On July 13, California’s three state cannabis-licensing authorities—the Bureau of Cannabis Control, the California Department of Food and Agriculture, and the California Department of Public Health—announced the publication of proposed “non-emergency” regulations that would replace the rules under which the state’s marijuana industry has been operating.
Voters passed Proposition 64 in November 2016, legalizing the sale and use of recreational cannabis in California as of Jan. 1, 2018—meaning there was only a little more than a year to create an entire state agency, licensing guidelines and regulatory processes.
Given the size of this task—and the size of this state—it’s no surprise that California has gotten off to a bumpy start. High taxes, both on the state and local level, are a major problem. In Washington, Oregon and Colorado, marijuana consumers saw a drop in the price of cannabis for the recreational user as soon as the supply chain was able to catch up to demand—so much so, in fact, that the black and gray markets were largely put out of business.
In California, this has not been the case. Because of both the incredibly high taxes on legal weed and the big production costs California’s state regulations have created, legal marijuana has remained expensive—so the illegal cannabis market has been able to maintain lower prices and, therefore, flourish. Non-licensed retailers have also thrived, providing customers with much lower prices than the licensed competition. (In some parts of the state, I have heard of regulators not realizing that a shop is unlicensed until they asked to see permits.) On the Bureau of Cannabis Control’s own Facebook page, the day the new regulations were announced, people were bragging and/or complaining that they have returned to the black market.
Medical-marijuana patients are also suffering under these taxes, and many have had to return to the illegal market in order afford the medicine they need to control their very serious medical issues. Small growers who have been in the cannabis industry for decades have suffered and been driven out of business because of the onerous regulations placed on them—and as of July 1, a number of dispensaries were stuck with inventory that was all of a sudden illegal for them to sell, because it did not meet state standards.
Thankfully, it seems like Lori Ajax, the chief of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), recognizes that there have been problems, and she seems to be interested in fixing them. The proposed regulations, which can be viewed here, are now open to a 45-day public-comment period. State law stipulates that the non-emergency regulations must be in place by the end of the year.
I find some portions of the new regulations to be very encouraging. I am still in the process of digesting the information that the BCC wants to be able to award research funding. One of my biggest beefs with the medical-cannabis industry is its promotion of cannabis as a cure-all for many ailments, when there are so few peer-reviewed studies regarding the medical benefits of marijuana. This is not necessarily the industry’s fault—federal law has essentially prohibited the use of marijuana for all purposes, including scientific ones—so the state’s possible foray into scientific research funding is a step in the right direction.
The new regulations also get rid of the necessity for establishments to have two sets of licenses; as of now, dispensaries need one for medical marijuana, and one for recreational adult use. With only a few differences in the requirements, it seems unnecessary to require businesses to apply for two types of licenses to sell the same product.
I also find the proposed codification of enforcement to be encouraging. Under the emergency regulations, there was no significant list of grounds for disciplinary action, meaning each licensing authority had the ability to discipline on a case-by-case basis—a system that is open to abuses. The proposed regulations will create a framework for licensing authorities to use when initiating or undertaking enforcement.
Unfortunately, the BCC is proposing to keep in place its requirements around packaging. Retailers would still not be able to package product onsite, and would still be required to place cannabis products in a resealable child-resistant opaque package before customers leave the store. This requirement has always seemed rather ridiculous: If the goal is to protect children, why do we not see these same sorts of requirements around tobacco and liquor? Given California’s push for a greener future, adding a new type of plastic waste feels counterproductive.
While I believe the Legislature still needs to step in to make some legal changes to ensure California’s cannabis industry—particularly small and minority-owned businesses—can thrive, these new regulations are a start.
Any interested party is encouraged to participate in the public-comment process—although consider yourself warned that reading through the proposed rule changes is not an easy process. (The Initial Statement of Reasons from the BCC is 567 pages long!) Comments on the proposed regulations are being accepted in both writing (via email or snail mail) and at public hearings throughout the state, comments cannot be made by phone. The closest hearings will be held in Los Angeles and Riverside (find a list here), so written comments may be a Coachella Valley resident’s best bet. Regarding BCC regulations, comments can be sent to firstname.lastname@example.org; in the subject line, type in the subject of the proposed regulation to which the comments apply. You can make your comment either in the body of the email or as an attached document. Physical mail can be sent to: Lori Ajax, Chief, Bureau of Cannabis Control, P.O. Box 419106, Rancho Cordova, CA, 95741. All information submitted becomes public information—so don’t include anything you want to remain confidential.