Gov. Jerry Brown signed a series of bills last week to finally regulate the medical marijuana industry decades after California first legalized cannabis for medical use and the major players are all claiming victory.
Environmentalists, business groups, pot farmers, local governments and consumer groups are all claiming benefits from the passage of three laws that regulate the sale, transport, and growth of medical marijuana.
Brown and state lawmakers crafted the regulations to help manage California’s unregulated billion-dollar medical marijuana industry, according to the LA Times.
“This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system. This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice.”
Many of the new regulations won’t go into effect until 2018, but Brown said experts would start crafting guidelines immediately. Lawmakers have been attempting to pass state wide regulations for decades, but have been unable to reach a consensus until now.
The new regulations have broad support from law enforcement and local governments as well as the marijuana industry.
The California medical marijuana industry has blossomed into a billion-dollar industry with some 1,250 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the state, but there has been little oversight since the state legalized medical marijuana use in 1996.
The three new laws signed by Brown create a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation responsible for issuing permits, collecting fees, and overseeing the cultivation, storage, and sale of marijuana. Anyone with a felony conviction will be unable to get a permit.
On the local level, cities and counties retain the right to enact laws and create restrictions on dispensary operations as well as raise taxes to pay for enforcement expenses.
The bills designate marijuana as an agricultural product regulated by the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health. That allows the state to address for the first time the negative environmental effects of illegal pot farms, according to the International Business Times.
“Unregulated marijuana cultivation poses one of the greatest threats to our fish and wildlife in the state.”
Unregulated marijuana growers in Northern California are diverting streams and sucking small rivers dry to water their high value cash crop. Although the amount of water stolen by illegal pot farmers is small, the impact to salmon trying to make their way upstream during mating season is enormous. The new regulatory bills give the state additional power to combat the water thieves.
The bills also regulate the use of pesticides and chemicals used in growing marijuana for medical use and creates a testing and labeling process for cannabis edibles.
The new regulations also make the federal government’s intervention in the state’s marijuana industry less likely. Although still classified as a Schedule 1 drug by the federal government, a 2013 memo from the Department of Justice indicates states would see less involvement from the federal government if they enacted robust laws regulating marijuana use.
Several measures legalizing marijuana for recreational use are making their way to the state ballot to be considered by voters in 2016, according to the Sacramento Bee.
“This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system.”
Nationwide, the legalization of marijuana is growing in popularity; the medical cannabis industry has bloomed to a $3 billion industry with four states and the District of Columbia having legalized recreational marijuana use.
The U.S. Department of Justice is even set to release some 6,000 non-violent inmates convicted of drug charges.
[Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images]