Legislators in Sacramento recently approved Gov. Jerry Brown’s budget bill, and when they did, they also created a single, unified system for all commercial marijuana activity in the state.
Beginning Jan. 2, 2018, any adult 21 and over will be able to buy recreational marijuana in retail shops licensed under the Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. Medical patients 18 and up, and younger if accompanied by a parent, will be able to do the same thing — in shops with licenses from the same agency.
For almost three years, lawmakers have been grappling with how to regulate and tax the state’s massive marijuana industry — a series of negotiations requiring a delicate balancing act between the needs and desires of the state’s massive marijuana industry, powerful lobbies (including law enforcement and prison guards) and a somewhat leery public with concerns about roadway, product safety and child endangerment.
In 2015, lawmakers finally approved a framework for regulating medical marijuana — the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act — but before a single license could be issued, voters legalized recreational marijuana for all adults 21 and over. While similar in size and scope, there were some key conflicts between the MCRSA and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which touched off another seven months of negotiations.
As before, all commercial marijuana activity in the state will require a state license, though medical-marijuana patients will still be allowed to cultivate and distribute cannabis without a license as long as no money is exchanged.
Cannabis will be tested for contaminants like pesticides and mold, and permit holders will be subject to inspections and owe taxes.
On the ground, the dispensary experience won’t change much — whether someone is a medical cannabis patient or a retail marijuana customer. Dispensaries will also be able to cater to both medical patients and retail customers, although they will be required to obtain separate licenses for each business.
Beyond that, much of what the marijuana industry already knew was coming with regulation — various license types, licensee sizes and applicant requirements — remains unchanged.
Other highlights of the MAUCRSA include:
• Organic cannabis and wine-like appellations: There’s currently no such thing as “organic marijuana,” since the label “organic” is issued by the USDA — a federal agency. Now, by 2021, the California Department of Food and Agriculture will “develop an organic designation for cannabis” as well as distinct cannabis “regions” in a manner similar to Napa and Sonoma wines.
• Taxes: Everybody’s favorite. All cannabis will be subject to the two taxes created by Prop. 64; a cultivation tax of $9.35 per ounce of flowers and a 15 percent excise tax.
• No open containers: There’s a new infraction for drivers who have an open container of marijuana in a vehicle, but there’s also an exemption for medical marijuana patients.
• Weed and driving: $3 million goes to the California Highway Patrol to develop standards for “stoned driving,” and there’s a new Driving Under the Influence of Drugs Task Force assigned to the issue as well.
• Deliveries: Are legal and require a license. Anyone delivering cannabis will need a dispensary permit, but they can keep the physical location closed to the public and distribute by delivery only.
• Cannabis expos and county fairs: Are legal — temporary permits will be available to one-off events or farmers’ markets.
• Commercial cannabis cooperatives: California farmers often create commercial coops for milk, butter, wine and cheese — and they’ll be able to do the same with cannabis, though cultivation will be limited to a maximum of four acres. But as any farmer knows, four acres is thousands and thousands of plants.
For a full rundown, check out the bill here.
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