California Reacts to New Medical Cannabis Regulations


In the immortal words of Vice President Joe Biden: “You know, this is a big fucking deal.”

The California cannabis industry and patients continue to digest three massive new laws signed Friday by Governor Brown to regulate medical cannabis for the first time.

Mostly, the opinions are positive, though plenty of patients, growers, and collectives have problems with various aspects of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA).

Legislative Harvest: the 2015 crop will be among the last to lack a track and track system. - DAVID DOWNS
  • David Downs
  • Legislative Harvest: the 2015 crop will be among the last to lack a track and track system.

First off, East Bay Assemblymember Rob Bonta secured a major piece of his legacy with the passage of the act. Bonta wrote:

“Patients will have assurances that their products are safe. Law enforcement will have a foundation for identifying drugged drivers and increased funding to protect the public. The environment will be protected from neglect, destruction, and water diversion. And the medical marijuana industry itself will be able to come out of the shadows and receive the same protections under the law as other state-licensed businesses, creating jobs and contributing to the economy.”

[Listen to Legalization Nation editor David Downs discuss the regulations on KQED's The California Report.]

The bills’ passage is also proof that California can still tackle real problems. Assembly Speaker Toni Atkins stated: “[F]rom the very first day of the Legislative session, the Assembly sent a clear message: this is the year we will pass a smart and comprehensive framework to regulate the industry. The Act Governor Brown signed today is the final step in fulfilling that commitment.”

Co-author Assemblymember Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova) called the process “historic for its method —- robust and extensive engagement with a team of lawmakers and staff who spent thousands of hours refining the language with the input of stakeholders, Assembly and Senate leadership, and the sage guidance of the Governor himself.”

Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), the only Republican author of AB 266, emphasized how the legislation improves public safety. “For nearly 20 years, California has not had a statewide strategy for curbing drugged driving (DUID). Today that begins to change as the University of California will begin critical research on marijuana-impaired driving which will lead to better roadside tools for law enforcement."

California Cannabis Industry Association lobbyist Nate Bradley celebrated a new, more legal phase for the industry: “California will now be able to take it’s rightful place as the center of investment and innovation in the cannabis economy. … Today’s signing represents the most significant victory for the industry since WA and CO legalized recreational use in 2012.”

The new regulations should mark the beginning of the end of federal raids on lawful operators in the state, he said. “We believe this should bring an end to federal interference with businesses that are in compliance with state regulations.”

Dale Gieringer from California NORML encouraged all cannabis businesses to begin complying with regulations to assure their future. The bills promise to kick off the biggest round of industry outreach to local officials in medical marijuana's 20-year history: “Cal NORML strongly advises anyone who wants to participate in the legal marijuana industry - medical or otherwise -  to prepare by (1) registering with the Board of Equalization, and (2) securing permits from their local governments, or, if those aren't available, calling on their local governments to establish a permit process.”

Lauren Vazquez for Marijuana Policy Project noted that many patients were left behind enemy lines in prohibition counties such as Fresno. They have no dispensaries and face cultivation bans as well:

“We hope localities that have banned medical marijuana establishments will rethink their policies now that these establishments have clear and uniform rules to follow. Seriously ill patients in many of these areas are being forced to travel many miles to legally obtain medical marijuana. Communities should be working to make life easier for their most vulnerable citizens, not placing additional burdens on them.”

One affected patient is Fresno activist Bud Green who wrote on Facebook: "[D]ual licensing, which will unleash a frenzy of state/local license applications in other parts of California while leaving Fresno-area patients and businesses in the dark. That seems to be just fine with state lawmakers, and Gov. Brown, and UFCW/Teamsters, and a new generation of growers and dispensary owners already scheming for new licenses, all bought and paid for with the spoils of their currently unregulated 'non-profits.' But, hey, we get an advisory task force, maybe, to develop 'best practices' for the many, many Fresnos in California that won't like MMRSA any more than you will. " 

California has world's largest and oldest medical cannabis market estimated at $1.3 billion in annual sales and nearly half the legal US market.

Hezekiah Allen from the Emerald Growers Association celebrated the unprecedented giveaways to small farmers in the laws. In a telling development, small farmers on the political left and police on the political are uniting to block “Big Marijuana” in California.

"The legislation is very strong on protections for independent businesses,” Allen said. "By preventing the consolidation of large conglomerates, the legislation creates opportunity for existing independent businesses to transition to regulation. It is important to the success of this program that it be accessible to currently operating cannabis businesses. Otherwise, this legislation will have little effect.”

The legislative package is also one of the biggest wins for organized labor in modern times. All medi-pot businesses of twenty or more employees must have a “labor neutrality agreement” or face license revocation.

Jim Araby, executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council stated: “Consumers deserve to know they are getting safe products, and will receive the products they pay for. Workers who can speak up with confidence provide a much-needed line of defense to protect consumers. With these bills signed, UFCW will be assessing how the proposed 2016 cannabis ballot measures have the potential to move the industry forward in an open, transparent way.”

Assemblymember Bonta concluded, “The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act was just the beginning. The Legislature must continue to lead as California implements this bill. I commit to working with state agencies, local governments, and businesses across the state to make this new system a success.”

Americans for Safe Access will hold a “What’s Next for Medical Cannabis… Regulation, Legalization, and More” webinar on Thursday, October 15.

The MMRSA takes effect on January 1.

Seeds & Stems:
One minor oversight in the new regulations — the acronyms.

The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) sounds a lot like a deadly antibiotic resistant staph infection MRSA.

And the new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (BMMR) reads a lot like “Bummer”.

The acronyms will probably not be a target for clean-up language.