Three weeks from today, on Jan. 1, the state will begin issuing licenses for cannabis businesses and shops will get to start selling recreational marijuana legally for the first time in California.

In anticipation of interest from thousands — or even tens of thousands — of would-be professional cannabis growers, manufacturers and retailers, Secretary of State Alex Padilla has launched an online portal aimed at helping entrepreneurs join California’s emerging $7 billion legal cannabis industry.

[related_articles location=”left” show_article_date=”false” article_type=”automatic-primary-section” curated_ids=””]“The first stop for any business hoping to start up in California is the Secretary of State’s office,” Padilla said. “With the commercial cannabis businesses, that’s certainly no exception.”

The new website, which is called Cannabizfile, walks business owners through the steps they’ll need to take to register their business names and open a cannabis enterprise in California. And — much like the agency’s recently launched Bizfile portal for traditional businesses — it allows entrepreneurs to complete the necessary paperwork entirely online.

“We decided, we can either have them all line up in our office in Sacramento and do this on paper, or we can create a way for them to do it online,” Padilla said. “We’re trying to get ahead of the wave.”

Padilla said his office has been fielding calls for some time from entrepreneurs and their attorneys looking for information about registering business names, converting from nonprofits and filing for trademarks. Those calls, he said, helped inform what’s included in the new portal and how it’s presented.

Many of the steps are the same ones every new venture in California faces, Padilla said, from determining what type of business they want to be to registering their unique name. But they decided they needed a cannabis-specific portal because there are some particular considerations for cannabis businesses, he said, such as the ability to form cannabis cooperative associations. Also, Padilla said there was concern that aspiring cannabis entrepreneurs could bog down or crash the regular Secretary of State’s site come Jan. 1.

“I can’t recall – not only in recent memory, but in a recent decade — any industry of this magnitude that became legal from one day to the next and triggered the number of new businesses expected to start up in a very short time frame,” he said.

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The portal is live now, though the Secretary of State won’t start accepting cannabis business registrations until Jan. 1. Padilla said they wanted to put the information out in advance so entrepreneurs can get prepared and understand the entire process.

“We’re the first step, but we’re not the only step,” he said.

The Bureau of Cannabis Control won’t verify business registration before it hands out temporary licenses, according to agency spokesman Alex Traverso. But before businesses can get full annual licenses, Traverso said his staff will check to be sure they’ve filed proper paperwork with the Secretary of State.

To help spread the word, Padilla’s office filmed a short PSA with a special guest: none other than cannabis industry icon, Cheech Marin.

In the video, a spectacled Marin is working a computer at the Secretary of State’s office when a citizen comes in to ask about starting a cannabis business in California. Marin — who Padilla said did the video “pro bono” as a service to the industry — directs her to the secretary’s new portal,

The Secretary of State will also let businesses register trademarks and service marks — such as logos, slogans and products — through its portal starting Jan. 1. But Padilla said there will be limits on what can be trademarked due to federal law.

“Because of the federal status of cannabis as category one drug, a lot of this stuff you can’t trademark,” he said.

Though he expects many would-be entrepreneurs to take advantage of the online portal, Padilla said his staff is gearing up to work New Year’s Day to process paperwork in person at their Sacramento office.

“We know that there’s a lot of interest and anticipation,” he said. “We’ll be ready.”

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