California will need extensive regulatory oversight for cultivation, distribution and sales for pot intended for both social and medical use if voters approve recreational use of marijuana this year, according to a leading public policy group.
A 32-page report, released Wednesday evening by the Public Policy Institute of California, said the state will need to create “robust licensing and tracking systems” for all legal marijuana production and sales, similar to measures that have been enacted in Washington and Colorado.
Both of those states, which legalized recreational marijuana use in 2012, implemented “seed-to-sales” technology to track supply from pot producers to retail dispensaries selling cannabis products to both recreational and medical users.
Colorado uses a computerized monitoring system called the Marijuana Inventory Tracking System and Washington employes technology called BioTrack THC to track cultivation, production, testing and retail sales.
In California, Gov. Jerry Brown last year signed three medical marijuana regulation bills – Assembly bills 266 and 243 and Senate Bill 643 – to create 17 different marijuana business licenses under new state medical marijuana industry regulations.
However, details of the California rules still are to be drafted by a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation. The agency, which is being built, is to be funded by $10 million loaned by the state and repaid in yet-to-be specified taxes and fees on cannabis businesses.
Patrick Murphy, co-author of the PPIC report and the organization’s research director, said the state would be best served by undertaking meticulous and thorough industry regulations from the start.
“California should err on the side of more restrictive regulation,” Murphy said in a statement. “The fundamental fact is, from a political perspective, it would be easier to loosen a tight market than tighten a loose one.”
The analysis prepared by the nonpartisan policy group makes no recommendation on whether California voters should expand marijuana legalization to include recreational use.
But it recommends developing “an accurate, practical test for marijuana that can withstand court scrutiny” in cases of drivers impaired by pot, should expanded legalization win voter approval.
The initiative most likely to reach the November ballot, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, is financially backed by former Facebook president Sean Parker. It would allow adults 21 years and older to possess, use and share up to an ounce of marijuana while imposing a 15 percent excise tax on all retail sales plus separate cultivation taxes on commercial marijuana growers.
The initiative maintains current laws against driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, including marijuana, but imposes no specific pot impairment standard.
The initiative would replace the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation with an overall marijuana regulation agency under the state Department of Consumer Affairs that would be called the Bureau of Marijuana Control.
Under either regulatory framework, the PPIC report said, California will be tested to decide the scale and location of marijuana production facilities.
The United States Justice Department has called for states to enact and enforce “robust” governance of state pot operations.
The report warns that granting unlimited marijuana business licenses could overwhelm California’s government oversight and “strain regulatory enforcement.” It also says sharply restricting licenses could perpetuate a marijuana black market by curbing opportunities “to bring participants in the illegal industry into the legal fold.”