Rebecca Byars, Timothy Byars
Co—founders, The Agathist Collective
Prop 64 legalized adult-use cannabis (also called recreational use). In 2018, one might reasonably expect access to an increased number of cannabis products, retail stores, and delivery services.
In fact, here in Contra Costa County, we expect just the opposite.
Most local cities—in fact, all cities in Contra Costa save for Richmond—have imposed bans, extended moratoriums, and have expressed concerns about the permitting of local cannabis businesses, despite that California voters overwhelmingly supported legal access to medicinal cannabis in 2015 and legal access to adult-use cannabis last November.
Because of these bans, cannabis patients in Contra Costa County (starting 1 January 2018) will likely be forced to drive to or order delivery from companies in Oakland, Berkeley, Vallejo, or Richmond. Many companies in these cities do not deliver to Contra Costa County. Those that do deliver charge a premium for the service ($10-$15 delivery fees) and require minimum order amounts. Add on the 15% excise tax that will be imposed on all retail sales (you can avoid the 15% tax if you pay $100 annually for a State ID card), and you can expect a delivery of a $16 tin of 5mg chocolate blueberries to cost about $34.
How did we get here?
In 2015, the California State Legislature passed a series of bills collectively called the Medical Cannabis Regulations and Safety Act (MCRSA). And last November, California voters passed Prop 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (AUMA). In June, the California State Legislature approved a bill to merge these initiatives into a single set of regulations called the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulations and Safety Act (MAUCRSA).
After 20 years of an unregulated system, California will finally implement a state-governed regulatory system that oversees all aspects of the industry, including: cultivation, extraction, manufacturing, testing, distribution and delivery, and taxation. These new laws address important regulatory and safety issues that the industry has needed for a long time.
However, this first iteration of these regulations is seriously flawed and presents barriers of access for the very people the regulations should protect. Some of these regulations cause undue burdens on the companies who are currently compliant with state law. For example, there exists a requirement that, effective January 1, all cannabis companies must have express permission from their city of origin to legally operate a cannabis business.
At first blush, this seems a reasonable requirement—all businesses require a local business permit. In the cannabis industry, however, it is a death knell to most cannabis businesses east of the Caldecott tunnel.
Before the end of the 2017 calendar year, cities currently have three options for regulating cannabis:
Option 1: Allow local cannabis companies to exist by issuing city-designed business
licenses and by establishing local regulations.
Option 2: Establish no local regulations and allow the State regulations to govern local
Option 3: Enact a city-wide ban and prohibit cannabis companies from operating in
Option 1 represents a considerable amount of work for a municipality. To enact local cannabis regulations, a city must create a local regulatory system to determine:
• The types of businesses allowed (for example, store front dispensaries, lab testing, or commercial cultivation)
• The number of licenses to issue for each type of business
• The locations available to these businesses
• The requirements, fees, and qualifications necessary for obtaining a license
Most city councils argue that they simply do not have enough time to implement this type of regulatory structure, especially when the State has not issued its final draft of regulations yet.
Option 2 is undesirable because cities and counties do not want to abdicate power to the State, lose the ability to enforce more restrictive regulations, and lose the opportunity to collect taxes.
That leaves Option 3, which is the least threatening and easiest way to respond to the state-imposed deadline and is why cities across California are enacting bans and moratoriums.
Unfortunately, many city councils have very little first hand knowledge about using cannabis to treat age-related and chronic illness. This lack of education fuels a reluctance and enforces misperceptions despite data that demonstrates the positive impact of a local cannabis industry, including lower incidents of DUIs, violent crimes, suicides in young men, and opioid-related overdoses and deaths1, 2.
We know that cannabis prohibition doesn’t work. It fuels the black market and prevents access to the responsible people who need these products. It’s critical that Contra Costa County residents continue to have access to locally-based cannabis services.
There is still time to affect change. Call and write to your civic representatives and tell them you want to receive products and services from companies that are licensed locally. If they tell you that you’re allowed to have your products delivered to your home, let them know that is not good enough. We voted for access to legal cannabis. Driving to Oakland or paying exorbitant prices to delivery companies located in different counties effectively limits our access.
Consider this: cannabis is far safer to ingest than NSAIDs (conservative estimates have reported 3,200 deaths annually as a result of NSAID-induced GI bleeding; 0 deaths annually are attributed to cannabis) 3. What if similar restrictions and requirements were placed on ibuprofen? What if you had to drive to Richmond every time you needed to buy Advil? Or spend an additional $15 per bottle to have it delivered? Does that seem reasonable? We don’t think so.
1 Trilling, David. “Marijuana Legalization: Research Review on Crime and Impaired Driving.” Journalists Resource, 23 Sept. 2016, https://journalistsresource.org/studies/society/drug-policy/marijuana-legalization-crime-driving-research
2 Armentano, Paul. “The Five Biggest Marijuana Myths and how to Debunk Them.” Freedom Leaf, 12 July 2017, https://www.freedomleaf.com/five-biggest-marijuana-myths/.
3 Krueger, Courtney, PharmD, BCPS, “Do NSAIDs Cause More Deaths Than Opioids?”