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Dear Pot Lawyer,

What’s going on with legal weed in California?

I’m not 100 percent sure, to be honest, but it seems crazy. Every week, I talk to pot lawyers in our San Francisco and Los Angeles offices, or to an Oregon client expanding south, and they like to tell me things are crazy in California. In all, it makes me feel good about being here and not there. But let me tell you what I know.

Last November, California voters approved Proposition 64, AKA the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (“AUMA”), making legal the recreational use of cannabis by those 21 and older. You probably remember that. Prior to AUMA, California had been the longest-tenured medical marijuana state, going back to Proposition 215 in 1996. The state’s medical cannabis laws are and were as confusing and messy as Oregon’s, especially if you’re thinking about things from a business point of view. And really, they haven’t improved much in the past 20 years.

Under AUMA, patients and their primary caregivers were shielded from criminal prosecution by the state for growing and possessing weed, but not for distributing it. That was somewhat confusing, so in 2004 the state passed Senate Bill 420 (yep, 420) authorizing patient “collectives” and “cooperatives” to grow and sell medical cannabis on a non-profit basis to members. Five or six years ago, when I first started working with Oregon dispensaries, some of them were organized as co-ops, too. People didn’t know what to do, so they copied the California model.

Many, many things happened since, but suffice to say that California is currently under the gun. The big deadline is January 1, 2018, when state licensing is set to commence. The legislature has been thinking hard about that: A few weeks back, it passed Senate Bill 94, which repealed large sections of state medical cannabis laws and is expected to be signed by Governor Jerry Brown. Senate Bill 94 also makes changes to AUMA, most notably by allowing out-of-staters into the market. That seems like a good move, because, as in Oregon, out-of-staters were coming regardless.

During the run-up to January 1, California cities and counties are enacting local pot laws. California has 58 counties and 482 cities statewide, and each can create its own rules or ban cannabis altogether. (I told you it was crazy.) Some lawyers in my firm have been following these developments, and I was interested to see Los Angeles County receive the worst ranking of all. Orange County and Pasadena were also in the top five.

Despite the fact that California cities and counties are doing this and that, weed is still absolutely legal in California for personal use. Adults can legally grow up to six plants and possess up to one ounce of flower or eight grams of concentrates, today. Those rules will remain in place next year after retail stores open. That’s also going to be crazy, but let’s hope it goes well.


Got a question? Email us at potlawyer@portlandmercury.com. And remember that if you have a legal problem, contact a lawyer! Our educational musings cannot be relied upon as specific legal advice.