Weed: How will it work?

ELI FLESCH / AGGIE FILE

Recreational marijuana use legalized in California

Weed lovers, rejoice! No more back-alley meet-ups, no more looking over shoulders. In January, cannabis will be legally available for adult use throughout the state of California.

For nearly 50 years, marijuana has been classified as a Schedule I drug, and although it remains highly illegal on the federal level, states throughout the nation have slowly legalized it for medical use. Colorado was the first state to legalize recreational use of the drug, a measure that went into effect in 2014. California has legalized medical marijuana use for over two decades, and in November 2016 California citizens voted yes on Proposition 64, a measure to legalize the use of recreational marijuana for persons aged 21 and above.

The ballot measure, known as the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, is scheduled to go into effect as of Jan. 1, 2018.

Proposition 64 regulates the marijuana industry in California, a largely untapped resource. Included on the ballot measure was a fiscal impact estimated around $1 billion annually.

The revenue accrued by taxation of the drug will be used toward programs that include research on the use and impact of the drug and support for various health, legal and support services throughout the state.

Three California state agencies are coordinating to implement this new law: the Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC), the Department of Public Health and the Department of Food and Agriculture. Together, they are the three licensing authorities in the state.

In the summer of 2017, SB 94 was passed by the California State Legislature and ensured that the previous law regarding medical cannabis use and the forthcoming law regarding recreational use would be unified under a single set of regulations.

“The goal of regulation, obviously, is to try to get as many people into the regulated market and into the legal market and cut down on the black market,” said Alex Traverso, the chief of communications for BCC. “One way to do that is to try to make the process [to join] as easy as possible […] You try to create a playing field for people that is conducive for them to want to come into regulation, and hopefully that’s what we’re doing now.”

The summer passage of SB 94 set back the progress of the BCC, whose members had previously been working to address medical and adult use with two separate sets of regulations. Now required to treat them as a single industry, the three licensing authorities released a set of emergency regulations on Nov. 16. With certain procedures required to implement regulations a 45-day period for public comment being one of them the emergency regulations will allow temporary licenses to be distributed, which will be effective for 120 days.

During the 120-day period, applications will be processed for the two designations of annual licenses. Businesses can apply for both licenses one for medical use (M licenses) and one for adult use (A licenses).

With the state able to distribute licenses by the Jan. 1, 2018 start date, the burden next falls to cities and counties, which must pass ordinances to either allow or ban marijuana.

“We’re going to be ready to issue state licenses, but if local governments aren’t ready to issue their local licenses, it doesn’t matter,” Traverso said.

There are 58 counties and 482 incorporated cities within the state of California, according to 2011 data. This means that the laws surrounding cannabis will vary, depending on geographical location within the state.

Local governments are scrambling to establish ordinances within their jurisdictions, according to Traverso. With Jan. 1 fast approaching, Traverso said that local governments are either considering bans to prevent cannabis, trying to implement ordinances that will structure the local cannabis industry or looking at options to temporarily ban cannabis in order to give local governments more time as they work to establish ordinances.

If no local ordinances are in place by Jan. 1, only state licenses will be needed to conduct various cannabis-related activities, which incentivizes local governments to move forward in establishing their own guidelines.

State enforcement of these measures will have various forms and will often rely on other agencies that have the ability to do so, Traverso said. A different form of enforcement that currently exists comes from the officers who patrol roads throughout the state.

The California Highway Patrol (CHP) Academy dedicates 52 hours to training that covers drug and alcohol impairment, according to Sergeant Glen Glaser, the state coordinator for the CHP Drug Recognition Evaluation program. Following the passage of Proposition 64, Glaser said that all officers and sergeants were mandated by the CHP commissioner to be trained in Advanced Roadside Impaired Driver Enforcement before 2018. Glaser said this goal has been met.

“Just the mere presence of THC does not necessarily mean somebody’s under the influence,” Glaser said. “Until the science gets behind that technology [used to detect cannabis] and we can have a per se limit similar to what we have for alcohol, there’s really no certain level where an officer would make an arrest. And that’s what we’re preaching to our officers. We want to make sure we’re arresting impaired drivers, not just drivers who have a substance in their system.”

Cannabis largely has a public perception of making people slow or lethargic, although that can depend on the type of strain or potency, Glaser said.

“The number one reason people who are stopped and arrested for driving under the influence of cannabis is speeding, which is outside of the norm of what people think,” Glaser said.

According to Glaser, officers will use the same field sobriety test used to test for alcohol and will make judgements based on performances during the divided attention test, dilation of pupils, elevated pulse and other factors.

“There’s a number of clinical as well as psychophysical signs officers will see roadside, indicative to cannabis,” Glaser said.

Glaser expects to see more first-time and inexperienced users with the recreational legalization and urges people to utilize ride-sharing services to counteract the increased potential for impaired driving. Glaser said that the presence of marijuana within someone’s system is not necessarily cause for arrest.

“If you’re going to consume, do it safely,” Glaser said. “Our officers are being trained to detect impairment, […] and so we just want the public to know we’re going to be arresting impaired drivers, not just people who have a substance within their system.”

It’s not just state and local governments that have been working to deal with cannabis. The upcoming legalization of recreational marijuana use brings with it a push throughout the marijuana industry for increased legitimacy.

Nathan Mancini is the vice president of sales operations for Happy Day Grow Works, a company that mainly sells wholesale to various organizations and has products distributed by Northern California marijuana delivery services.

Mancini likened the business side of the marijuana industry to a craft brewery. The importance of branding, he said, is everything. Without a logo, label or brand, a product has no context in which it is viewed.  Take a craft beer, for instance.

“Every company [in a craft beer store] has a logo, an image, information,” Mancini said. “You don’t just see a bare-necked beer bottle, right? So, that’s the thing. That’s a huge push [in the industry], and we’ve been trying to really figure out who we are to tell that story.”

The upcoming legalization will change how business is conducted in an industry that has largely taken place in a grey market, according to Mancini.

“You can really operate in a number of ways and still do your business,” Mancini said. “That can’t be the case for companies that have been issued a license and permit moving forward. There’s going to be way more checks and balances from government officials […] so we’re trying to prepare everything in all that we do, […] where we should likely be in good standing with auditors and officials who are are going to be in charge of checking in on every producer out there and make sure that they’re adhering to things of code.”

As state agencies and businesses work to ready themselves for Jan. 1 by familiarizing themselves with laws, regulations and examples provided by other states that have legalized marijuana, Traverso has no doubt that something will come up that the BCC or anyone else never anticipated.

“There’s going to be something in California for sure that either we didn’t think of or there’s an unintended consequence or something that we need to fix,” Traverso said. “Based on the path we’ve taken to get here […] I think we’re all kind of used to that, so if there are changes that need to be made we’re certainly ready to change gears if we need to. But I think the biggest thing is going to be how we deal with the unlicensed activity and what we put in place to help deal with the illegal market. It’s a process, and it’s been a process in other states, but hey, every legal sale we have come Jan. 1 is one less for the black market, so we just have to keep building on that.”

 

Written by: Bryan Sykes — bcsykes@ucdavis.edu