On Oct. 9, 2015, California Gov. Jerry Brown signed into law three medical marijuana bills, the largest overhaul in state history. Although medical marijuana has been legal in the state for nearly two decades, the industry has been fraught with inconsistent laws and sporadic enforcement.
Chief among those concerns are the environmental effects of marijuana cultivation on California. The state is currently in the grip of a terrible drought and the unregulated proliferation of marijuana cultivation, which uses a lot of water, only aggravates the situation.
The new reforms would strengthen environmental protections and require marijuana cultivators to track water and pesticide usage.
“Unregulated marijuana cultivation poses one of the greatest threats to our fish and wildlife in the state,” Gov. Brown said in a signing statement.
The set of bills will also establish a new governing body for medical marijuana, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, which will create and issue licenses for marijuana businesses. However, licenses are not expected to be issued until as early as 2018.
Placed within the Department of Consumer Affairs, the Bureau will also work with the Department of Health, Food and Agriculture to enforce rules on growing practices and marijuana quality, as well as to devise standards for product packaging and labeling.
Speaking with USA Today, Lauren Vazquez, Deputy Director of Communications for the Marijuana Policy Project, praised the reform.
“These regulations will ensure patients have legal, safe and consistent access to marijuana,” said Vazquez. “New guidelines for testing and labeling products will ensure patients know what they are getting and that it meets appropriate standards for quality.”
In the immediate term, California will benefit from a more uniform approach to marijuana. With a regulatory agency and framework in place, actors within the system will behave better and the federal government will be less likely to take action.
Further down the road, these sweeping reforms will help California make a better transition from a medical-only market to a recreational one. Had no action been taken, California would have had to reign in the medical marijuana industry and create an entire regulatory system from scratch in a small amount of time.
Even in the most ideal political circumstances, that would have been difficult.
Although it will take some time to truly understand the impact that AB 243, AB 266, and SB 646 will have on the market, Ata Gonzalez, Chief Executive of G FarmaLabs, told the LA Times he predicts “a good and positive outcome.”
“Personally, I don’t believe anyone will ever be 100 percent happy with the way these regulations were going to be written, but I have to tell you, [our firm] appreciates this well-thought-out set of guidelines.”