State, county and local officials still have work to do in refining recreational pot laws and ensure public safety, those same officials said during a marijuana seminar in Long Beach on Thursday.
Officials from across California converged on The Grand Long Beach Events Center for an all-day seminar called “6 since 64,” so-called because June marks the six-month anniversary since Proposition 64, which legalized recreational marijuana, went into effect. During a series of panel discussions, officials stressed that regulations are a work in progress, and that in the coming months and years, they will continue tinkering with how best to bring the vast marijuana industry out of the shadows.
“There is a hunger and a need to understand how this could impact communities,” said Jonatan Cvetko, the executive director of onprofit Angeles Emeralds , which advocates for reasonable marijuana regulations and hosted the seminar. “How can we positively impact the communities we hope to sell in?”
The gathering of officials came five days before the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors will receive a report from its Office of Cannabis Management, which will provide three possibilities for the future of pot in the unincorporated areas: regulate both medicinal and recreational weed, regulate one and ban the other, or continue a complete prohibition.
The earliest the county would vote on whether to move forward with one of those three options would be the following week, said Rachel Estrada, a spokesman for the Office of Cananbis Management.
It would take the county about 180 days to create an ordinance allowing marijuana in the unincorporated areas, because it would need to include regulations on fire safety, the environment, distribution, cultivation and even taxes, said Julia Orozco, a member of the county’s cannabis office.
The county, she added, also has to be sensitive to how its future marijuana laws may impact the 88 cities within its borders.
“The biggest challenge,” she said, “is to maintain a level playing field.”
One way her office has tried to create that level playing field, she said, is by recommending that if the supervisors approve medical and recreational marijuana, the unincorporated areas should have the same sales tax as the city of Los Angeles: 10 percent for recreational and 5 percent for medical.
Currently, 16 cities in Los Angeles County allow recreational marijuana, Orosco said. But others, including Long Beach, could soon follow suit. County officials want to ensure those cities can have a seamless transition.
“We want our county to serve as a resource,” she said.
Orozco was on a panel composed entirely of county officials. There were two other panels, one with state officials and the other with officials from Los Angeles and Culver City.
Much of the conversation focused on how officials will enforce marijuana laws to ensure that the black market does not thrive and undercut the legal market, while trying not to punish businesses – such as dispensaries and growers – who want to comply with the law but don’t understand the regulations.
“Our first goal was to inform and educate,” said Dean Grafilo, director of the state’s Department of Consumer affairs. “We’ve tried to simultaneously inform, educate and enforce.”
Grafilo added that about two months ago, his department sent 1,000 cease-and-desist letters to marijuana businesses that were not legal, and a couple of hundred of those have been referred to the investigations team.
The state also recently re-upped its emergency regulations, giving them another 180 days from June 6 before permanent rules have to be enacted, said Lori Ajax, the chief of the California Bureau of Cannabis Control. But unlike most other renewals of emergency regulations, which do not change from the originals, the state decided to improve upon them based on what officials have learned from the first six months of legal weed.
One change, for example, is that businesses no longer need to apply for two separate state licenses, one for medical and one for recreational marijuana. Instead, there is one application in which prospective business owners state whether they want to deal in one, the other or both.
A single state license will say what those businesses can produce, distribute or sell, Ajax said.
“It’s been a huge learning curve for all of us,” Ajax said. “We decided we needed to get aggressive and not wait for the regular regulations.”