Proposed California Cannabis Laws Point Towards Pot’s Future

As goes California, other states will follow.

So typically is the Golden State a testing ground for progressive legislation before these laws take root elsewhere. California, the largest state to legalize recreational cannabis, is currently preparing for lawful marijuana sales in 2018.

The proposed state budget for that year contains numerous guidelines for legal cannabis that are worth watching. They represent many months of discussions between state officials and cannabis business representatives.

California in 1996 became the first state to legalize medical marijuana. Newly proposed changes would combine that market with the recreational industry into one program. This would operate under the supervision of the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, and through regulation established by one combined law: the Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act.

Rules and regulations governing the two industries, medicinal and recreational, would obviously remain different.

The annual estimated total sales for the California marijuana market is $7 billion. Problem is, cannabis remains illegal under federal law, meaning many marijuana businesses struggle to obtain credit cards or bank accounts. How can they pay taxes without transporting around heaping amounts of cash?

In response, California lawmakers have suggested opening a new tax office north of San Francisco. Other states may want to proceed similarly, providing easy-to-access tax offices around urban marijuana meccas so that criminals do not prey on cannabis businesses transporting hard currency halfway across the state, like something out of the wild west.

Elsewhere in the legal language, California appears on the path towards the cannabis equivalent of beer fests. Businesses would be permitted to sell and sample their THC products at county fairs, regional agricultural associations and cannabis festivals.

While overall the proposed cannabis regulations mostly mirror those of alcohol— allowing people over the age of 21 to possess one ounce of less of pot, plus grow up to six personal plants — the laws differ greatly with the three-tier system.

Whereas alcohol mandates it, cannabis merely allows for it. Businesses would be able to grow, distribute and sell their own product. Naturally, firms that provide safety testing on grow and retail operations would be independent, with zero financial ties to growers or retailers.

Safety tests would inspect for use of banned pesticides, while also certifying products as organic. Employed by the Bureau of Cannabis Control, a quality assurance monitor would oversee testing companies and programs.

State regulators are tasked with writing rules that would allow producers to claim their cannabis crops as organic. This is an important component of the legal market in California: under federal laws, pot producers cannot claim the use of “organic.”

Like Sonoma and Napa valleys, we may soon think about pot in terms of provenance. The proposed California laws would establish official standards for cannabis appellations and varietals, allowing producers to highlight their THC terroir as a defining aspect.

Growers would also be able to establish agricultural cooperatives without breaking antitrust laws.

The bill allocates $118 million for the recreational industry’s startup costs, such as the staff and technology tools.

One concern, as with other states that have passed progressive cannabis laws, is the speed with which California is establishing its legal marijuana market. To that issue, cautious lawmakers pointed to a mistyping in the bill that spelled “cannabis” as “cannibals.”

“We are moving awfully fast,” reportedly stated Sen. John Moorlach (R-Costa Mesa) during a hearing on the proposals.