Pubdate: Thu, 17 Sep 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

A New Weed Era: California Regulates Cannabis.


Nothing like a deadline to get something done. Just ask state lawmakers.

After years of stalemate, the Legislature just barely beat a midnight 
deadline last week to approve a set of laws that dictate how medical 
cannabis can be grown, processed, and sold in California. (How you 
use it is still up to you.)

This means California, which has allowed access to medical marijuana 
since a 1996 ballot initiative, now has answers as to "how" cannabis 
is supposed to be supplied.

It also means that even more investors are hungrily eyeing the 
state's multibillion-dollar cannabis industry for opportunities. Up 
to two-thirds of the country's cannabis is grown here, and with an 
estimated 1.1 million medical marijuana users in the state (and 
untold more using the drug illegally) the Golden State is an enormous market.

At the same time, many existing marijuana enterprises are consulting 
lawyers to figure out if they can stay in business, and if so, how. 
(The short answer: Anyone currently in business can stay open until 
at least 2018.) With legalization of recreational marijuana likely to 
go before voters next fall, there's a real sense of urgency before 
the inevitable explosion.

But what does this all mean for the public? For now, very little, 
whether or not cannabis is part of your lifestyle.

The regulatory package cobbled together by Assemblymen Rob Bonta 
(D-Alameda), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), Ken Cooley 
(D-Rancho Cordova), Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), and state Sen. Mike 
McGuire (D-Healdsburg) passes on the rulemaking to a new Bureau of 
Medical Marijuana Enforcement. Once written, rules won't be enforced 
for several years.

However, a few things are clear.

Cannabis is a for-profit enterprise.

These bills expressly allow retail sales of cannabis, something that 
was always hotly contested by law enforcement. Many cops and 
prosecutors argued that weed could only be given away - and to this 
day, some dispensaries call the money you fork over for an eighth a "donation."

Sorry, prohibitionists: The industry is here to stay, and it will 
only get bigger.

Prop. 215 patients have nothing to worry about.

The rules repeal Senate Bill 420, which stated patients could 
"associate collectively" to cultivate marijuana. This is a good thing.

Instead of nonprofit dispensaries trying desperately and creatively 
to hide their money, storefronts can behave like real businesses, and 
groups of up to five patients are expressly allowed to band together 
and grow cannabis for themselves (provided they do not sell it). 
Whether or not this will solve cannabis's banking problem - nearly 
all banks reject deposits from cannabis businesses - is unclear.

Marijuana will be taxed more.

Currently, state sales tax is paid on cannabis sold in a dispensary. 
Under the new rules, local taxes levied by cities or counties will be 
added on top of state sales tax.

Nearly anyone will be able to access marijuana.

Accessing medical marijuana is simple, fast, and relatively cheap. 
This has been one of law enforcement's chief beefs with Prop. 215 
from the start.

On this, law enforcement has lost. Physicians will be able to write 
medical marijuana recommendations in the same way they can now - and, 
in fact, stricter controls were abandoned after opposition from the 
California Medical Association.

You need a license.

All "commercial cannabis activity" will require a state license. 
There will be licenses for dispensaries, deliveries, transporters, 
manufacturers and processors, testing labs, and distributors. And 
what, exactly, is a distributor?

Marijuana now has a middleman.

Growers won't be able to vend directly to a dispensary. All cannabis 
will have to pass through the hands of a distributor, who will 
receive product from a grower before it's then transported to a seller.

In other words, marijuana middlemen are now mandated by the law of the land.

This should sound familiar: it's how alcohol is distributed in 
California. Safeway doesn't buy Lagunitas directly from the brewer - 
it goes through a distributor.

Insiders involved with the process say this new requirement is thanks 
to the Teamsters union, which has a Warehouse Division ideally suited 
to take on the distribution of cannabis.

The Teamsters saw the United Food and Commercial Workers - so far the 
only labor union to organize marijuana workers - helping write the 
cannabis industry's rules. They apparently smelled opportunity and 
demanded their cut. And unless this requirement is changed, they 
appear to have received it.

Deliveries were targeted.

If cannabis dispensary storefronts are an unregulated Wild West, 
marijuana delivery services are pure First International-grade anarchy.

Even in places with regulated dispensaries, like San Francisco, 
unlicensed delivery services have proliferated for years, with few 
penalties from authorities.

This is slowly changing - and just in time, as more venture 
capital-backed software companies attempt to disrupt the weed delivery game.

The bans stand.

Nearly half of California's cities and counties restrict or ban 
outright marijuana sales or cultivation, according to the League of 
California Cities - and those bans will remain.

A 2013 California Supreme Court decision upheld the right of 
localities to set their own rules about weed. That right is codified 
in the bills.

But if marijuana cultivation is expressly allowed for patients and if 
communities can expressly ban it - what does that mean? A good 
question for an attorney, and one that will likely end up in court.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom