Local rules and regulations vary widely across the state. In some places, marijuana remains completely banned. In others, such as San Francisco and L.A., it won’t be legal immediately.
Jane Futcher and her wife, Erin Carney, were thrilled that California voters legalized marijuana last November. Their cannabis farm in Laytonville, in Northern California, would be completely compliant with the new laws, and they loved the sense of community that came with long-underground growers coming together and shaping a legal marketplace.
But by May, the couple had enough. Despite plowing nearly $15,000 into making the farm where they grew medical marijuana with a county permit comply with new state and local rules for recreational use, they scrapped it all, frustrated with the layers of bureaucracy and seemingly endless government edicts.
“It seemed like everywhere we turned there was a new regulation that was making it difficult,” Futcher said.
The drug will be legal for adults older than 21 in the state starting Monday. (Medical marijuana has been legal for years.) Along the way, an edgy, sexy industry has become beholden to reams of regulations and compliance issues — in other words, marijuana has become just another business in California, except that it remains illegal federally.
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In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana. California is one of five states, plus Washington, D.C., that followed suit. Retail sales are scheduled to begin in Massachusetts in July.
Even with other states as models for what works and what can go wrong as marijuana strains known as Sweet Skunk, Trainwreck and Russian Assassin hit the street, the next year is expected to be a bumpy one as more shops open and more stringent regulations take effect.
To be above board, businesses must comply with regulations from the state and the city or county where they operate. The state’s rules were only released in mid-November. San Francisco and Los Angeles approved theirs in December.
Local rules and regulations vary widely across the state. In some places, marijuana remains completely banned. In others, it won’t be legal immediately.
“On January 1, people are going to want to go out and buy cannabis,” said Alex Traverso, spokesman for the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. “They’re going to have to be patient in that not every place will be up and running.”
Pot-friendly San Francisco, a counterculture hub where marijuana smoke has been a fixture for half a century, was late to establish local regulations and won’t have any retail outlets open for business until later in the week. It’s a similar situation in Los Angeles.
Meantime, Fresno, Riverside, Anaheim, Bakersfield and all of surrounding Kern County have prohibited pot shops, and Long Beach has a temporary ban.
In San Diego, which has fully embraced the marijuana business, facilities must be at least 1,000 feet from parks and child-care facilities. Neighboring National City has banned all cannabis businesses. Los Angeles requires video surveillance of businesses.
For shop owners lucky enough to receive temporary licenses from the state and clear local red tape, anticipation is high.
Will Senn, founder of Urbn Leaf in San Diego, said the shop’s four phone lines have been ringing off the hook for three months, but he’s not sure what to expect when doors open at 7 a.m. with extra security and more than 60 employees at the ready for sales and deliveries.
“We’re preparing for the worst and hoping for the best,” Senn said. “We never want lines out the door and around the block. That’s not what we’re trying to accomplish here.”
Shops at first will be able to sell marijuana harvested without the regulatory controls that eventually will require extensive testing for potency, pesticides and other contaminants. Regulations touch every aspect of the cannabis business, including farming, water use, shipping, retail and consumption, and required the construction of an online licensing system. A program to track all pot from seed to sales will be phased in, along with other protections such as childproof containers for pot products.
Pot-shop founder Jamie Garzot said she’s concerned that when the current crop dries up, she’ll encounter a shortage of marijuana that meets state regulations. The irony is that her 530 Cannabis shop in Shasta Lake is close to some of California’s most-productive growing areas, yet most of the surrounding counties won’t allow cultivation that could supply her.
“Playing in the gray market is not an option,” Garzot said. “California produces more cannabis than any state in the nation, but going forward, if it’s not from a state-licensed source, I can’t put it on my shelf. If I choose to do so, I run the risk of losing my license.”
In 2016, the state produced an estimated 13.5 million pounds of pot, and 80 percent was illegally shipped out of state, according to a report prepared for the state by ERA Economics, an environmental and agricultural consulting firm. Of the remaining 20 percent, only a quarter was sold legally for medicinal purposes.
That robust black market is expected to continue to thrive, particularly as taxes and fees raise the cost of retail pot by as much as 70 percent.
“People are really trying to unload stuff now. As of January 1 who knows what’s going to happen,” said Swami Chaitanya, a longtime grower in the state’s “Emerald Triangle,” three northern California counties that have long been considered America’s epicenter of marijuana growing.
Chaitanya and his wife hand-delivered their last batch of marijuana to an Oakland dispensary Friday. Starting Monday, the law will require a licensed transporter to deliver it.
He said there was a line of people down the block, waiting to buy medical marijuana before it is taxed at rates up to 45 percent after the law takes effect. Dispensaries stocked up on product in the last weeks of December, he said, because few growers will be licensed and there is concern they could run out of marijuana.
Chaitanya has obtained a local license, but many of the region’s old-time growers have no interest in becoming legal and are thinking about getting out of growing altogether. Some will likely grow six plants or fewer, which is allowed under the law for personal consumption.
“We have this great irony of the people who moved up here because they didn’t want to participate in capitalism. They didn’t want to participate in the greater system, and they’re being asked to jump into it headfirst, and that’s not why they got into this,” said Amanda Reiman, vice president of community relations at Flow Kana, which sources marijuana from small farmers.