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Extract Artisans Look Warily at New Protections in California

Madison Margolin

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After years of being targeted by misapplied meth-lab laws, extract artisans in California finally have legal protection—sort of. Assembly Bill 2679, which passed this fall, puts a patina of legality on many extract procedures, if a raft of certain protocols are followed.

The law has been welcomed as a stopgap until manufacturers can obtain legal licenses in 2018 once Prop 64, the legalization measure passed in November, and the legislature’s accompanying Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act are fully implemented.

But while AB 2679 offers some much needed guidance on the controversial manufacture of extracts—especially those involving potential explosives like butane—the measure only covers a fraction of people who could benefit from a path to legality.

“We pursued this particular issue because it was something that we really didn’t address at all in MCRSA. Had we known more about manufacturing at the time, we would have,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood, who represents the Emerald Triangle and helped write AB 2679.

The new law requires collectives to use solventless or nonflammable, nontoxic solvent techniques that the Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act recognizes as safe; to use those solvents in a closed loop extraction system to reduce off-gassing and explosion risks; to have approval from local fire officials; to satisfy fire, building, and safety codes under state, federal, or international standards; to have a seller’s permit from the California Board of Equalization; and to have authorization from their city or county, while complying with local manufacturing laws.

“Manufacturing still had been one of those things that law enforcement was going after, and understandably,” Wood said. “There isn’t a week that goes by that someone is using butane as an extraction solvent and blows something up.” On the other hand, folks who have been using carbon dioxide for extraction in responsible settings had been getting caught up with law enforcement, too, he added. “What we’re trying to do here is create an avenue for this to be done in a safe manner.”

AB 2679 isn’t a protection in and of itself, notes Tiffany Wu, an attorney with Harris Bricken/Canna Law Group, but rather functions as an “added protection” for people already protected under Senate Bill 420, which authorizes medical-marijuana collectives and cooperatives.

Still, some think AB 2679 doesn’t go far enough.

“It solves one piece of the problem and leaves the rest hanging out here,” said Chris Conrad, a court-qualified expert witness on cannabis.

Only medical collectives and cooperatives are protected, if and only if, their localities authorize manufacturing to begin with; meanwhile individuals, non-medical users and those who live outside extract-friendly jurisdictions are left out.

“My concern is, because it’s part of a collective system, it doesn’t seem like a way for individual patients to get their cannabis processed into extracts using this statute,” said Conrad. “It still leaves them with the same problem we had before: People with small amounts end up thinking they’re better off just doing it on their own, and that could lead to similar problems.”

Moreover, those who try turning their own bud or shake into an extract still risk serious penalties, while potentially endangering themselves. Unauthorized extract manufacture is a felony, punishable by three to seven years in prison.

And while on first glance, stereotypes might have the general public falsely believing this law applies only to dab heads or amateurs using butane in their basements, it’s important to recognize that extraction applies to various forms of non-smokeable cannabis.

“It’s a way for patients to take their medicine through different delivery systems,” said Nick Caston, vice president of public affairs and policy for CBD Guild. “If they have friends who don’t approve, they don’t have to handle that stigma. It’s a way for folks to take their medicine in a way that addresses their needs, so that Grandma doesn’t have to roll up a joint, so she can instead do a softgel or a dissolvable strip.”

Caston, himself, says he’s pleased with the bill, having even brought an extraction machine up to Sacramento when helping to craft it.

From the collective point of view, AB 2679 offers a big advantage.

“Myself and other extractors I’ve spoken to are happy to finally have some protection from prosecution. What happened with Absolute Xtracts in Sonoma and with the Werc Shop in LA before that [both had been raided] had us all a little nervous,” said Adam Lustig, CEO and founder of Higher Vision Cannabis.

“I think AB 2679 is fine for now,” he continued. “With AUMA in place, we have a path to compliance. The regulations for the extraction of cannabis should be no different than extracting any other botanical like lavender or rosemary, for example. There is nothing about cannabis that makes it any more dangerous to extract.”

Though the same methods may be used for lavender and cannabis oil extractions, the decades old misapplied meth lab law, California Health and Safety Code 11379.6, criminalized using solvents or chemical processes to make extracts from drugs on the Controlled Substances list—including (medical) marijuana.

“They say it was written because they were worried about meth labs that were exploding, but it was written in a way that it would cover all these other things, too,” Conrad explained. “Now the legislature comes back and instead of fixing 11379, they do a patch-in on collectives and leave most of the other problems still hanging out there. They need to fix problems in the original bills, not come back with little patch-job band-aid solutions.”

So even though a band-aid is better than nothing, meth lab laws can still apply to anyone who’s not a collective, Conrad noted: “They should have said it applies only to certain drugs like meth, or make it so that it applies to things that are not illegal, too [like lavender]. Making it easy for people to comply with the law is the answer.”

 

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