The Slatest

California Enacts New Rules on Medical Marijuana, Growers Pretty Cool With It

Tim Blakeley, manager of Sunset Junction medical marijuana dispensary, fills a marijuana prescription on May 11, 2010 in Los Angeles, California.

Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

California has implemented a series of regulations aimed at one of the state’s booming agricultural products—medical marijuana—and far from balking at government interference, producers seem pleased that lawmakers are ready to treat them as a real industry.

The Los Angeles Times reports that three bills, creating a system of oversight for the production of marijuana for medical purposes, were signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday:

The new laws create a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to issue and revoke licenses for the cultivation, storage and sale of cannabis and collect fees to pay for the agency’s work.

Cities and counties will also have the power to issue and revoke local permits, adopt tougher restrictions on dispensary operations and ask voters to approve taxes on marijuana growers and dispensaries to pay for local public safety expenses.

Currently, some cities and counties have ordinances allowing them to license and limit the number of dispensaries. The new laws preserve the ability of Los Angeles to prosecute businesses that violate rules set by voters in 2013.

The Sacramento Bee notes that while the governor’s approval was expected, since his office was heavily involved in drafting the bills, an unlikely coalition of support had sprung up among some of the state’s most powerful interests, from labor unions seeking worker protections to the head of the state association of police chiefs.

And the target of this regulatory intrusion, proprietors of marijuana businesses, have made it known that they don’t mind the new rules. One grower told the Los Angeles Times that, even though he’ll have to modify his plans for a new indoor cultivation facility in order to comply, he welcomed “this well-thought-out set of guidelines.”

The Times adds that the regulations could be easily adapted if the state moves ahead with full legalization of recreational marijuana, which California voters might have a chance to do in the 2016 general election. Jurisdictions that legalize recreational marijuana have sometimes had to scramble to get regulatory schemes in place: In Oregon, where legalization took effect July 1, the state has enlisted the Liquor Control Board to watch over marijuana sales and allowed pre-existing medical dispensaries to sell to the general public until a new retail licensing system is up and running. 

If a public referendum on does pass 13 months from now legalizing recreational pot in California, the bills enacted this week could help smooth the state’s transition to legalization, and being prepared to roll out retail sales in an orderly manner could pay very real dividends. In the first six days that Oregon’s medical dispensaries were authorized to sell without prescriptions customers spent $10.8 million on newly legal marijuana, taxed at a rate of 25 percent, and retailers say that the state’s revenue from pot sales is likely to “wildly exceed” current projections. Forty precent of the state’s take is headed for public schools, 35 percent will go to state and local law enforcement, and another 25 percent will fund mental health and addiction programs.

“Sometimes it is difficult for the bureaucracy to keep up with democracy,” a Republican legislator in Oregon said over the summer. The work it’s doing now to standardize its “Wild West” medical marijuana industry will leave the state of California better prepared to carry out the voters’ mandate if they decide to free the weed in 2016.