis. The Bay Area is where California's reputation as the "Wild West of weed" rang the most hollow, and where the new statewide laws will probably matter the least.

Some other things to consider:

*Personal medical marijuana cultivation is limited to an area of no more than 500 square feet, with no more than five patients per collective garden. The days of posting dozens of recommendations on a wall and growing hundreds of plants are over... unless you get a license. This will no doubt anger many activists who — rightly — argue that a 2010 state Supreme Court decision struck down plant count and possession limits as unconstitutional.

*If someone is engaging in "commercial cannabis activity" without a license, they are no longer protected by state medical marijuana law. Violators can be prosecuted under the state's normal drug laws as if medical marijuana law never existed. 

*If your locality doesn't allow "commercial cannabis activity," it's a non-starter. Plant limits in individual counties will still apply.

*Nobody knows what the licenses will cost. That's going to be figured out by the new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, when it's set up and activated.

*There will be up to 17 different types of licenses. License-holders will be limited as to how many licenses they can hold as to oppose monopolies, however...

* ... a weed business in operation as-is as of July 1, 2015, will be able to continue as-is without much change. Meaning, if a dispensary currently has a farming operation and a testing lab, they should be able to keep both.

*There are going to be caps on how many licenses are given to large-scale cultivation facilities as well as hash oil labs. How big is the cap? We don't know yet.

*This has nothing to do with legalization, which may or may not happen next year.

But again, remember: Until the Bureau is set up and license fees are established and inspectors on the ground, you are able to go to the dispensary, work in the garden, and make concentrates just as you were before.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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