Three state agencies spent more than a year drafting 211 pages of regulations for California’s medical marijuana market. And they’ve collected thousands of public comments on those proposed rules since they were released in the spring.
But state officials announced late Wednesday that they must go back to the drawing board, crafting new rules under an “emergency rulemaking process” that bypasses the normal public hearing phase. Otherwise, they’d miss a mandated Jan. 2 deadline to begin issuing licenses for cannabis businesses and allow recreational marijuana sales to start in the biggest market in the world.
The agencies have to scrap their proposed rules thanks to a trailer bill that was tacked onto California’s annual budget.
Senate Bill 94, also known as the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, was passed in June. It attempts to reconcile differences between the state’s medical and recreational cannabis laws. But it also conflicts with a number of regulations proposed for the medical market by the three state agencies charged with overseeing the industry, including how cannabis is distributed and what types of licenses will be available.
Now the Department of Consumer Affair’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, the Department of Public Health and Department of Food and Agriculture anticipate officially withdrawing their first set of proposed regulations in early August.
North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) said that the departments were aware of the changes that would be made under the trailer bill, and said the rules will now have to “shift,” but will not be altogether scrapped.
“It may sound like a huge step backward, but the reality is that everyone has been planning for this,” Wood said.
New emergency regulations for medical marijuana are expected to be published this fall, though there’s no hard date yet.
The agencies will then need to incorporate those changes into proposed regulations in the works for the recreational marijuana market, which are also due out this fall.
Alex Traverso, spokesman for the state cannabis bureau, said officials will still respond in writing to the public comments they’ve already received. And he said those comments will be “extremely useful” as they finalize rules for the recreational market.
The department still plans to start issuing licenses Jan. 2. Wood said he spoke with Bureau of Cannabis Control Chief Lori Ajax on Thursday and said she is confident the rules will be in place before the January deadline.
“Is the system going to be perfect? No, but the regulations will be in place and there will be a transition process from when the new regs come online in 2018,” Wood said.
The Jan. 2 deadline doesn’t leave departments with enough time to release the revised regulations and hold public hearings to get feedback as they did on the first set of proposed rules.
Instead, Traverso said, “We will likely do public comment after the fact to get input as we know the fine-tuning will continue to be a process.”
Hezekiah Allen, a Humboldt County cultivator who serves as executive director of the California Growers Association, said he’s generally happy with the changes made in the budget trailer bill. And he’s not too concerned about the state skipping the public hearing process at this point.
“We’ve been working with them pretty closely for more than a year now. We trust them,” he said. “We have a high degree of confidence that they’re going to do a reasonable job.”
Allen said he also appreciates the time sensitivity and doesn’t want to see any delays to California rolling out its licensing program.
“We wanted to get this done quickly,” he said. “Growers are still criminals until we get licenses, technically speaking. So we appreciate an accelerated timeline.”
Times-Standard reporter Will Houston contributed to this article.