California marijuanaWe previously wrote about possible delays to California’s cannabis state licensing program due to conflicts between the state’s new medical and recreational laws under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA), respectively. The AUMA, aka Proposition 64, was passed by California voters last November and required state agencies begin issuing licenses by January 1, 2018 (hereinafter “the 2018 deadline”).

Last week, we provided an update on the work California legislators have been doing to get the state ready to issue licenses. Lori Ajax, the Chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (soon to be the Bureau of Marijuana Control), promised audiences at a recent cannabis event that licenses would be issued by the 2018 deadline set under Prop 64.

However, California lawmakers are not so sure. On Monday, January 30, 2017, state Senate committees held an oversight hearing to discuss whether California agencies are on track to meet the 2018 deadline. During the hearing, Sen. Jerry Hill voiced “a considerable amount of skepticism” that the state would meet the deadline. Though lawmakers believe some agencies will be able to start processing applications by 2018, they doubt they will be able to issue all of the “tens of thousands” of licenses applied for by that time. Once the cannabis license applications are received, they could take months to process and complete the necessary background checks.

As Sen. Mike McGuire so aptly put it, the state is “building the airplane while it’s being flown,” and thus “it’s not realistic that all of the Proposition 64 rules and regulations will be in place by the new year.” The state’s process for rule-making includes the potential for further delays as public feedback could require a major reworking of regulations (followed by further feedback and more reworking) while new legislation could rewrite rules or change the process entirely (we covered proposed pot legislation here, here, and here).

Ajax admitted not everyone will receive their California cannabis license on January 1, 2018, but instead some could receive temporary licenses while the rest of the applications are being processed. She also stated that California’s state marijuana regulations will be in place by the 2018 deadline through a streamlined, “emergency regulation” process.

Ajax and her 11-person staff (six positions remain unfilled) are working hard to meet the deadline, but there is still a lot left to do. They have yet to convene the advisory committee required under Prop 64 to advise the Bureau and state agencies on drafting standards and regulations for marijuana businesses. Prop 64 also requires implementing a marijuana track and trace system the state has yet to develop. Besides creating the computer program behind the system, the government process will also involve long timelines for drafting proposals, selecting vendors, and completing a statewide rollout. Ajax has stated that applicants may not be included in the track and trace system by the 2018 deadline.

It’s currently unclear what would happen if California is unable to meet the January 1, 2018 deadline. Some argue it is better to have a well-crafted system later, than risk an ineffective system and a thriving illegal market. Since medical cannabis businesses can continue operating until state licenses are issued, the effect of any delay will fall mostly on prospective recreational cannabis businesses.