Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Everything You Know About Medical Marijuana in California is Wrong

The California Legislature has approved a trio of new laws that will completely change the way we regulate medical marijuana in the Golden State.  Forget everything that you thought you knew.

The new package of bills will collectively be called, "The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act".  It will create a comprehensive new system to govern virtually every aspect of California's medical marijuana industry. Growers, transporters, testers / inspectors, distributors and retail sales shops will all be required to hold specific state-issued licenses.  It also establishes a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs to enforce the new legislation.

If signed into law by Gov. Brown, the MMRSA will take effect on January 1, 2016.  Experts predict that it could take another year for the state to create the necessary infrastructure to actually begin implementing the law.  In the meantime, dispensaries that are currently operating in compliance with state and local laws may continue to do so until their new applications have been approved or denied.

The MMRSA will create a system by which state regulators will be able to track all medical marijuana, from cultivation to consumption.  It will require growers to send their finished products to licensed distributors.  The distributors will be responsible for having the cannabis tested and inspected at licensed facilities before sending it on to retailers.

Growers will be limited to one acre for outdoor cultivation or 22,000 square feet for indoor grow operations.

Under the old system, "vertical integration" had been mandatory -- a dispensary must cultivate, transport and distribute its own cannabis.  The new scheme actually limits the ability of license-holders to do so by placing restrictions on the number and type of permits that a single entity may hold.

The MMRSA will allow for-profit sales of marijuana for the first time.  It also contains a provision for licensing manufacturers who produce concentrates using volatile solvents, which is illegal under existing law.

Currently, collectives that operate in accordance with state law are shielded from prosecution under HS 11362.775 (also known as "SB-420", or "The Medical Marijuana Program Act").  The new scheme includes a sunset clause for these provisions.  HS 11362.775 will expire one year after the first new licenses are issued.

The MMRSA includes regulations for doctors who issue recommendations for medical marijuana. The medical board will now assign special priority to investigating physicians who repeatedly and excessively recommend marijuana to patients without first conducting an examination in good faith. Doctors will be prohibited from accepting or offering any sort of remuneration to or from a license-holder in which the doctor or a family member has a financial interest.

California is in dire need of a coherent, comprehensive regulatory scheme that protects patients and cannabis providers without imposing undue red tape and expenses.  The current state of affairs is not sustainable.  The multi-million-dollar market for medical marijuana in California no longer fits within the regulatory framework that the legislature envisioned when it passed SB-420.  Current laws are unclear and subject to conflicting interpretations by different judges in different courts. Federal prosecutors have said that they will not interfere with local operations that are "in clear and unambiguous" compliance with their state laws.  Unfortunately, nobody is in "clear and unambigious" compliance with medical marijuana laws in California because those laws are ambiguous and unclear in their meaning.

It remains to be seen whether or not this proposed system will help patients obtain their medical marijuana safely and affordably.  If the system is implemented in an efficient and effective manner, it could provide greater protection and reduce uncertainty for everyone involved in California's growing medical marijuana industry.  If the system is poorly managed or laden with excessive costs and bureaucratic ineptitude, it may drive consumers back to the black market, where no standards exist to ensure patient safety.

Stay tuned to see what happens when Californians vote to legalize recreational marijuana use next year...

Special thanks to OC NORML for contributing to my research.  

Santa Ana Cannabis Lawyer