Earth to California: There is no “Perfect” Marijuana Initiative

What will happen with California cannabis?
What will happen with California cannabis?

California’s Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy recently released a 93-page report covering the broad goals for legalization in the Golden State, including over “50 recommendations” for regulating and taxing. According to the report, the Blue Ribbon Commission has spent the last two years working to “provide expert research and analysis to help the public and policymakers understand the range of policy issues and options to consider when drafting proposals to legalize, tax, and regulate marijuana.” The report also highlights that the Commission “. . . is not a policy-setting or advocacy body,” but that it “. . . serves as a resource to interested parties seeking thoughtful analysis about a complicated set of public health, safety, environmental and economic issues. This sort of expert report is are invaluable for making smart, long-term choices about legalization and here are some of its highlights:

  • It starts by focusing on what have become the basic goals of most state legalization regimes: follow federal law priorities, keep kids away from cannabis, promote public health and consumer protection, and preserve public safety.
  • It addresses California’s “unique characteristics” posed by its northern versus southern regions, its local governments, its diverse population and simply that California is a huge state, home to over 38 million people, all of which work to make legalization more challenging.
  • It recommends that the state of California should engage in dialogue with the federal government on implementing its new “robust” marijuana laws and how those laws interact with federal prohibition. It specifically emphasizes the need for state-federal cooperation regarding access to banking and federal taxation of marijuana businesses.
  • The Commission didn’t make any recommendation as to which state agency or agencies should oversee marijuana regulation, but it did recommend that whatever state agency gets the job, that agency (or agencies) should immediately engage stakeholders of all kinds when it comes to formulating future regulation.
  • It recommends the state regulate the following:
    • licensing and training
    • licensing fees
    • home growing
    • types of products sold
    • packaging and labeling
    • diversion controls
    • seed-to-sale tracking
    • consideration for licensing existing good actors in the medical marijuana industry — if you are already in the industry, now is the time to make sure that you take action to be so viewed
    • environmental laws
    • quality assurance testing
    • supply chain transparency
    • where cannabis may be consumed
    • employment and labor law
    • local government control and preemption
    • taxation
    • advertising and marketing
    • highway safety and DUIDs
    • data collection and monitoring
    • use of cannabis revenues
    • whether to have vertical integration amongst licensees.

The report exhaustingly shows how difficult it will be to achieve sufficient unity in California to pass and implement marijuana legalization. Indeed, one of the main themes of the Commission’s report is that legalization is going to take time to get right and “[a]ny ballot measure should allow enough flexibility over time for the creation of effective regulation that is clear, reasonable and responsive, achieves stated goals and is not unduly burdensome.” Pointedly, the report emphasizes that legalization “should not be California’s next Gold Rush.”

There is no perfect marijuana initiative and it is important that Californians keep this in mind when developing their legalization initiative(s), likely for 2016. We (especially our California lawyers) are concerned about California’s legalization becoming so over-thought and over-processed that no initiative will be “good enough” to pass anytime soon. California is a (the?) key state for nationwide legalization and we hope that this report is another step towards California’s legalization in 2016.