Take Two®

News and culture through the lens of Southern California. Hosted by A Martínez

HighQ: Will California get recreational weed by 2018?

by Jacob Margolis | Take Two®

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Kushmart, one of the largest medical dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles, currently has 55 strains of marijuana. Maya Sugarman/KPCC

Proposition 64 passed in November, but you still can't find any recreational pot shops anywhere in California. That's because the system that's supposed to regulate how marijuana is grown, transported and sold, hasn't been built yet.

Since the new law passed, it's been hurry-up-and-wait for business owners across the state, who remain in a sort of legal purgatory as regulations are established.

"When the license is figured out we all breathe a giant sigh of relief because we actually finally feel like we have a piece of paper that protects us," said Carlos de la Torre, who runs the Cornerstone Research Group, a medical marijuana collective in Los Angeles.

According to the new law, licenses for marijuana-related businesses are supposed to be issued by Jan. 1, 2018.

Between now and then there's a lot for multiple departments in Sacramento to work out, including how to regulate dispensaries, the distribution system, testing laboratories and the transportation of marijuana. Add to that the fact they'll have to determine guidelines for cultivation and manufacturing, as well as labor and environmental issues.

The intergovernmental task is further complicated by the fact that this has to happen between multiple departments, including the Department of Consumer Affairs, Food and Agriculture and Public Health.

"Although it’s an aggressive timeline, we are confident that we will make that deadline," said Lori Ajax, Chief of the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, the agency responsible for building a large part of the licensing system.

"We’re looking at, probably, early March, proposing most of our regulations. At this point we’ll have, I think, a large chunk of it mapped out so people can get an idea of what direction we’re taking. And then there’ll be a chance for them to provide public comment to the bureau."

Ajax has been with the Bureau since February, 2016, shortly after California passed the MMRSA. Since the fall she said they've been listening to stakeholders in communities across the state. 

"One of the things we heard loud and clear was people are worried about overregulation," Ajax said. "Folks have been operating for a couple of decades ... in the shadows, but if this is going to be successful we have to do a good job of bridging that ... making sure that they trust us. That they can tell us what’s going on and hopefully we can get them in the regulated market, cause I think that’s a good thing for everybody."

An-Chi Tsou, a former senior policy advisor with the bureau who now runs a consulting firm, says, "I think now with Prop 64 it’s going to be difficult to make that deadline." 

Tsou believes the bureau, initially established to help revamp California's medical marijuana system after the passing of the MMRSA, has been saddled with too much now that they have to figure out how to regulate the recreational system as well.

"Average time, what I learned when I was there for passing a simple regulation is about 18 months," Tsou said. "And this is like a huge complex ... ball of regulations with lots of different agencies ... moving at the same time."

In the meantime, while everything gets figured out, business owners like de la Torre will have to wait.

"I don’t see how this whole process is going to be up and running and ready to go Jan. 1, 2018. I just don’t see how that’s possible," he said. "It doesn’t really worry me becasue I’m going to continue to be able to dispense medicine to the patients that I always have for as long as it takes."

Series: High-Q: Your California pot questions answered

This story is part of Take Two's look at the burgeoning, multi-billion dollar marijuana industry in California, with audience Q&As, explorations of personal narratives and an examination of how the industry is changing the world around our audience.

Read more in this series and call or text us your questions at (929) 344-1948 or tweet reporter Jacob Margolis.

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