In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215 – the Compassionate Use Act – which exempts patients and defined caregivers who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment recommended by a physician from criminal laws which otherwise prohibit possession or cultivation of marijuana.  In conjunction with Proposition 215, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 420, known as the “Medical Marijuana Program Act” in 2003 to further implement the state’s medical marijuana laws, guidelines and practices.

Over the last several years there has been a dramatic proliferation of cannabis cultivation in California’s rural counties and the scale and volume of grow sites have enlarged.  As a result, the Legislature has considered a variety of bills to establish a statewide regulatory framework for medical cannabis.  In 2015 the Legislature enacted a package of bills, including Senate Bill 643 (McGuire), Assembly Bill 243 (Wood), and Assembly Bill 266 (Bonta) – the Medical Cannabis Regulatory and Safety Act (MCRSA).  Together these bills address a number of the core RCRC Policy Principles, including:   

Local land-use protections.  AB 266 and AB 243 contain a number of sections, provisions, and clauses which preserve a counties’ ability, from a land use perspective, to regulate and/or ban cannabis activities (cultivation, dispensaries, etc.).  In addition, the bills require a prospective cannabis licensee to obtain a license from the state and approval to operate from the local government in which the activity will occur.

Eliminating the ‘collective model’.  The legislative package abolishes the collective model in exchange for a strict licensing scheme.  The package does provide an exemption from licensure for personal grows and for primary caregivers who care for no more than five patients; however, this exemption does not supersede a local ordinance which does not make exceptions for personal grows/primary caregivers.

Explicit county taxing authority.  SB 643 contains provisions which explicitly allow counties to levy various taxes associated with medical cannabis activity.  The bill does not change the process for approval – it merely provides the explicit authority necessary to minimize expected legal challenges to any tax scheme enacted at the county level.

Ensuring environmental issues associated with cultivation are addressed.  AB 243 assigns a variety of state environmental agencies with enforcement standards associated with cultivation, and establishes a state grant program to assist local governments with enforcement costs.  It should be noted that no statewide cultivation tax, in which the proceeds would have funded environmental enforcement/clean-up, was retained in AB 243.  Thus, monies for environmental issues will be derived primarily from fines and penalties and some regulatory license fees.

In addition to these core issues, the legislative package addresses a number of other RCRC Policy Principles.  These include restricting mobile deliveries, prohibiting cross-ownership of licenses, ensuring employers can adopt cannabis-use restrictions for employees, and restricting access to licensure by those convicted of certain felony offenses.

RCRC adopted medical marijuana policy principles in January 2014 to provide staff the ability to work with members of the Legislature, municipal organizations, cannabis advocates and other stakeholders to address the very complex issues and broader policy considerations associated with medical marijuana cultivation and the impact to rural county governments.  RCRC will continue to participate in the development of new legislation and regulations to address the policy concerns of RCRC as put forth in the policy principles.

Staff:  Paul A. Smith and Staci Heaton