In this April 20, 2017, photo, bud-tenders help customers at ShowGrow, a medical marijuana dispensary in downtown Los Angeles. For dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana by January 2, new regulations are needed, fast. (Richard Vogel, Associated Press)

Out of time: California moves to “emergency” rules to keep recreational weed sales on track

Three state agencies spent more than a year drafting 211 pages of regulations for California’s medical marijuana market. And they’ve collected thousands of public comments on those proposed rules since they were released in the spring.

But state officials announced late Wednesday that they must go back to the drawing board, crafting new rules under an “emergency rulemaking process” that bypasses the normal public hearing phase. Otherwise, they’d miss a mandated Jan. 2 deadline to begin issuing licenses for cannabis businesses and allow recreational marijuana sales to start in the biggest market in the world.

The agencies have to scrap their proposed rules thanks to a trailer bill that was tacked onto California’s annual budget.

Senate Bill 94, also known as the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, was passed in June. It attempts to reconcile differences between the state’s medical and recreational cannabis laws. But it also conflicts with a number of regulations proposed for the medical market by the three state agencies charged with overseeing the industry, including how cannabis is distributed and what types of licenses will be available.

Now the Department of Consumer Affair’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, the Department of Public Health and Department of Food and Agriculture anticipate officially withdrawing their first set of proposed regulations in early August.

New emergency regulations for medical marijuana are expected to be published this fall, though there’s no hard date yet.

The agencies will then need to incorporate those changes into proposed regulations in the works for the recreational marijuana market, which are also due out this fall.

Alex Traverso, spokesman for the state cannabis bureau, said officials will still respond in writing to the public comments they’ve already received. And he said those comments will be “extremely useful” as they finalize rules for the recreational market.

Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, spoke during the public comment hearing on the state’s draft medical cultivation regulations at the Ukiah Valley Conference Center. (Chris Pugh-Ukiah Daily Journal.)

The department still plans to start issuing licenses on Jan. 2. That doesn’t leave them with enough time to release the revised regulations and hold public hearings to get feedback as they did on the first set of proposed rules.

Instead, Traverso said, “We will likely do public comment after the fact to get input as we know the fine-tuning will continue to be a process.”

Hezekiah Allen, a Humboldt cultivator who serves as executive director of the California Growers Association, said he’s generally happy with the changes made in the budget trailer bill. And he’s not too concerned about the state skipping the public hearing process at this point.

“We’ve been working with them pretty closely for more than a year now. We trust them,” he said. “We have a high degree of confidence that they’re going to do a reasonable job.”

Allen said he also appreciates the time sensitivity and doesn’t want to see any delays to California rolling out its licensing program.

“We wanted to get this done quickly,” he said. “Growers are still criminals until we get licenses, technically speaking. So we appreciate an accelerated timeline.”

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