New Regulations for California’s Medical Marijuana Industry – Part 1

This is part of a series of posts on changes to the California Medical Marijuana industry. In part two, we will discuss the specific provisions California Medical Marijuana and Safety Act (MMRSA), including the seventeen (!) different types of licenses which will be issued by various public agencies.

History of Medical Marijuana Regulations in California

Medical marijuana has been legal in California since 1996 when voters passed the Compassionate Use Act (“CUA”). In 2003, the legislature passed Senate Bill 420 to clarify some of the provisions of the CUA, including authorizing the California Department of Public Health to issue statewide identification cards identifying patients who have received a doctor’s recommendation for medical marijuana. Since 2004, some 84,111 Californians have obtained a Medical Marijuana Identification card allowing them to purchase, possess, and grow limited amounts of marijuana under California law.[1]
However, while the laws for patients have been relatively clear and uniform, the law for doctors, growers, and dispensaries has not. They have faced a hodge podge of differing requirements in cities and counties and have had no centralized state authority to operate, which forced those individuals to operate under a cloud of uncertainty and the threat of federal enforcement. Meanwhile, this atmosphere has had repercussions on patients – causing disruptions in their ability to obtain medical marijuana, etc. In short, the situation wasn’t working for anyone.
In 2013, in response to the legalization of recreational marijuana in the states of Colorado and Washington, the United States Department of Justice circulated an internal memo outlining its enforcement priorities for states that had legalized marijuana and enacted “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement schemes.”[2] While the memo – for obvious reasons – stopped short of abdicating the federal government’s authority to enforce any aspect of the Controlled Substances Act, it strongly implied that if states choose to legalize and regulate marijuana, and enact a comprehensive regulatory framework to ensure that the sale and use of marijuana in their state is not violating any of several priorities of the federal government – also outlined in the memo – the federal government would basically leave them alone.

Introduction to the MMRSA

Of course, at that time, California did not possess such a comprehensive framework. Thus, the California Medical Marijuana and Safety Act (“MMRSA”) was born. MMRSA was comprised of three bills –

  1. Assembly Bill 266
  2. Assembly Bill 243
  3. Senate Bill 643

Combined these bills aimed to provide California with the type of regulatory scheme that can withstand scrutiny by the federal government. To do so, they established a new agency – the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Management – which will be part of the Department of Consumer Affairs, and outlined a licensing scheme which covers all aspects of the commercial marijuana industry – cultivation, manufacture, distribution, testing, transportation, and dispensaries.
In addition to its current utility in diminishing uncertainty for participants in California’s medical marijuana industry, these regulations would likely provide a guideline if California voters pass a ballot initiative legalizing recreational marijuana in 2016, as is widely expected.

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