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Lighting Up Legislation: Regulating Recreational Marijuana in California

Environmental Litigation AttorneyEnvironmental Litigation Defense Attorney

Stephen T. Holzer



California voters legalizing the use of recreational marijuana under Proposition 64, also known as The Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA) last November is just the beginning. Deciding how cannabis will be grown, sold and consumed involves a lot of deep thinking by state and local legislators.

For one thing, AUMA has been replaced by the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, or MAUCRSA. The new law created one system of laws to regulate both medicinal and adult recreational use.

As we near the end of September, we realize two things: 

  1. Retailers are already stocking shelves with decorations for December holidays – it’s called “Christmas Creep” – a phenomenon that seems to arrive earlier and earlier each year.

  2. This year, “Cannabis Creep” is encroaching on the state too, as growers, distributors, potential retailers and consumers all keep their eyes peeled for the latest local and state laws regarding the purchase and sale of marijuana and marijuana-related products. Just think of the state government stocking up the legal shelves with bills and licensing requirements. 

Here’s a look at what’s happening currently in Los Angeles and state laws.

Regulating Marijuana Business Interests

State licenses for marijuana businesses are required, while many cities in California will also require approvals if not their own licensing. Los Angeles for example, requires city approval.

Los Angeles’s Proposition D, approved in 2013, will go up in smoke in January. The old ordinance prohibited sales of pot within the City unless the business dealt in medical marijuana and met certain other guidelines, like registration with the City Clerk. Proposition D will be repealed by Proposition M as of January 1, 2018.

Proposition M gives the L.A. City Council authority to enact and revise regulations regarding medical and recreational marijuana; enforce laws or collect fines; and tax sales.

Los Angeles Zoning: The City Planning Commission passed a Los Angeles ordinance to establish zoning regulations affecting pot growers, distributors and sellers. The primary rule under this ordinance to remember is the 800 ft. rule – no selling within 800 feet of schools, drug or alcohol treatment and rehabilitation centers, public libraries, public parks, or other cannabis retailers and microbusinesses that sell marijuana on site.

There are other zoning rules for Los Angeles: generally speaking, licensed sellers are allowed to sell in retail zones, and licensed cannabis product manufacturers are permitted to make products in manufacturing zones.

Cultivators though, have much more stringent rules pertaining to outdoor growth vs. greenhouse or nursery growth. See the info starting on page 9 of the L.A. ordinance link above for more information.

The California government developed a website to keep everyone straight at the state level: California Cannabis Portal (CCP).

As of now there are three branches of marijuana government: the Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR, the main regulatory office), CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing (branch of the state’s Department of Food and Agriculture, also referred to as just CalCannabis), and Office of Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch (MCSB is part of the state’s Department of Public Health), all post updates here.

State Licensing: According to CCP, applications for licensing are coming soon.

Under Senate Bill 94 which was chaptered in June, there will be two types of cannabis sales licenses in the state of California. Retailers selling recreational marijuana to adults should apply for A-licenses. Businesses selling medical marijuana should apply for M-licenses.

As noted, none of the state agencies are issuing licenses yet. The BMCR is the branch responsible for retail, distributor, lab testing and microbusiness licensing; and recommends business owners pursue approvals and licenses from city and county governments while they finalize the state process.

CalCannabis estimates the first cultivation licenses will be issued in January 2018. CalCannabis is working on a track-and-trace system to record supply chain movements.

The MCSB will offer several cannabis licenses, including Type 6 (non-volatile solvent and/or mechanical extractions) and Type 7 (volatile solvent extractions) licenses – neither of which will be available for a while, as the branch expects to be able to receive applications for licenses in January.

Pipe Dreams for Consumers?

Legalizing marijuana whether for medicinal or recreational use is a weighty endeavor – one that should be taken with great deliberation for the protection of all.

But given the fact that none of the state agencies are ready to issue licenses, and realistically, don’t seem to be able to do so until well after the start of the new year, the only lighting up consumers can look forward to in the near future is that of the Christmas and Hanukah lights in December.

At least those retailers are ready to roll.


Stephen T. Holzer is a Business Litigation Attorney and the Chair of our Environmental Practice Group. 

This Blog/Web Site is made available by the lawyer or law firm publisher for educational purposes only, to provide general information and a general understanding of the law, not to provide specific legal advice. By using this blog site you understand there is no attorney client relationship between you and the Blog/Web Site publisher. The Blog/Web Site should not be used as a substitute for obtaining legal advice from a licensed professional attorney in your state.

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