Med­i­cal cannabis comes of age

San Francisco Chronicle - - OPINION -

After 21 years, Cal­i­for­nia’s med­i­cal mar­i­juana in­dus­try is fi­nally get­ting some firm rules. It’s the end of a free­wheel­ing ex­per­i­ment — and the be­gin­ning of a large-scale in­dus­try.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s ad­min­is­tra­tion re­leased draft reg­u­la­tions for the sale, dis­tri­bu­tion, trans­porta­tion, and pur­chase of mar­i­juana and cannabis prod­ucts last Fri­day. While they don’t cover recre­ational mar­i­juana, which will be for sale in Cal­i­for­nia in 2018, they of­fer a win­dow into what’s com­ing.

Cal­i­for­nia Bureau of Med­i­cal Cannabis Reg­u­la­tion chief Lori Ajax has said the state’s in­tent is to have a sin­gle reg­u­la­tory scheme for both med­i­cal and recre­ational mar­i­juana.

What we can tell from the draft rules, which are open for writ­ten pub­lic com­ment through June 13, is that the state has made a thor­ough at­tempt to bring some badly needed or­der to a boom­ing in­dus­try.

Ci­ties and coun­ties will be re­lieved to note that they still have a large mea­sure of lo­cal con­trol: med­i­cal mar­i­juana busi­nesses will need ap­proval from their lo­cal ju­ris­dic­tion be­fore they’re able to get a li­cense from the state.

Par­ents will be pleased to learn that dis­pen­saries must use child­safe pack­ag­ing and be lo­cated at least 600 feet away from schools.

While there are a cou­ple of on­lyin-Cal­i­for­nia rules — trans­porta­tion of weed via drone is ex­plic­itly pro­hib­ited, for ex­am­ple — for the most part, the draft reg­u­la­tions show that the bureau has thought about most of the big is­sues around mar­i­juana reg­u­la­tion.

The bureau has weighed ev­ery­thing from set­ting lim­its on dis­pen­sary hours (they must be closed be­tween 9 p.m. and 6 a.m.), to sales lim­its for pa­tients (no more than eight ounces per pa­tient per day, un­less there’s a physi­cian’s rec­om­men­da­tion).

It’s a com­pre­hen­sive list, and the draft reg­u­la­tions cer­tainly speak to the mat­u­ra­tion of Cal­i­for­nia’s cannabis in­dus­try.

Abid­ing by these rules will re­quire a well-or­ga­nized busi­ness model, and hav­ing ac­cess to cap­i­tal will help. Many cannabis busi­nesses are un­happy with the sheer num­ber of rules — along with the pos­si­ble cost in­creases they’ll bring.

Some out­stand­ing ques­tions re­main, es­pe­cially for the up­com­ing recre­ational mar­i­juana mar­ket.

Mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion had dis­pro­por­tion­ate ef­fects on low-in­come com­mu­ni­ties of color. In ci­ties like Oak­land, there’s an on­go­ing de­bate about whether, and how, of­fi­cials ad­dress these in­equities as a lu­cra­tive new in­dus­try un­folds.

The state reg­u­la­tions al­low ap­pli­cants with crim­i­nal con­vic­tions, pro­vided they of­fer ev­i­dence of their re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion. It’s a wor­thy at­tempt to ad­dress the is­sue, but it prob­a­bly won’t sat­isfy any­one.

User lim­its, es­pe­cially when it comes to ine­bri­a­tion, are an­other cru­cial con­cern.

We don’t yet have road­side tox­i­col­ogy tests for mar­i­juana that have the same re­li­a­bil­ity as the ones for al­co­hol. While ef­forts are un­der­way to pro­duce them, it re­mains a prob­lem that must be ad­dressed if Cal­i­for­ni­ans are to have a safe, le­gal cannabis in­dus­try.

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