With four months left until full legalization, the apparatus to regulate commercial cannabis sales in California is being built on the fly.
Some 82 people must be hired. Software must be written to accept applications of thousands of entrepreneurs hoping to legally sell marijuana. Regulations governing sales aren’t fully cooked.
Welcome to Lori Ajax’s world. She is the director of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (formerly the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation aka BMCR or, colloquially, “Bummer”), having worked 22 years at the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. She freely admits that California’s regulatory scheme is a work in progress.
That’s to be expected, though it’s also a cause for concern. Voters legalized recreational use through Proposition 64 last November, setting an ambitious deadline of January 2018 for retail sales to begin. Like most initiatives, the measure – promoted by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and largely funded by entrepreneurs who intend to profit from legalized weed – left the details to be worked out by others. Legislation passed as part of the 2017-18 budget filled in some blanks, but much more remains to be determined:
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▪ California growers produce far more marijuana than residents use. However, it’s not clear there will be enough that has been properly tested for pesticides, mold and potency for retailers to sell starting on Jan. 2.
▪ UC San Diego is studying when users can and cannot safely drive; the results are at least a year away.
▪ The state has not yet started accepting license applications. That won’t begin until the end of the year. So licenses will be temporary because the state won’t have time to check individuals’ backgrounds – which is necessary under the proposition.
Officials in Stanislaus County and many of its cities have begun working on local regulations, but there is little agreement between them. Many fear cities will begin competing with each other to attract taxable retail sales – one lowering the tax rate after the other to get them. Already, some 25 dispensaries – including one calling itself a church – are selling weed in and around Modesto. And that doesn’t count the delivery services. In Merced, one online app shows six locations – from Delhi to Atwater to Merced – where it can be purchased with a medical card.
Yet, few of California’s 58 counties and 482 cities have actual working on ordinances on the books to implement the initiative, and that could be a problem said Tim Cromartie of the League of California Cities.
Under the initiative, he said, the state could receive a request for a license to open a store in a particular jurisdiction, and conceivably approve that license within 60 days if locals have no ordinances preventing it.
Ajax anticipates a tourist trade will arise in California, just as it has in Colorado and Washington. Some bed-and-breakfast operators have suggested “bud and breakfasts,” for example. That raises a health-related incongruity.
California has a strict a statewide ban on smoking cigarettes and vaping in workplaces, including bars and restaurants. But smoking or vaping weed apparently would be permitted at cannabis retailers, if local authorities grant permits for on-site use. We hope that never happens.
Proposition 64’s backers promised the initiative would create a safe and comprehensive system allowing adult use of marijuana while keeping it away from kids. Those who opposed the legalization – ignoring dispensaries already operating in their midst – feared the proposition would create a free-for-all.
Without action soon, those fears will be realized.