Legal Weed: The Low Down in Sac Town

weed

As a lobbyist for a variety of industries, I have to admit that working within the cannabis space is thrilling. It is not often that one gets an opportunity to actively influence an entirely new sector, particularly when so much is happening so quickly.

And it can be kind of a whirlwind to understand if you’re not immersed in it.

At this point, most folks are aware that the people of California legalized recreational cannabis with the passage of Proposition 64 last November. What they may not be aware of, however, are the deliberative steps the City of Sacramento has been taking to ensure that it’s done right — and they’re doing a lot.

Let’s start with how we got here.

The medical sale of cannabis to qualified patients has been legal for quite some time, 21 years in fact. The industry was left largely unregulated during those years, and it wasn’t until 2015 with the passage of a package of bills entitled the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) that a more formalized regulatory structure was put in place. These laws set forth the requirements for everything from packaging and labeling, to taxation, to what licenses are available including dispensaries, distributors, and cultivators. Then Proposition 64 passed in 2016, and suddenly the state, cities, and counties were handed a very tight timeline to figure out how to regulate recreational weed too.

Now, it’s 2018 or bust.

According to the law, California has until January 1, 2018 to develop a process for licensing both medical and recreational cannabis businesses. In the last few months, the Governor and Legislature passed two bills that helped streamline the process. The first combined medical and recreational laws into one in order to avoid duplicative work and inefficiencies (there’s really no need for two separate processes). The second clarified the issues that remained unaddressed in the first, such as whether or not businesses can sell both medical and recreational cannabis in the same location (they can).

Now that these laws are in place, the agencies in charge of creating the detailed regulations – such as how much cannabis you can sell to one person, or how much security you’re required to have – are fiercely writing away to ensure those are in place before January of next year. So, we’re all good, right? Seems like the work is underway and we can all go buy special brownies to celebrate in January…well, not exactly.

Cities and Counties are calling the shots.

One of the more prominent requirements of the law is that the ultimate power over whether or not – and how – cannabis is regulated rests in the hands of local governments. This means 58 counties and hundreds of cities can give the thumbs up or down, and even determine what’s allowable. For instance, the County of Marin is considering only allowing cannabis delivery businesses, while the County of Sacramento has banned commercial sales altogether in the unincorporated parts of the county.

This makes things very, very complex if you’re a business that’s hoping to operate statewide. The law requires that you submit proof of local authorization (i.e. that you’re allowed to be there) in order to obtain a state license. That is a huge road block considering many local governments haven’t even begun the process of deciding whether or not they will allow cannabis sales, and many more are waiting to see what others do first.

Luckily for us, the City of Sacramento is not waiting, they’re leading.

Sacramento’s Cannabis Czar (more formally known as the Chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement), Joe Devlin, has no enviable job. While simultaneously waiting for the state to determine their rules, the city has also been charting its own path into the unknown, and there’s no guide book. Sacramento currently has 30 storefront dispensaries (and that number is unlikely to change any time soon), and is accepting applications for both cultivation and manufacturing.

After months of community stakeholder meetings and hearings, they are set to develop plans for delivery and distribution in the coming months, and may even hold discussions for on-site consumption and the potential of “cannabis cafes” as soon as early 2018. These are “high times” (pun intended) for the industry, city officials, consumers, and city coffers alike. Dispensaries alone brought in millions of additional revenues last year.

So, I can buy recreational weed in January, right?

Nope, sorry. And there is no clear timeline for when that might happen. While the city is a leader in regulating medical cannabis, they are also taking precautions. It appears that city officials would prefer to finish laying out what the rules will look like for medical first before tackling the recreational market. So, while it is legal to consume cannabis without a doctor’s recommendation, the City of Sacramento will not be the place to buy legal recreational weed…at least any time soon.

Is it too late to get involved in the process?

Quite the opposite. There are still many opportunities to have your voice heard on the sale and use of cannabis in Sacramento. The city is currently holding community discussions in each council district, stakeholder meetings at city hall, and will vet each proposal through the law and legislation committee, budget and audit committee, and planning commission before being voted upon by the city council. The Planning Commission will be discussing delivery dispensaries, distribution, and background checks at their October 26th meeting, and those are expected to be voted on by the city council on November 21st.

You can visit the City of Sacramento cannabis page for the most up-to-date information.

Upcoming Meetings:

September 27 | 5:30 – 7 pm | District 3 Neighborhood Workshop

October 5 | 5:30 – 7 pm | District 8 Neighborhood Workshop

October 23 | 2 – 4 pm | Stakeholder Meeting

October 24 | 3 pm | Law and Legislation Committee Meeting

November 7 | 2 pm | Budget and Audit Committee Meeting

November 16 | 2 – 4 pm | Stakeholder Meeting

November 21 | 5 pm | City Council Meeting