In 1996, California became the first state to legalize medicinal marijuana with the passing of Proposition 215. Since then, there have been few regulations and much confusion over the technical aspects of licensing, taxing, growing, and distributing marijuana. This recently prompted the creation of three separate bills designed to increase safety and clarity regarding the issue: Assembly Bill 266, Assembly Bill 243, and Senate Bill 643. These bills are collectively known as the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA).
State legislature passed the act in September of 2015, and it was signed by Governor Jerry Brown on October 9, 2015. Since many of its main components are not scheduled to take effect until 2018, it may be quite some time before we can truly understand the potential ramifications of the MMRSA. While many critics say that the act cancels out many freedoms previously offered under Prop 215, a large majority are simply grateful to have some sort of framework being put into place.
Assembly Bill 266: New Laws and Licensing
This proponent of the MMRSA has many details and serves to clarify issues that were either previously unaddressed or inappropriately handled. The biggest punch that AB 266 packs is the creation of 17 new licenses that those involved in the cannabis industry will be subject to, including licenses regarding cultivation, manufacturing, dispensaries, distribution, and transportation. It also calls for the creation of a new agency within the state Department of Consumer Affairs called the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (BMMR).
AB 266 also allows certified organic labeling to be monitored by the Department of Food and Agriculture. Delivery of medical cannabis will be available in certain areas, in addition to clear black and white guidelines for local law enforcement to follow and additional protection for medical marijuana doctors in California. Individual counties and cities will now be able to legally ban the sale and cultivation of medical marijuana, although the governor hopes that the MMRSA will encourage more municipalities to participate.
Assembly Bill 243: Funding and License Types
The smallest of the three bills, AB 243 is set to provide 10 million dollars in funding for the creation of the BMMR (derived from licensing fees.) AB 243 also details ten specific licensing categories for growing operations, differentiating between methods, size, and purpose. Strict regulations are expected to be enforced regarding canopy cover and square acreage of these growing operations.
Senate Bill 643: Involvement of State Departments
Exploring uncharted territory, California’s Department of Public Health will be responsible for regulating the manufacture and testing of medical marijuana. The findings from these tests may very well play a large role in legalization on a national level. Additionally, the University of California is expected to begin researching the effects of driving while under the influence of marijuana and developing tools to help law enforcement tackle the issue.
Medical marijuana doctors will be able to have no more than five marijuana patients at the same time, which many fear will lead to a shortage of available prescriptions. Growers will now be able to sue for trademark violations and all licensees involved in the industry will be required to provide fingerprints and submit to a background check. The Department of Food and Agriculture will regulate cultivation, and the governor will be responsible for appointing a chief to the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (subject to approval by the Senate.)
While it will be some time before we will fully see the ramifications of the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, Governor Jerry Brown reminds the public that this is unbroken ground and there will inevitably be details that will require some ironing out and rethinking.