The movement to legalize cannabis in the United States has come a long way since Californians started it all with the Compassionate Use of Act of 1996 (“Prop 215”). For many years after Prop 215, the pace of change was glacial. In California, it wasn’t until 2004 (8 years after Prop 215) that the California State Legislature passed Senate Bill (“SB 420”). SB 420 recognized the rights of qualified patients and their caregivers to collectively or cooperatively cultivate medical cannabis. Then it took an additional four years until the California Attorney General (who at the time was Jerry Brown, the state’s current governor) released the state’s guidelines (“Guidelines”) on medical cannabis enforcement in 2008.
The Guidelines created the framework for non-profit mutual benefits corporations, collectives, and cooperatives to provide medical cannabis to their patient members. Although the Guidelines were a step in the right direction, they still left many medical cannabis operators uncertain as to what was allowed. It took another seven years before California substantively addressed the cannabis industry when the State Legislature passed the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act in 2015 (“MCRSA”). But ever since the passage of the MCRSA and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act in 2016, the pace of change in California’s cannabis regulatory landscape is perhaps best described by a quote from Ernest Hemingway’s “The Sun Also Rises.” One of the characters, when asked how he went bankrupt, replied, “Two ways. Gradually and then suddenly.”
In California, we are firmly entrenched in the “suddenly” camp of cannabis regulations. The main reason cannabis operators are seeing a flurry of laws and regulations is because the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (“MAUCRSA”) allows for both state and local governments to regulate and license cannabis businesses. Keeping up with the state’s dual licensing regime is a never-ending endeavor. As an example, the state licensing agencies – the Department of Food and Agriculture, the Department of Public Health and the Bureau of Cannabis Control – just recently released and published readopted emergency regulations (which we covered, here).
This week we also saw important legislation make progress on the state and local level. They are as follows.
State Level: AB 2641 and Temporary Retailer Licenses.
On the state level we saw Assembly Bill 2641 make it out of committee. We previously covered AB 2641, here, but a brief recap will be helpful. Under MAUCRSA only a retailer, delivery-only retailer, or microbusiness (“Retailers”) can sell cannabis products to the public. Currently, cannabis cultivators and manufacturers have no way to directly sell their cannabis goods to their consumers – they are completely reliant on Retailers at the point of sale to tell the public about their product and company mission. AB 2641 would allow certain cultivators and manufacturers the ability to obtain temporary retailer licenses. These temporary licenses would authorize cultivators and manufacturers to sell their products directly to their consumers at temporary cannabis events that are authorized by the appropriate local jurisdiction. AB 2641 needs the approval of two thirds of the State Assembly for it to pass. You can find information on how to support AB 2641 through the California Growers Association website.
Local Level: Sonoma County Recommendations.
As previously mentioned, California is a dual licensing state and we cover local changes in our California Cannabis Countdown series. Each California city and county have their own internal processes for passing cannabis ordinances in their jurisdictions. For example: In Sonoma County, the Planning Commission, the Board of Supervisors (and their Ad Hoc Cannabis Committee), the Cannabis Advisory Group, and the public (through hearings and workshops) all play a role in shaping cannabis policy in Sonoma County. Ultimately it comes down to the Board of Supervisors and we covered one its more contentious hearings here. The County’s Permit and Resource Management Department just recently released a staff report (“Report”) with proposed changes to the county’s cannabis ordinance. Here are some of the Report’s recommendation highlights:
- Allow adult-use cannabis operations;
- Extend the life of new cannabis permits from one to two years;
- Allow transferability of permits between operators;
- Add processor, microbusinesses, self-distributor transport-only, and shared-use manufacturing as cannabis license types;
- Amend whether a conditional use permit or zoning permit is needed depending on the zone and parcel size of the property; and
- Create a cannabis inclusion zone for cultivation applicants that do not have eligible zoning, but which have unique characteristics that may make them eligible for a conditional use permit.
You can download the full Report from the County’s cannabis page, here. The Planning Commission will hold a hearing to discuss the Report’s proposals on June 7th at 1:30pm. AB 2641 and Sonoma County’s Report can provide instrumental lifelines to many cannabis businesses, so let’s do what we can to ensure they pass. Keep checking in as we’ll be sure to keep you posted on their developments.