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State and Federal Cannabis Legislation

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Summary and history of state and federal cannabis legislation.

California State Laws

Proposition 215 (1996)

Proposition 215, entitled the “Compassionate Use Act”, allowed for the use of cannabis for medical purposes by qualified patients and for caregivers to provide medical cannabis and receive reimbursement for their costs.

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Senate Bill 420 (2004)

SB 420 established a County Health ID card program, collective and cooperative cultivation, and “safe harbor” amounts for cultivation and possession.

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Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (2015)

Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA) was enacted in October 2015 and constructed a comprehensive framework for the regulation of medical cannabis businesses.

MCRSA eliminates the cooperative/collective model and replaces it with a commercial licensing scheme under which operators are required to obtain both local and state approval.

The State is currently developing regulations and will begin issuing licenses on January 1, 2018.

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Proposition 64 (2016)

Proposition 64, entitled the “California Control, Regulate and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Initiative”, also known as the “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” (AUMA), passed with 57% voter approval statewide and with 59% voter approval in Sonoma County.

The initiative legalized the personal non-medical use, possession, and cultivation of cannabis by adults 21 years and older, established a framework for regulating non-medical cannabis businesses, established taxes on cultivation and retail sales, and reduced criminal penalties for certain cannabis-related crimes.

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Emergency State Regulations (2017-18)

In June of 2017 the state passed Senate Bill 94 which created one regulatory system for both medicinal and adult-use cannabis. The three state cannabis licensing authorities, California Bureau of Cannabis Control, CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing, and the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch, issued their comprehensive  emergency regulations on November 16, 2017. These regulations were updated and readopted in June 2018. The emergency rulemaking process provided an opportunity to evaluate how the rules were working for businesses throughout the supply chain.

New State Cultivation Regulations (2019)

On January 16, 2019, the Office of Administrative Law approved the new cultivation regulations which went into effect immediately and superseded the emergency regulations. The new regulations include changes that make it easier for businesses to operate and strengthen public health and safety policies. Each licensing authority’s final regulations and rulemaking documents have been posted to the California Cannabis Portal and can be viewed here.

Federal Laws

Despite medical (and non-medical) cannabis being legal is dozens of states, cannabis remains an illegal drug under federal law.

The Controlled Substances Act (21 USC Section 811) regulates licit and illicit drugs, and lists cannabis as a Schedule I drug, the same classification as cocaine and heroin. This means that under federal law, cannabis use is not allowed for either medical or non-medical purposes.

This Schedule I status has major impacts on the cannabis industry, local and state governments, and patients. While the Obama Administration had issued guidance for states that chose to legalize and declined to enforce against jurisdictions that conformed to that guidance, it is unclear how the current Administration will address the inconsistencies between local, state and federal laws.

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