California Looks to Unite Conflicting Marijuana Laws

By MICHAEL R. BLOOD and PAUL ELIAS | April 7, 2017

Whether one entity can legally grow and sell marijuana at the retail level in California is emerging as one of the biggest conflicts state authorities are wrestling with as they move to streamline regulations and adopt the same rules for medical and recreational pot use.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration released documents late Tuesday outlining proposed changes to square the state’s new recreational pot law with its longstanding law on medical marijuana.

The two laws took different approaches in many areas – including whether one entity could hold multiple licenses to grow, manufacture, distribute and sell in retail stores. The governor is seeking to “harmonize” those regulations.

The Democrat governor’s administration has stressed that one regulatory framework is needed to avoid duplicating costs and confusing businesses in a marijuana economy expected to grow to $7 billion in annual sales annually after recreational sales become legal in California next year.

The governor’s attempt to reconcile the two laws hasn’t met any formal opposition, though the proposal is lengthy and complicated and groups such as the Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force, comprised of Southern California marijuana businesses, is still reviewing the plan.

“This takes us another step closer to a uniform industry and puts this state in a position to set the national standard,” Avis Bulbulyan, president of the group, said in an email.

Hezekiah Allen, president of the California Growers Association agreed but said his marijuana farmer’s organization is concerned about Brown’s proposal to allow single entities to hold licenses to grow and sell marijuana.

Medical marijuana providers are currently prohibited from hold both licenses but Brown proposes to lift that restriction after it becomes legal to sell recreational pot in California on Jan. 1.

“It could lead to mega-manufactures and mega-chain stores,” Allen said.

Brown’s plan would temporarily ban a single business from owning more than three retail stores and having a farm larger than four acres (1.6 hectares).

California last November joined a growing number of states in legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults.

The regulations and rules governing the emerging legal market will cover issues ranging from where and how plants can be grown to guidelines on tracking marijuana buds from the fields to retail stores.

People 21 and over are allowed to possess up to one ounce of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants at home.

“This proposed legislation helps build an effective statewide regulatory system for cannabis to achieve our goals of protecting public safety with clear and consistent rules that are not overly burdensome,” said Lori Ajax, head of the state’s marijuana agency. “It harmonizes the many elements of the two main statutes governing medicinal and adult-use cannabis, while preserving the integrity and separation of those industries.”

Those changes must be approved by the Legislature.

Earlier this year, Brown proposed spending more than $50 million to establish programs to collect taxes and issue licenses while hiring dozens of workers to regulate the industry.

(Elias contributed to this report from San Francisco.)

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