In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215 – the Compassionate Use Act – which exempted qualified patients who possess or cultivate marijuana for medical treatment as recommended by a physician and their primary caregivers from criminal laws which otherwise prohibit possession or cultivation of marijuana.  Prior to 2015, the Legislature was only able to make modest revisions in law to implement the voters’ approval of Proposition 215.  However, at the end of 2015, the Legislature enacted a statewide regulatory framework for medical cannabis.  This package of bills, formerly known as the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA), addressed a number of the core RCRC Policy Principles, including:  

Local land-use protections:  Provisions and clauses which preserved a counties’ ability, from a land use perspective, to regulate and/or ban cannabis activities (cultivation, dispensaries, etc.).  In addition, the legislation required a prospective commercial cannabis operator to obtain a license from the state and approval from the local government in which the activity will occur.

Explicit county taxing authority:  Provisions which explicitly allowed counties to levy various taxes associated with medical cannabis activity (these provisions do not change the process for voter approval of such taxes – they merely provided 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:  Assigned a variety of state environmental agencies with enforcement standards associated with cultivation, and established a state grant program to assist local governments with enforcement costs.

In addition to these core issues, the legislative package addressed a number of other RCRC Policy Principles. 

Shortly after the legislative enactment of a medical cannabis regulatory framework, supporters of legalizing adult-use cannabis put forth Proposition 64, which contained much, but not all, of the framework found in the MCRSA.  In November 2016, California voters approved the enactment of Proposition 64 with the expectation that legal sales of adult-use cannabis would occur on January 1, 2018.  To harmonize the MCRSA with Proposition 64, the Legislature enacted Senate Bill 94 in June 2017 which created one statewide framework for commercial medical and adult-use cannabis and labeled it the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act.

Since the enactment of Senate Bill 94, RCRC staff has advised member counties on how to best address local concerns with respect to commercial cannabis whether a county seeks a fully developed licensing scheme (as found in Humboldt County and Mendocino County), or whether a county wishes to ban all types of commercial cannabis activities (as presently found in Modoc County and Tehama County).

RCRC has also monitored, and engaged as appropriate, in a number of recent developments relating to the commercial cannabis structure, including:


  • The enactment of Senate Bill 1459 (Cannella) which creates a one-time provisional licensing mechanism to allow the legal cannabis industry to continue operating while current backlogs in the state and local licensing process are addressed.
  • The enactment of Senate Bill 1409 (Wilk), which refined the framework for regulating industrial hemp at the state level, without reducing local control.  Pending court cases affecting local cannabis regulation, including Harris v. the City of Fontana which addresses the extent to which a municipality can regulate personal grows, as set forth in Proposition 64
  • Regulatory proposals by the state agencies responsible for commercial cannabis, including proposed Bureau of Cannabis Control regulations regarding mobile deliveries and cannabis cultivation regulations proposed by the California Department of Food and Agriculture.
  • Convening an ad hoc committee of the RCRC Board of Directors, consisting of seven elected county supervisors, to address the challenge of enforcing state and local cannabis regulations in rural counties.

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:  Sarah Dukett