If anything in America has a mandate, it’s marijuana—which makes the near across-the-board delay in fulfilling that mandate all the more maddening.
Voters in four states legalized cannabis possession and cultivation for all adults 21 and over on Election Day. Since it’s hard to possess something in America if it cannot be bought or sold, voters also approved legal marijuana retail stores.
In most cases, the possession allowances and reform of criminal statutes went into effect immediately, or near-immediately. With weed stores, government have to catch up and figure out the “regulate” bit of “tax and regulate,” so eager sellers and buyers alike might have to wait until 2018 for a retail adult-use cannabis trade.
Sorry, did we say 2018? We meant 2019.
Across the country, government officials are begging for more time to deal with the marijuana marketplaces they’re now charged with overseeing. Within weeks, officials in Massachusetts were suggesting that 14 months is too quick to set up regulations for commercial cannabis. And now California officials are saying the same thing, suggesting that a delay of up to a year could be necessary, according to reports.
According to the Cannifornian, several state officials believe the Jan. 1, 2018 begin date for sales is too ambitious by a year.
“Time is not on our side,” said Lori Ajax, the state’s new “marijuana czar” and head of the Bureau of Cannabis Regulation, according to the San Francisco Chronicle.
At issue, officials say, are the new medical-marijuana regulations passed by the legislature.
Signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown a full year before Prop. 64 passed, the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) sets up taxes, state licenses and a huge book of rules for cultivating, wholesaling and selling medical marijuana.
But that’s medical marijuana. And though Prop. 64 was written specifically to be consistent with MCRSA, some of that law’s authors are now crying “conflict!”
“It is a very real challenge,” said Assemblyman Jim Wood, in comments to the Cannifornian. “Do we have two systems that move in parallel or one unitary system that combines the two? My hope is that we can all sit down and work out the differences.”
This is happening despite lawmakers, like Wood, who represent many marijuana growers, not voicing concerns prior to the Nov. 8 vote. If we take what Wood says at face value, he’s saying lawmakers either were unaware or didn’t prepare for this predictable outcome, which comes after positive national and local polling suggested Prop. 64 would win in a landslide… which it did.
The legal frameworks for medical and for recreational marijuana are more alike than not. They both have active start dates of Jan. 1, 2018; they both require a state license for any commercial cannabis activity; and their licensing structures (e.g.: big grower, small grower; transporter, seller, etc.) are similar.
However, the state does need to create a “track-and-trace” system—a means of following marijuana on its journey from seed to sale via computer. That means creating new software, according to the newspapers, and government is not known for moving fast when creating things.
If recreational sales are delayed, cannabis will come from the same place it’s come from for more than a decade—medical marijuana dispensaries. The state’s existing dispensaries are required to obtain state licenses by that Jan. 1 date, as they have been for more than a year—and at least so far, nobody has said that date needs to be moved.
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