Dispensaries anticipate stricter regulations after passage of 3 medical marijuana bills

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With three statewide medical marijuana bills signed into law Oct. 9, California dispensaries are now anticipating stricter regulations on distribution and sale, beginning in 2018.

The legislation — Assembly Bills 266 and 243, and Senate Bill 643 — delineates a new system of licensing, growth tests, processing, transportation and sale of medical marijuana. Products are now required to be tested for purity and potency, and will undergo stricter packing regulations and oversight. Additionally, the legislation calls for increased regulation of the use of pesticides at the cultivation site.

The package of bills intends to solve issues that were deemed a “gray area” under the old regulations, according to Tim Townsend, capitol director for Assemblymember Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, who co-authored AB 266.

Since the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996, which made the use of medical marijuana legal in California, state farms and dispensaries have operated under local rules and regulations. According to Townsend, the resulting system was less sanctioned.

“That was a big part of the push for these bills — because of the gray area that medical marijuana has been operating under,” Townsend said. “Because it was a gray market, there wasn’t a clear licensing scheme for what was an illegal farm. It was difficult for police to tell the difference.”

Victor Pinho — marketing and communications director of Berkeley Patients Group, the oldest medical marijuana dispensary in the city — said he expected Berkeley dispensaries, which are already governed under similar regulations, to undergo a smooth transition to operating under the new bills.

“With a system in place, we can expect the players that play by the rules to produce the quality medicine that patients demand,” Pinho said. “Ultimately, California is in a position where the quality will always get better.”

But some dispensaries in other places in California might have more difficulty adapting, even though the legislation may mark a big step forward in the regularization of medical marijuana, said W. David Ball, an associate professor at the Santa Clara University School of Law.

“If you have a dispensary that is in compliance with some sort of local regulation and those regulations are a lot less strict than statewide regulations, then an operator of that dispensary is going to have to decide: Is it worth the money, is it worth the time, is it worth the effort to comply with statewide regulations — or am I just going to go out of business?” he said.

Until 2018, legislators are planning on refining regulations in hopes of smooth implementation.

“Anytime you are building a new regulating system from scratch, there’s always going to be challenges,” Townsend said. “Overall, it will work because there was thousands of hours put into these bills. I do think it will be successful.”

Contact Cassandra Vogel at [email protected].