California began their journey with medical marijuana back in 1996, when the state became the first in the U.S. to legalize medical marijuana. In the decades since, the California cannabis industry has grown to include over a million patients, generating billions of dollars in collective sales since the program started. The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, recently renamed the Bureau of Cannabis Control, is California’s cannabis regulatory agency. They oversee the rules and regulations of the cannabis industry, hear from special committees and policy groups, and administer licenses for businesses in the cannabis sector, among other things.
The Adult Use of Cannabis Act
The passage of the Adult Use of Cannabis Act in 2016 meant California joined seven states and the District of Columbia in legalizing the possession and use of marijuana for adults 21 and older. Yet, this also meant the state would have to develop plans, execute, and oversee two concurrent marijuana programs – both still illegal at the federal level – while respecting the different public safety and health pathways within each respective industry. After all, medical patients generally have more specific needs, potentially in larger quantities, than their recreational counterpart.
California will have to streamline the program, implement a comprehensive statewide seed-to-sale tracking system, and design a uniform process of manufacturing or otherwise processing cannabis or cannabis-infused products. All an effect of the California Legislature passing the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA) in June 2017. The MAUCRSA makes several efforts to keep medical and recreational marijuana markets distinct, though items such as laboratory testing, distribution or delivery, and other necessary efforts to protect public safety are made more uniform help to promote continued normalization of cannabis into the robust Californian economy as the industry scales.
Deadline Approaching Fast? Declare an Emergency
The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, working in conjunction with the California Department of Public Health and the Department of Food and Agriculture, spent nearly a year compiling over 200 pages of regulations for the medical cannabis industry in California. The proposed rules for the medical cannabis industry were released in late April 2017. The same three governmental agencies are charged with developing regulations for the recreational cannabis industry.
The proposed rules were met with some criticism and were opened up to the public for comment across California. From Los Angeles to Eureka, the agencies overseeing cannabis industry met with patients, business owners, caregivers, medical professionals, and beyond, connecting thousands of potential changes and efficiencies via public input. However, in late July, the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation released a statement suggesting enough edits had to be made to the proposed rules, it is more likely the state meets the January 1st, 2018 deadline set forth by the MAUCRSA if the agencies start anew.
The procedure allowing such a massive rewrite to occur, unfortunately, comes with a bit of negative baggage – public hearings are suspended. Termed as an “emergency rulemaking process”, the discord between the medical cannabis rules released in April and the industry as envisioned by patients, businesses, and the MAUCRSA itself can now be reconciled more favorably.
When asked about the suspension of the public hearing process, the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation spokesperson Alex Traverso communicated that hearings would resume after the regulations are in place. “We will likely do public comment after the fact to get input as we know the fine-tuning will continue to be a process,” said Traverso, according to the Cannabist. Any public commentary the Bureau has received previous to the announcement will get a response from state officials, Traverso citing them as “extremely useful”.
Learn From Mistakes and Make Improvements
The cannabis industry in California is undoubtedly the largest legal market in the US, if not the world. California’s population is seven times that of Colorado and ten times Oregon’s population. In an attempt to learn from the states who came before, the California Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, among other governmental organizations, is attempting to set up a program which will avoid negative impacts to businesses and the community.
For instance, Oregon had opted to create a sort of gap-license, allowing medical marijuana dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana while the state fully crafted the rules for the recreational program. Unfortunately, the process of issuing licenses under their expedited timeline failed to give testing laboratories the time to be properly licensed. This caused severe backlogs of products to be tested, squeezing the supply of products available for recreational sales across Oregon. The Bureau aims to avoid this in California by working to ensure the state has enough testing facilities licensed by the time the recreational program starts.
The Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation is expected to release rules for both medical and recreational markets sometime this fall, with no specific date set for their publication.
Article By: Joey Wells