Con­fu­sion com­ing with Cal­i­for­nia’s le­gal mar­i­juana

Imperial Valley Press - - LOCAL & REGION - BY MICHAEL R. BLOOD | As­so­ci­ated Press Writer

LOS AN­GE­LES — Ready or not, Cal­i­for­nia kicks off recre­ational mar­i­juana sales on Jan. 1. And, mostly, it’s not.

Los An­ge­les and San Fran­cisco are among many cities still strug­gling to fash­ion lo­cal rules for pot shops and grow­ers. With­out the reg­u­la­tions, there could be lim­ited op­tions in many places for con­sumers ea­ger to ring in the new year with a le­gal pot pur­chase.

“The bulk of folks prob­a­bly are not go­ing to be ready Jan. 1,” conceded Cara Martin­son of the Cal­i­for­nia State As­so­ci­a­tion of Counties. In gen­eral, Cal­i­for­nia will treat cannabis like al­co­hol, al­low­ing peo­ple 21 and older to legally pos­sess up to an ounce and grow six mar­i­juana plants at home.

Come Jan­uary, the newly le­gal­ized recre­ational sales will be merged with the state’s two-decade-old med­i­cal mar­i­juana mar­ket, which is also com­ing un­der much stronger reg­u­la­tion. But big gaps loom in the sys­tem in­tended to move cannabis from the field to dis­tri­bu­tion cen­ters, then to test­ing labs and even­tu­ally re­tail shops.

The state in­tends to is­sue only tem­po­rary li­censes start­ing in Jan­uary, and it has yet to re­lease its plan to gov­ern the es­ti­mated $7 bil­lion mar­ket­place, the na­tion’s largest le­gal pot econ­omy. If busi­nesses aren’t li­censed and op­er­at­ing in the le­gal mar­ket, gov­ern­ments aren’t col­lect­ing their slice of rev­enue from sales. The state alone es­ti­mates it could see as much as $1 bil­lion roll in within sev­eral years. Op­er­a­tors have com­plained about what they see as po­ten­tial con­flicts in var­i­ous laws and rules, or seem­ingly con­tra­dic­tory plans. The state ex­pects busi­nesses that re­ceive li­censes will only work with oth­ers that hold them. But that has alarmed op­er­a­tors who won­der what will hap­pen if their sup­plier, for in­stance, de­cides not to join the new le­gal mar­ket.

Oth­ers say it’s not clear what could hap­pen in cities that don’t en­act pot laws, which they warn could open a loophole for busi­nesses to set up shop. Some com­mu­ni­ties have banned recre­ational sales com­pletely. Most banks con­tinue to refuse to do busi­ness with mar­i­juana op­er­a­tors - pot re­mains il­le­gal un­der fed­eral law - and there are also prob­lems ob­tain­ing in­sur­ance. With recre­ational le­gal­iza­tion fast ap­proach­ing, “we don’t have enough of any­thing,” lamented Hezekiah Allen, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Cal­i­for­nia Grow­ers As­so­ci­a­tion, a mar­i­juana in­dus­try group.

The route to le­gal­iza­tion be­gan last year when vot­ers ap­proved Propo­si­tion 64, which opened the way for recre­ational pot sales to adults in the na­tion’s most pop­u­lous state.

Un­like the state, cities and counties face no dead­line to act. How­ever, the con­cern is that con­fu­sion and a patch­work of lo­cal rules could dis­cour­age op­er­a­tors from en­ter­ing the le­gal econ­omy, feed­ing a black mar­ket that could un­der­cut the le­git­i­mate one.

Lo­cal reg­u­la­tion is a foun­da­tion block of the emerg­ing pot econ­omy: A grower or re­tailer needs a lo­cal per­mit first, which is a step­ping­stone to ob­tain­ing a state li­cense to op­er­ate. But those rules re­main in limbo in many places. San Jose, the state’s third-largest city, has a tem­po­rary ban on sales other than med­i­cal pot but of­fi­cials this week pro­posed hear­ings to take an­other look at how to reg­u­late the lo­cal in­dus­try. Kern County, home to nearly 900,000 peo­ple, has banned the sale of mar­i­juana even as Cal­i­for­nia le­gal­izes it. Su­per­vi­sors said they see it as a dan­ger to cit­i­zens and also voted to phase out more than two dozen med­i­cal mar­i­juana dis­pen­saries. In Los An­ge­les, which by some es­ti­mates could be a $1 bil­lion mar­ket­place, vot­ers have been strongly sup­port­ive of le­gal pot. But its pro­posed reg­u­la­tions hit snags, in­clud­ing a dis­pute over a pro­posal for so­called cer­tifi­cates of com­pli­ance, which op­er­a­tors feared would not meet qual­i­fi­ca­tion re­quire­ments for state li­censes.

Adam Spiker, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the South­ern Cal­i­for­nia Coali­tion, an in­dus­try group, warned last month that L.A.’s draft rules could up­end the emerg­ing in­dus­try by fail­ing to pro­vide a prompt way to li­cense sup­pli­ers, po­ten­tially forc­ing then to shut down. And he’s du­bi­ous that the city will be ready to be­gin is­su­ing li­censes on Jan. 1.

“There’s not a lot of cal­en­dar days left in the year,” he said.

AP PHOTO/RICHARD VO­GEL

In this April 23 file photo, large jars of mar­i­juana are on dis­play for sale at the Cali Gold Ge­net­ics booth during the High Times Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino.

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