3 Important Learnings from the 2019 California Cannabis Control Summit

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The 2019 California Cannabis Control Summit, a gathering of municipal officials from across the state, focused on the various regulatory and enforcement challenges brought forth in the first year of California’s cannabis legalization through the Medicinal and Adult-Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MAUCRSA).

This year’s summit, held in Sacramento, brought together a wide array of municipal officials – mayors and their staff, cannabis program managers, city managers, county supervisors, zoning officials, building and fire code enforcement, law enforcement, city and county attorneys, and public health employees – involved in cannabis regulation and enforcement in some capacity. Joe Rogoway, Ken Stratton, and Lindsay Whyte from Rogoway Law Group moderated three separate panels on the first day of the summit.

In this chat, Joe, Ken and Lindsay share learnings from their experience attending and moderating three panels at this important gathering of municipal officials across California involved in cannabis regulation and enforcement.

# 1 Tackling Illegal Cannabis Operations Remains a Priority

Enforcement officials at the summit likened cracking down on illegal cannabis operations, rampant across the state, to playing whack-a-mole; when an illegal operation pops up, and they try to stop the activity, three more will pop up somewhere else.

The discussion moderated by Ken, Civil Litigation and Criminal Issues in the Cannabis Industry, had panelists share similar challenges posed by the newly legalized and regulated cannabis market.

Panelists – including the City of Sacramento’s Senior Deputy City Attorney, Melissa Bickel and Deputy City Attorney, Emilio Camacho; the City of Los Angeles’ City Attorney,  Alexander Freedman; and the City of Chula Vista’s Deputy City Attorney, Megan McClurg – stressed the need to prioritize and improve efficiency because they are understaffed.

According to Ken, “It sounds like it’s almost universally the case that the enforcement apparatus  – the attorneys and the police, just the folks who are enforcing the laws within the municipalities – are prioritizing unlicensed activities. Though they didn’t flat-out say they wouldn’t go after licensed activity, they just don’t seem to have the bandwidth for it right now.” There are also additional factors that warrant remediation. For instance, if regulators and enforcement are aware of an unlawful grow, that is tied to organized crime then that’s what they will prioritize. In most instances, there are additional public health issues, like mold in cultivation sites, associated with such cases.

# 2 Regulators are Keen to Adopt a Proactive, Educational Approach Rather Than a Punitive One.

Lindsay discussed the “State of the California Regulatory Regime” with Nicole Elliott, Senior Advisor on Cannabis to the Governor’s Office of Business and Economic Development; Richard Parrott, Director of CalCannabis Cultivation Licensing at the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA); and Rasha Salama, Assistant Branch Chief at the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch at the California Department of Public Health (CDPH).

In this panel covering learnings from the first year of cannabis legalization and a discussion about the future outlook for the cannabis industry in California, the panelists stressed the continued enforcement of regulations for those operating illegally. However,  the panelists, representing key regulatory bodies, emphasized a proactive and educational approach moving forward, instead of a punitive one.  “For those people who have their provisional cannabis licenses, or their temporary cannabis licenses, or even their annual cannabis licenses, [California’s cannabis regulatory bodies] are going to be really focusing on educating [industry operators] about some mistakes or missteps in their operations, and how [operators] can improve their commercial cannabis operations to be completely compliant with state law,” according to Lindsay.

# 3 Local Regulators are Developing Policies By Sharing Learnings

Joe moderated a panel discussion, Implementing Cannabis Regulation in Your Municipality, featuring Municipal officials with extensive experience regulating the cannabis industry in California:

  • Joseph Devlin, Chief, Office of Cannabis Policy & Enforcement, City of Sacramento;
  • Nicole Elliott, Senior Advisor on Cannabis to Governor Gavin Newsom;
  • Greg Minor, Assistant to the City Administrator at the Nuisance Abatement/Special Activity Permits Division in the City of Oakland;
  • Cat Packer, Executive Director & General Manager at the City of Los Angeles’ Department of Cannabis Regulation; and
  • Tim Ricard, Cannabis Program Manager with the Sonoma County Economic Development Board.

An interesting learning from this panel was that municipal and county cannabis program regulators were in constant conversation with each other. Panelists acknowledged that they saw what their counterparts did in different cities, studied what worked and what didn’t work for that city, and then adapted these policies to work for their municipality. For example, the social equity program for cannabis permitting and licensing, which started in the City of Oakland, was the inspiration behind similar programs that were instituted in the City of San Francisco and the City of Sacramento. The Department of Cannabis Regulation the City of Los Angeles ultimately relied on these predecessor social equity programs to institute a successful equity program in Los Angeles.

A Laboratory of Regulatory Frameworks

Even post-legalization only about a third of the 482 municipalities and 58 counties in California are regulating cannabis in any way whatsoever.

As Joe puts it: “Each one of these cities and counties that has its own ordinance is a laboratory for how they’re going to regulate cannabis. Through these various experiments that are playing up and down the state, hopefully, something that resembles the best policy that we can get surfaces and percolates to the top. Right now, we’re in the midst of that percolation phase, where there’s a lot of bubbles and lots of things moving around, but a fully formed, regulatory framework for cannabis really hasn’t come into being yet.

There’s still so much work left to do; from just a base level regulatory perspective. There are so many jurisdictions that were represented at the summit, that had just started even talking about [a regulatory framework] in their respective municipality. California is a huge state, and I still think we’re kind of at the beginning-of-the-beginning of this whole thing.”

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