The biggest state in the U.S. has been a pioneer in legalizing medical marijuana, approving it two decades ago. Advocates for legalizing recreational marijuana in adults appear to have the majority of Californians on their side as well, although there is plenty of time before November a November 8 ballot for opposition to stand up and rally support against legal pot. That’s just the tip of the iceberg for the topic of legal marijuana in California, as the state has a full plate of changes to implement and holes to fill in its regulatory control processes. Consider that medical marijuana was approved in 1996 and there has been minimal progress in oversight since.
According to some, California has lost control of its medical cannabis program, including John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution who focuses on marijuana policies, describing the state as the laughingstock of marijuana policies in the U.S. Staring down the barrel at an exploding industry, the regulators now looks to be working double time to employ new policy and practices.
The outlook poses massive challenges to the state given that it is expecting tens of thousands of cannabis businesses covering the full industry gamut starting Jan. 1, 2018, when the licensing process takes off. As it stands now – and only focusing on growing – thousands of the more than 50,000 cannabis cultivators in California are expected to vie for growing licenses. In order to facilitate regulatory control, 12 state agencies have been tasked with duties. It’s estimated that the state will spend more than $24 million and create 126 jobs across these different agencies. Of course, that is without mentioning what type of spike in spending and new jobs would evolve should recreational marijuana garner approval.
A lot must happen during the transition and after implementation of the new regulations. For example, there will be restrictions on the number of grow sites that are larger than 10,000 square feet, criminal background verification on license applicants, processes to track cannabis plants from seed to buyer, capping the number of licenses for companies using volatile substances and testing of marijuana products from all licensed labs before products can be sold to consumers, among other policies. It’s no small order and California is leveraging lessons from other states to try and minimized inefficiencies and mistakes.
Product production, including edibles and concentrates, are a high priority for safety with oversight coming from the Department of Public Health. The agency is increases its workforce to ensure all falls into place, especially the manufacturing and laboratory testing of pot products.
In short, California is finally moving the right way, but there’s still a long road ahead.
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