Regulating marijuana in California proves complex


Last update: October 24, 2017


On Election Day, November 8, 2016, voters across the country ushered in a historic wave of marijuana policy reform victories, including California’s adoption of Proposition 64, also known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). AUMA ends marijuana prohibition in the Golden State and replaces it with a more sensible system that will regulate, tax, and treat marijuana similarly to alcohol. This historic step adds the country’s most populous state to the ranks of those that regulate and tax marijuana for use by adults 21 and over.

The landscape of marijuana-related laws is ever-shifting. Gov. Jerry Brown is urging that conflicts between California’s medical and recreational marijuana laws be resolved by the end of 2017. The governor’s office published recommendations for how to merge differences in medical and recreational laws, with commentary ranging from how many licenses marijuana business owners can hold to how marijuana should be distributed.

California is making headway in creating a system to regulate the legal use of marijuana. This year’s state budget includes a trailer bill designed to address a number of implementation issues raised by the passage of the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act in 2015 and Proposition 64 in November 2016.

The legislature introduced SB-94, which proposed an interconnected framework for regulation of medical and adult-use marijuana. SB-94 does not require medical and adult-use operations to work in separate locations, does not limit who could transport marijuana to market, and allows for the formation of co-ops. The California Growers Association called the bill “a thoughtful and robust foundation for a well-regulated cannabis marketplace in California.” On June 27, 2017, the bill was approved by the governor.

After enactment of SB-94, the new Bureau of Cannabis Control began writing the rules necessary to implement licensing and regulation of medical marijuana and adult-use marijuana businesses. The first draft of these rules is expected in November 2017. The first licenses are expected to be issued January 1, 2018.

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The current legal status of marijuana in California


Until the 2016 Election Day vote, possessing up to an ounce or less of marijuana was a civil infraction similar to a speeding ticket. Following the vote, possession of an ounce or less and the secure cultivation of up to six plants is lawful for all adults 21 and over.

While California had already reduced penalties before the vote, the state still punished tens of thousands of responsible adults each year for possessing a substance that is objectively safer than both alcohol and tobacco. A study released by the Drug Policy Foundation reported that despite the reduction in penalties, state law enforcement still arrested over half a million people in the past 10 years on marijuana-related charges, a huge number of which are minorities.

Now, California can stop wasting precious resources on citing, arresting, and prosecuting marijuana offenders, while ensuring the profits of marijuana sales go to responsible businesses and state budgets, instead of the pockets of criminals! Prop. 64 should be fully implemented by 2018.

At the same time, the state’s medical marijuana protections continue, and a regulatory system is being implemented for medical marijuana businesses. According to the state tax board, under Prop. 64, patients with a state ID card will immediately be exempt from sales taxes.

Timeline of marijuana policy reform in California


1996: Voters approved the Compassionate Use Act, allowing for the medical use of marijuana

2003: California’s legislature expanded the state’s medical marijuana law to allow patients and caregivers to collectively or cooperatively cultivate marijuana

2015: California’s legislature enacted a licensing and regulatory system for medical marijuana businesses

2016: Voters approved a ballot initiative legalizing marijuana for adults and establishing a regulated marijuana market

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