Though California officially legalized cannabis last month, those hoping to walk into a dispensary and legally purchase recreational cannabis will have to wait until state licensing begins. Proposition 64 requires licensing authorities to start issuing licenses by January 1, 2018, however there are now reports licensing could be delayed until 2019. A significant challenge faced by California rule makers are the two conflicting legalization initiatives passed under the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA).
These challenges were recently discussed at a California cannabis event by Lori Ajax, the Chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, which is the agency in charge of running both the medical and recreational systems. Assemblyman Jim Wood (who helped to author the MCRSA) also pointed out that the Acts take different approaches to issues ranging from ownership and residency requirements to timelines and license categories. The question then is whether the two systems should run in parallel, like they do in Colorado, or be combined into a single system, like in Washington.
In addition, the two Acts differ on state-level taxes. Both apply a retail tax to sales by dispensaries, however the AUMA also creates a new cultivation tax on licensed growers. California growers argue that the tax could apply to excess plant material that is never sold in market and request the law be changed, but to change a voter-approved initiative in California requires a two-thirds vote of the legislature, which could cause further delays.
Statewide licensing for both medical and recreational cannabis businesses, as well as the implementation of a track and trace system under the AUMA, will also require developing new technology platforms that currently do not exist. If they must be built from scratch, we can again expect further delays in the issuance of state licenses.
Finally, President-elect Trump’s nomination of Senator Jeff Sessions as Attorney General has many in the industry fearing a federal crackdown on marijuana that could slow legalization efforts not only in California, but across the United States. Moreover, cities and counties in California may be weary of moving forward with local licensing in case the federal government begins raiding local cannabis businesses. Since California operates under a dual license system, requiring local compliance before a state license can be issued, delays in local licensing could also lead to delays in the ability of cannabis businesses to apply for and obtain state licenses.
There are many elements at work here and though there is still a chance for everything to run smoothly towards state licensing in 2018, it is starting to look like it is going to be a bumpy ride to statewide regulation in California.