In the wake of last November’s statewide legalization vote, California cities have been scrambling to create regulations for the cannabis industry. To give you an idea of the size of the task, consider Los Angeles.
LA has nearly as many residents as the entire state of Colorado.
With four million residents, the city of Los Angeles is equal in population to the entire state of Oregon, and approaches Colorado (5.4 million) in size.
To avoid reinventing the wheel, LA city officials have flown in leaders from Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and other legal states to offer advice about what to do—and what not to do.
In late March, Steve Marks, executive director of the Oregon Liquor Control Commission, shared his state’s experience with cannabis regulations. That same day, Rick Garza, director of the Washington State Liquor and Cannabis board, also spoke about policies to ensure consumer safety and strict tracking.
City leaders are learning which regulations work, and which don't, from state officials in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.
Two days later, David B. Mendoza, Senior Policy Advisor from the Seattle Mayor’s Office of Policy and Innovation, spoke about the timeline of his city’s regulatory development. A representative from Denver also described that city’s “collaborative model,” which includes a dedicated marijuana policy team and coordination with multiple other city agencies, from technology services to parks and recreation.
While many aspects of regulation have been predetermined by Proposition 64, the City still has time to heed the working models of cities and states that have adopted legalization before it. After sitting through the testimony, city leaders were left with five main takeaways (below). We’ll see in the coming weeks whether they act on the advice.
1. Ban the (Gummy) Bears
Jurisdictions across the board have implemented hefty regulations on products and packaging to discourage underage use.
In Oregon, weed products can not appeal to kids either by name or design, and there’s no cartoon characters allowed on packaging. There are also restrictions in place on the marketing of certain strain names that could be alluring to children; for example, the popular GSC (f.k.a Girl Scout Cookies).
In Washington, weed businesses as well as product advertising must be at least 1,000 feet from school playgrounds and parks, and packaging for edibles must receive approval from an oversight committee.
The state also flat-out bans products that are uniquely attractive to kids, such as gummy bears, lollipops, and some baked goods. Most states and local jurisdictions have also implemented packaging requirements that include explicit labelling and childproof packaging.
2. Legalize Delivery and Social Smoking
Most cities to legalize recreational marijuana initially banned delivery services – Los Angeles is no exception. This is due in large part to concerns that home delivery would be difficult to regulate and monitor, and would give underage smokers easier access to cannabis.
However, many cities and states are now rethinking this policy and working to change local laws to allow for legal delivery businesses.
In Portland, delivery of medical cannabis was legal but recreational was not. As of December 2016, that regulation has been changed to allow for recreational delivery as well.
In Seattle, legislators are considering a bill that would create a licensing and regulatory system for delivery business within the city. They are also considering new legislation that would allow for “marijuana clubs”; public locations where adults can consume weed on site and in a group.
In November of last year in Denver, voters approved an ordinance that allows for social consumption in designated areas operated by licensed businesses.
3. Regulate Pesticides, Encourage Sustainability
Pesticides in cannabis – particularly those intended for medical use because they are explicitly tied to health – have become a major issue in regulation. States including Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon and Washington currently regulate pesticide use in weed products through a range of methods.
Washington has a list of particular pesticides legal for use on marijuana grows; Nevada and Oregon limit the amount of pesticide residue allowed on cannabis; and Massachusetts only allows for the use of organic pesticides.
California’s laws on the topic have been murky up until this point, and are expected to be solidified before recreational weed takes full effect in January 2018.
Regardless of what limitations are placed on pesticide use in the cultivation stage, many states require testing and comprehensive labelling to inform the user of what they’re consuming.
4. Prioritize Diversity
Nearly every representative that’s visited Los Angeles City Hall to share their city or state’s system of marijuana programs has admitted that diversity was not actively considered when establishing a regulatory framework.
In Los Angeles, the need for the local cannabis industry to reflect the City’s demographics has been stressed by government leaders and community members alike.
In this regard, the City will need to forge its own path, and possibly look to the model legislation released by the Minority Cannabis Business Association (MCBA) in March. This nonprofit, dedicated to promoting equity in the cannabis industry, released a mock-up of an adult use bill in order to ensure that, “communities that have been harmed by racial disparities in drug law enforcement can benefit from growth in the cannabis sector, through business ownership, employment and tax appropriations,” according to a MCBA press release. This includes reconsidering restrictions that prevent people with drug convictions from applying for a business license.
5. Communicate With Constituents
With so much in flex and each step of permitting and enforcement unprecedented, it’s crucial that Los Angeles’ government and relevant regulators communicate with not only those in the cannabis industry, but the population at large.
For example, Denver has created an accessible, easy-to-navigate webpage where all relevant information, from permit requirements to pending legislation, are streamlined in one source.
The city also hosted a robust email campaign to distribute news bulletins and deadline reminders for all those interested in the industry.