In October, California's Governor Jerry Brown signed three bills into law that impose regulations and State bureaucracy on to California's medical marijuana sector. These laws create spools of red tape, with no new protection for patients. Medical cannabis has been legal in California since Prop 215 was passed by citizens in 1996. For the past nineteen years, there have been only vague laws with vaguer interpretations to protect the rights of patients, growers, and dispensers of medical cannabis. However, the new bills give California a new large and complex body of laws governing medical marijuana, with lots of new regulation and regulatory agencies.
The past absence of State governance allowed MMJ providers and patients room to operate and to obtain medicine but offered no shield against Federal or Local law enforcement. The Compassionate Use Act from 1996 created an affirmative defense for trial but left patients exposed to arrest and jail for activities even if they were legal in California. Of course, the federal government still says there is no medical benefit to cannabis – against the vast majority of empirical, peer-reviewed scientific studies – and keeps it illegal as a Schedule 1 classified drug, the worst of the worst.
The newly-signed California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) is comprised of three bills–Assembly Bill 266, Assembly Bill 243, and Senate Bill 643. Together, they are 55 pages of red tape injecting the State into private medical marijuana operations, facilitating a myriad of agencies and bureaus to manage the meddling.
A new bureaucracy is created by the laws, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (BMMR), which will be part of the California Department of Consumer Affairs. In addition to the BMMR, other State agencies empowered by the new laws to regulate aspects of medical marijuana are: the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Board of Equalization, the Department of Pesticide Regulation, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Public Health, the California Medical Board, and the Department of Justice. Further, the new laws force MMJ licensees to work with organized Labor Unions, and assigns the State the responsibility of establishing its own “organic certified” standard to compete with existing independent and industry standards.
A matrix of SEVENTEEN different medical marijuana license types is created. Every aspect of the Cannabis industry is touched by these licensing laws, from soil and water, to seeds and plants, harvesting, testing, packaging, labeling, tracking and tracing, distribution, delivery, medical recommendations, sale, taxation, and security.
What is NOT addressed in the new laws are the rights of patients and caregivers to grow and use legal medicine. “Commercial” medical marijuana operations are enabled by these bills, but do they not address the current system of non-profit provider-patient relationships. It's clear that the California legislature is opening the door for its corporate friends – Big Agra and Big Pharma.
Federal laws will still apply, and patients will still be subject to Fed law enforcement arrest. Additionally, Local approval will be required for each applicant before a State license is granted. Local government will be able to impose their own taxes and regulations, or completely ban marijuana growing or other activity within their jurisdictions.
Such a tangle of new laws will need time to sort out. By 2018, when they go into effect, there will no doubt be more detail and enhancement provided by lawmakers. Also, after the laws take effect, there will be ambiguities, loop-holes, and technicalities that will be invoked by Law Enforcement to further crack down on legal medicine in California. Let's hope that there's still enough bite left in Prop 215 and SB 420 that MMJ providers can use to continue to serve sick patients who want natural medicine and not state-forced pharmaceuticals.
There is a glimmer hope in the form of statewide propositions to legalize recreational marijuana in California. Our state laws allow citizens to put issues to a plebiscite and put the will of the people over Sacramento's vested interests. There are at least three competing propositions aiming for the ballot in 2016.
At this time, we can only hope that a citizen-initiated proposition will legalize recreational marijuana for adults in the State, and get rid of this morass of red tape before the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act takes effect.