Oh, and beware the Trump.
In the wake of legal marijuana’s big 2016 election victory, California cannabis fans are asking, How soon is now? The unwelcome answer: Not for a while, apparently.
Of course it was always going to take some time to establish a legal framework and retail structure for recreational cannabis, which is why 2017 was set aside as the time to ramp up efforts for a Jan. 1, 2018 launch. But pro-cannabis publication The Canniforian is reporting that implementing legal cannabis in California could take until 2019—or beyond.
“We expect to see them run some legislation from the governor’s office that could extend it for at least one year,” says Nate Bradley, executive director and co-founder of the California Cannabis Industry Association (CCIA).
Part of the reason for the holdup is reconciling newly passed Proposition 64 with the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. Both are moving along similar timelines, but each initiative has to navigate different bureaucratic hoops and legal hurdles.
Another potential hitch is technology. The state not only needs new licensing software but also a “track and trace” program to follow cannabis from seed to sale—through processing, testing and distribution. Creating these two new tech platforms from scratch “is very ambitious,” according to one skeptical legislative staffer.
Yet it is essential that California implement a state program expeditiously to help fend off potential legal pitfalls, says Amanda Reiman, manager of marijuana law and policy at the non-profit Drug Policy Alliance. During the Bush administration, she notes “the feds came in because there was no state license to hold up and say you were compliant. That’s why it is so important for California to implement a state licensing program.”
Finally, there’s the Trump factor. While the mercurial president-elect says he supports states’ rights, and California has vowed to defend its laws, Trump’s nomination of cannabis opponent Republican Senator Jeffrey Sessions for attorney general has created concern among counties and cities wary of potential DEA raids.
“A lot of local governments are cautious and want to see which way it goes, see if federal agents come close them down,” said CCIA’s Bradley. “The Trump element was a monkey wrench no one saw coming.”