California Lawmakers Pass Changes to Cannabis Rules

Published on June 13, 2017 · Last updated July 28, 2020
"State capital building in Sacramento, California."

UPDATE, 6/15/2017, 5:15 p.m. — California lawmakers are backing new cannabis rules as the state prepares for its legal cannabis market to start next year.

The Assembly and Senate voted overwhelmingly to send SB94 [the Senate version of AB 110] to Gov. Jerry Brown, who is expected to sign it.

Under the measure, California would set standards for organic marijuana, allow samples at county fairs, and permit home deliveries. It’s the result of months of negotiations between Brown, lawmakers and marijuana businesses to merge the state’s new recreational marijuana law with the longstanding medical marijuana program.

Legislation approved Thursday includes $118 million to pay for startup costs for the newly regulated industry, including technology and staff to work on regulations and issue licenses.

The bill also includes a provision that requires businesses that have multiple licenses, such as a storefront that wants to sell both medical and adult-use cannabis, keep the operations “separate and distinct.” The requirement has sent some industry members scrambling, as earlier reports suggested that medical and adult-use operations could co-locate in a single storefront. Brown’s office has indicated that the “separate and distinct” requirement was the result of a drafting error and will be addressed in future legislation.


Original post:

As the launch of California’s adult-use cannabis market looms—sales are set to begin Jan. 2, 2018—lawmakers are scrambling to put in place rules to regulate the industry and ensure it functions smoothly.

On Tuesday afternoon, a California Senate committee took the latest step toward that goal, voting 16–1 in support of Assembly Bill 110. It’s an enormous bill of provisions to govern the state’s medical and adult-use programs, covering everything from environmental and licensing matters to the exemption of cannabutter from the Milk and Milk Products Act of 1947.

“We are building the airplane as we’re flying it. And we are going to make some mistakes.”

While the measure earned broad bipartisan praise from members of the Senate Budget Committee, even some supporters questioned the quickness with which the changes are being pushed through the Legislature. Pointing out a typo where “cannabis” had been misspelled “cannibals,” Sen. John Moorlach said at the hearing that the error “indicates the pace” at which the bill is progressing.

“We are moving awfully fast,” he said.

But as committee chair Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) pointed out, the alacrity of the bill—and its wide-ranging nature—are the product of nearing deadline.

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“We go live on Jan. 2, 2018, regardless,” agreed Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) at Tuesday’s hearing. “We are building the airplane as we’re flying it. And we are going to make some mistakes.”

The bill has earned the support of many cannabis industry associations, labor unions, and even the California Police Chiefs Association, which has only recently come to support legal cannabis.

The full text of AB 110 is available online. If you plan on reading it all, though, clear your schedule. The state Legislative Counsel’s “digest” version of the bill is itself more than 6,000 words. The full text is nearly 10 times that.

We at Leafly digested the AB 110 a bit further. Here some key takeaways:

Merging Medical and Adult-Use Systems

Perhaps the biggest change that AB 110 would make is to eliminate California’s medical marijuana law, the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA). It’s part of a plan to merge the state’s medical and adult-use programs into one, which would be overseen by the Bureau of Cannabis Control. While separate rules and regulations would still apply for medical and adult-use cannabis, both would be regulated under a new law, the Medical and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA, for those of you who like acronyms).

An Insider’s Guide to California’s Proposed Medical Marijuana Regulations

To that end, AB 110 would iron out some differences in license types between the state’s current medical and adult-use laws. With some exceptions, it would also “generally impose the same requirements on both commercial medicinal and commercial adult-use cannabis activity,” a fix aimed at regulatory efficiency.

Testing laboratories would be able to test both medical and adult-use cannabis under AB 110, but it’s less clear how it would affect dispensaries. A Los Angeles Times report on Monday noted that recent changes to the bill “would allow pot shops to sell both medical and recreational weed”—but on Tuesday, observers quickly pointed out that it still includes language requiring “separate and distinct” premises for businesses that hold multiple licenses.

Lab Testing Cannabis

Beginning next year, California will for the first time require that cannabis be tested for pesticides, mold, mildew, and other contaminants. We knew that part already, but AB 110 begins to flesh out how the system will work.

To ensure consumers know what they’re getting, the bill explicitly prohibits the use of banned pesticides and creates a state program to certify organic cannabis products. It also sets up protocols designed to ensure products are tested fairly and accurately.

Under AB 110, cannabis distributors would store cannabis on their premises. From there, testing lab employees would be required to obtain samples and transport those samples back to the lab. The bill would also create a quality assurance monitor, who would be employed or contracted by the Bureau of Cannabis Regulation.

Even after testing begins, some untested products would still be able to be sold under the bill. Those products would need to be labeled as “untested,” and sales would only be allowed for a period determined by the bureau. It’s a move designed to prevent delays or interruptions in product availability, which has occurred in some other states after imposing new testing standards.

Environmental Safeguards

Many estimates peg cannabis as California’s top cash crop. But historically that yield has come with environmental consequences, including clear-cutting forests and polluting surface and groundwater. Provisions in AB 110 aim to minimize those impacts.

Under the bill, all cultivators would be required to identify the source of water they use. And if the state Department of Food and Agriculture determines there to be adverse impacts related to cultivation, it would have the authority to limit the issuance of unique identifying tags, which are required for all legally grown plants.

The measure would also make it a felony to grow or process cannabis “where that activity results in a violation of specified laws relating to the unlawful taking of fish and wildlife.”

Other Changes

The bill would also:

  • Require infused edibles to carry a universal symbol to ensure easy identification
  • Require that cannabis and cannabis products be placed in an opaque package before leaving a retailer’s premises
  • Establish that an open package of cannabis in a vehicle qualifies as an “open container” infraction
  • Allow for special events and public consumption permits, issued at the discretion of the bureau
  • Redefine “volatile solvent” under the law to mean “a solvent that is or produces a flammable gas or vapor that, when present in the air in sufficient quantities, will create explosive or ignitable mixtures.” (California law makes it a crime to manufacture cannabis concentrates using volatile chemicals without a state license, but some had questioned whether carbon dioxide (CO2) fell under that definition.)
  • Require cannabis ads on the internet include the licensee’s license number
  • Remove a provision that currently limits the issuance of state cannabis licenses to California residents only
  • Require retailers to notify officials within 24 hours of a security breach
  • Require that public safety—as opposed to patient or economic interests—be the first priority in regulatory decisions
  • Define information on a doctor’s recommendation as medical information under the Confidentiality of Medical Information Act, which applies to state agencies
  • Authorize three or more “natural persons” with Type 1 or 2 licenses—which are granted to small-scale growers—to form a cooperative to cultivate, sell, and market cannabis products

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Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin
Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor who specializes in cannabis politics and law. He was a news editor for Leafly from 2015-2019. Follow him on Twitter: @badlin
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