A comprehensive suite of marijuana regulations were passed by California Governor Jerry Brown yesterday, creating much-needed government oversight over the state’s billion-dollar industry. The bill specifically addresses the environmental impact of growing marijuana, including water use during the drought.
Since the state’s Compassionate Care Act was passed almost 20 years ago, marijuana cultivation has been legal in California for the farmers who sell to the state’s dispensaries. But it hasn’t been easy for growers, who are governed by an inconsistent set of rules, and haphazard, if any, enforcement.
Assembly Bill 243, Assembly Bill 266, and State Bill 643 will set up state and local licenses for marijuana businesses and create a brand-new, dedicated Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation. As part of it, farmers would be required to track and report their water use and document the sources of that water. Earlier this summer, a study showed that some farmers in Northern California were diverting wild streams.
Brown called the bills a “new path for responsible marijuana cultivation.”
In addition to marijuana’s well-publicized (and somewhat overstated) impact on the state’s dwindling water supply, the bills also address other natural resource concerns. The bills would help monitor the use of pesticides and other chemicals, and waste products will also be regulated: AB 243 will require all nine regional water boards in the state to develop protections for waste water discharge from marijuana farms, especially when it’s adjacent to public lands.
The bills are also a win for consumers. The new marijuana cultivation department will liaise with the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health to create a labeling system and mandatory testing process for edible products, compounds, and oils. This essential requirement for patient safety is something that’s of increasing concern as people are giving these products to their kids, as a recent BuzzFeed investigation explored.
Although the regulatory process is already in motion, the licensing program is still a few years off: It’s not planned to take effect until January of 2018. By that time, California will likely have passed a ballot measure legalizing weed for recreational use. Which will make it very easy for the state to nurture a growing billion-dollar business into one of the largest agricultural industries of all time.