California lawmakers' first legislative session since passing last year's historic medical-pot regulations wraps up this week. And, for the most part, they did good work when it comes to marijuana: Patients' rights were protected, legal bridges between the old system and the new were built, and a lot of bad ideas (and a few good ones) never made it to the governor's desk.
First off: Medical-marijuana patients will not face increased statewide taxes at the dispensary, now that a taxation bill is dead for the year. The proposed tax was one of about dozen related laws that were introduced in Sacramento, but mostly died by Wednesday's end-of-session deadline. As of Tuesday morning, here's where the most viable bills stood:
Wins for Small Growers, Extractors
California's small medical-cannabis farmers have a shot at "cottage" licenses because of Assembly Bill 2516. A signature from the governor would allow small growers to get a state license, just like bigger tiers of licensed pot farmers. The definition of "cottage" is 25 plants outdoors, or 500-square-feet indoors. The licenses would start becoming available January 1, 2018.
A small cottage license was a major request from farmers throughout Northern California, and especially in the East Bay, said California Growers Association director Hezekiah Allen, who called this legislative year "amazing and encouraging."
If passed, small growers who want a state license will still need local permission, and California governments can still ban cultivation.
Another medical cannabis-related bill that made it to the governor's desk, Assembly Bill 2679, grants medical-marijuana extract producers the same legal protections as licensed growers or dispensaries, allowing them to come out of the shadows. Cannabis extracts can be far more potent, effective, and safe than raw flowers, and they are extremely popular with patients. Yet police regularly use meth lab laws to arrest and convict hash-makers.
A notable example was statewide provider Care By Design of Santa Rosa, where regulators were ready to license the extract company but, instead, local police raided the company.
Spearheaded by the California Cannabis Industry Association, A.B. 2679 immunizes extract companies who follow all local and state rules — the same way other medical marijuana collective activity is protected. It also would set a historic precedent: For the first time ever, medical marijuana extract-makers will have to meet stringent state standards for fire safety and quality assurance. Until now, there's been zero guidance from officials.
If Gov. Jerry Brown signs both laws, they will be two wins for sensible regulation in a post-prohibition environment, and signs of the rapid advance in cannabis acumen among state and local legislators.
"The biggest lesson is the professionalism of the extract-makers that stepped up and argued regulations are safer for California and patient safety," said cannabis regulatory expert Sean Donahoe.
What Didn't Make It: Delivery, Landlord Relief
In addition to the widely disliked tax on medical-cannabis patients, a host of provisions will not become law.
Delivery-only medical-marijuana companies still have a tough road ahead, after a bid to create a "delivery-only" license failed. Medical-pot providers that deliver must be tied to a brick-and-mortar "facility," as per the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, which was signed by the governor last October.
"It certainly is quite troubling for a delivery-only business," said regulatory expert Alex Zavell.
Weedland barons have some legal issues ahead of them, as well. Landlords who've rented to multiple canna-businesses are technically part-owner of all of them, under the state's current definition of "owner." And state law generally prohibits one person from "owning" multiple medical-cannabis companies. That means some investors spending tens of millions of dollars becoming weed landlords might either have to evict tenants or sell their property. There was no clean-up bill for this year.
Issues with deliveries, ownership, profit-taking, and research all rolled into Assembly Bill 1575, which failed spectacularly this year. Zavell likened it to a Christmas tree laden with too lights that eventually burned down. The bill expanded to ninety pages — and lawmakers abandoned it.
But California Cannabis Industry Association executive director Nate Bradley said many in Sacramento believe adult-use legalization measure Proposition 64 will likely pass on November 8 and clean up most issues.
So in a sense, California's legislative session really ends on Election Day: at the ballot box, with you the voter.
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