Legislative Affairs and the Legal Future of Cannabis

The legal landscape of medical cannabis is changing rapidly in California.

And when 2018 rolls in, cannabis growers or cannabis-related businesses that wants to survive will have to be licensed and regulated by the state just like any other business.

In 1996, California’s historic Proposition 215 was enacted, allowing patients with a doctor recommendation, and the patients’ primary caregivers, to possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use.

But when Prop 215 became law it lacked sound rules and a comprehensive regulatory framework, and for almost 20 years the cultivation of cannabis has operated in a gray legal area riddled with confusion and misinformation.

This lack of guidance from the state perpetuated a black market and pushed counties and municipalities to adopt ineffective nuisance and abatement laws to help control issues stemming from an unregulated industry.

The days of black market antics, however, are numbered.

With the help of a diverse group of stakeholders, including the California Growers Association, the state created and adopted three medical cannabis regulation bills in 2015 that would end an era of ambiguity and would bring cannabis-related businesses into a black-and-white regulatory framework, addressing environmental impact, public safety, proper labeling, and nuisance concerns, among many other issues prohibitionists cite.

The bills call for the creation of different business licenses and establish a for-profit commercial industry.

As with any other professional, licensed industry with the potential for abuse — be it CPA’s, nurses, contractors, real estate agents, electricians, etc. — licenses provide standards for best practices: where to operate, what to do, and most importantly what not to do.

For example, with land use, poultry farms or restaurants are not allowed to operate in residential neighborhoods, neither should commercial cannabis farms.

With licenses there are now real consequences to businesses that don’t operate properly. Breaking the rules can cause a business to lose its license and subject it to civil fines and criminal charges.

A new Bureau of Medical Marijuana is still hashing out the details of the rules. The new agency will be funded by taxes and fees generated by the cannabis industry.

For Nevada County, this means government agencies can now make the distinction between licensed and unlicensed businesses, and point their public safety and other resources to those businesses that don’t abide by the new rules.

For medical cannabis farmers it is critical to participate in the conversation that will ultimately help shape the business environment in which they’ll have to operate.

The Nevada County Cannabis Alliance seeks to have the same level of involvement crafting sensible policy at the local level as Cal Growers did with the state. It’s already working with community leaders to allow local farmers and future legitimate businesses the opportunity to comply with the new laws.

At the local level, the Alliance is also working with community leaders to create solutions to problems created by an unregulated industry. The Alliance is making recommendations for an ordinance that would bring into compliance a large majority of cannabis farmers in Nevada County so they can participate in the emerging legal market. A licensing and permitting structure would also eliminate problems of public safety, environmental issues and youth access.

About MMRSA:

The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) took effect on January 1, 2016. MMRSA is a statewide effort to regulate cannabis and creates a for-profit commercial industry.

MMRSA establishes the legal framework needed to add cannabis as an agricultural commodity. The Department of Food and Agriculture will be the primary agency to implement the new rules, assisted by other state agencies that will help establish guidelines for pesticide application as well as water usage..

Under the new rules there will be 10 different types of licenses for cultivation, ranging from small-scale cottage farms to larger-scale commercial grows. Local ordinances could spell out what license is appropriate for their area.

The new regulations require farmers to sell their crop to a licensed third-party, or distributor, responsible for lab testing and quality control and for getting it to licensed dispensaries. Every flower produced will be tracked from seed to sell with the intent of identifying contamination sources and other pollutants that may show up in testing.

Just like any other product intended for adult use, MMRSA empowers the departments of public health and consumer affairs to develop strict requirements for labeling, to make it less attractive and less accessible to children.

Top five benefits of becoming a licensed business:

  • Be legitimate: Growers can now operate as a legal business, pay taxes and no longer carry the shame or stigma of being a criminal.
  • Protection versus persecution from law enforcement. Legitimate businesses have rights like any other legal entity.
  • An open market encourages professionalism, safety and reduces black market operations.
  • Qualified labor: Businesses can draw from a pool of registered skilled labor rather than strangers with no accountability.
  • Heritage farmers have an opportunity to continue being a part of the industry and avoid being replaced by big businesses.