Business & Economy

California moves to unite conflicting marijuana laws

File: Kushmart, one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles, on Monday afternoon, Feb. 29, 2016.
File: Kushmart, one of the largest medical marijuana dispensaries in downtown Los Angeles, on Monday afternoon, Feb. 29, 2016.
Maya Sugarman/KPCC

California is one step closer to resolving tricky legal conflicts on its path to becoming the nation's largest marijuana economy.

Gov. Jerry Brown's administration has released documents outlining proposed changes to square the state's new recreational pot law with its long-standing law on medical marijuana.

The two laws took different approaches in many areas, including the potential size of marijuana grows and how many licenses businesses could hold in cultivation, distribution and manufacturing.

The Democrat governor's administration has stressed that one regulatory framework is needed to avoid duplicating costs and confusing businesses.

The governor's attempt to reconcile the two laws hasn't met any formal opposition, though the proposal is lengthy and complicated and groups such as the Los Angeles Cannabis Task Force are still reviewing the plan.

"This takes us another step closer to a uniform industry and puts this state in a position to set the national standard," Avis Bulbulyan, president of the group, said in an email.

Hezekiah Allen, president of the California Growers Association, had a similar reaction, but said the marijuana farmers' organization had a few concerns with the proposal.

Chiefly, Allen said the association is concerned with Brown's proposal to allow a single entity to hold licenses to grow and sell marijuana. A medical marijuana provider can't hold both licenses, but Brown proposes to lift that restriction after it becomes legal to sell recreational pot in California on Jan. 1.

"It could lead to mega-manufactures and mega-chain stores," Allen said.

On the other hand, he said Brown's plan includes temporarily barring one entity from owning more than three retail stores and a farm larger than four acres.

In November, California joined a growing number of states in legalizing recreational marijuana use for adults.

By 2018, when the law kicks in, state officials must have crafted regulations and rules governing the emerging legal marijuana market with an estimated value of $7 billion, from where and how plants can be grown to setting guidelines to track the buds from fields to stores.

In general, the state will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and grow six marijuana plants at home.

"This proposed legislation helps build an effective statewide regulatory system for cannabis to achieve our goals of protecting public safety with clear and consistent rules that are not overly burdensome," said Lori Ajax, head of the state's marijuana agency. "It harmonizes the many elements of the two main statutes governing medicinal and adult-use cannabis, while preserving the integrity and separation of those industries."

Those changes must be approved by the Legislature.

Earlier this year, Brown proposed spending more than $50 million to establish programs to collect taxes and issue licenses while hiring dozens of workers to regulate the industry.
Associated Press writer Paul Elias contributed to this report from San Francisco.