California’s billion-dollar medical cannabis industry, for years overseen by local governments that complained about an anything-goes environment, will come under a statewide regulatory system through a package of bills Gov. Jerry Brown signed on Friday, calling the framework “long-overdue.”
“This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system,” Brown wrote in a signing statement.
Brown’s endorsement of the sweeping package came nearly two decades after California legalized medical marijuana – a period in which cities and counties have struggled to regulate proliferating dispensaries and vast outdoor grow sites – and just over a year before a ballot measure seeking full legalization will almost certainly go before California voters.
Many of the new regulations won’t become operational until 2018, but Brown noted he would direct state agencies responsible for managing different aspects of the cannabis industry to “begin working immediately with experts and stakeholders on crafting clear guidelines.”
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The bills will create an intricate system of testing and licensing, with different agencies tasked with overseeing everything from cultivation to transport and sale. Under a dual-licensure system that compels industry members to obtain both state and local permits, cities and counties can maintain bans and restrictions on medical cannabis.
Rules governing pesticides and water discharge will apply to cannabis, newly classified as an agricultural product. Brown directly addressed pot’s ecological implications in a signing message, saying he would direct the state Natural Resources Agency to “identify projects to begin the restoration of our most impacted areas in the state.”
“Unregulated marijuana cultivation poses one of the greatest threats to our fish and wildlife in the state,” Brown wrote.
Year after year, broad regulatory bills failed in the Legislature. But this year’s effort garnered the necessary votes thanks to the support of law enforcement and cities, who emphasized the need for lawmakers to create a framework before voters potentially do; an increased lobbying presence from the cannabis industry; and the late involvement of Brown’s office.
The new laws could offer California a reprieve from raids on dispensaries and other federal crackdowns. After voters in Washington and Colorado legalized medical marijuana in 2012, the federal Department of Justice issued a memo suggesting it would refrain from targeting states with “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems” that “contain robust controls and procedures on paper” while also being “effective in practice” – language Brown intentionally echoed in his signing message.
“This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice,” Brown wrote.
Despite the efforts of advocacy groups like the NAACP, people convicted of certain felonies will be barred from obtaining licenses.