In just over a week, we will have a chance to see how Californians feel about recreational drug use. If Proposition 19 passes, what will the change look like at the local level? What will the impacts be to patients who receive medical marijuana as part of their treatment?
The immediate effect of passage will be what this author would describe as the explosive de-regulation of marijuana.
Cities and counties fear a free-for-all marijuana market, where profit-driven businesses are rapidly created to capitalize on the regulatory-vacuum in this new market.
What’s worse, is that fear of these changes have cities running for cover. In municipalities that have avoided addressing the sale of marijuana, few – if any – ordinances currently exist. Even Sacramento, which is home to nearly 40 medical marijuana cooperatives or not-for-profit distribution centers, has been wrestling with what laws to establish and how to enforce them.
“There has to be some type of type of regulatory system in place, or at least an idea of what one should look like,” said Don Johnson, the co-owner of Unity Non Profit Collective in Sacramento.
Johnson has been operating his non-profit for years without regulatory framework. The precariousness of his situation was brought front and center in July when there was a fire Unity’s growing facility. Responding to the incident were more than just the firemen; the District Attorney and police narcotics officers were also called out.
According to Johnson, many of them looked to him to explain the laws. “Not even the people who were there from the highest authority knew what the actual laws are,” said Johnson. “It was just amazing to me.”
Confusion like that will be commonplace as cities and counties begin figuring out individual regulations on an emerging industry.
“Proposition 19 is officially called the Regulate, Control, and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010; however the name includes all these things that the proposition doesn’t actually do,” said George Mull, from the California Cannabis Association. “It actually traps cities and counties into coming up with all the rules and how to enforce them.”
Establishing rules and regulations for an industry, that until recently has operated in the grey margins of the law, can often prove difficult.
The California Cannabis Association believes that a state agency, like the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, could help control and regulate the industry. They have a structure for a regulatory system already in mind.
“There should be oversight in growing, transportation, and packaging. Growers should be regulated. There are safety and security issues at hand and regulators could make sure there’s no pathogens or molds in the plants. There are issues about transportation, too. If you have to drive between counties or cities to go from your growing location to your dispensary, you could cross some line and break a law.”
The regulatory disparities that Mull describes have been plaguing medical marijuana patients since the passage of Prop 215 in 1996.
In the last 14 years, regulations have been slow to be adopted. With the vote for Prop 19 still close in the polls, cities are taking drastic steps to protect themselves. And medical marijuana patients are facing dire implications.
Galt passed a blanket moratorium preventing any marijuana distribution centers from opening. Citrus Heights is considering a similar ban on Thursday.
Sacramento has been working for two years to establish its own regulations. Don Johnson and George Mull have both been involved in the process. Last week, they finally had their first chance to see proposed ordinances. With a suggested fee structure, zoning requirements, public safety regulations, and even size limitations; it took two years for a framework for the City’s regulatory system.
If Prop 19 actually did the things that its titled claimed, “Regulate, Control, and Tax” marijuana, it would provide meaningful structure to a marijuana industry. Instead, Mull says that it, “…irresponsibly jumps the gun by going with broad legalization before the smaller medicinal marijuana industry is controlled properly.”
Instead, cities and counties are going to be forced into addressing much more complicated questions about a much larger industry.
“Let’s get the smaller sector of medicinal marijuana right first,” Mull says.
Only then, should the State consider broader legalization. California’s cities and counties could then have a better grasp on how to control, regulate, and tax marijuana. Prop 19 promises to do all three, but delivers on none.