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California Cannabis Reform?

Normally when we hear about a reform to public policy it’s because the existing system is older, the world has changed in a significant way, or public attitudes have changed. California’s legal cannabis program is only 2 years old, and not completely implemented yet, but it appears reforms are already being contemplated.

The California program is a disappointment to almost all the players. The regulatory burden (still growing) is extreme, the capital requirements to get even a tiny operation fully licensed and off the ground are prohibitive to all but the most well-heeled large corporations, and local restrictions are slowing down businesses to a crawl. This all works against the “legacy” operators, tens of thousands of small family-owned producers who have been putting up with the war on drugs for generations.

Meanwhile large corporations are using money and lawyers to sail through the permitting maze and building out shockingly large operations designed to capture “market share”.

The Mendocino County Board of Supervisors put an item on the agenda for the first time called “Amnesty Transition Pathway”; this is a study item right now, something for the county to look at and discuss. No action has been proposed yet.

The title of this initiative is awkward but it kinda looks like the county might be considering relaxing the more onerous rules and regulations temporarily to give the legacy operators without licenses a chance to get a start in the industry they created without burdensome regulations.

The Mendocino Cannabis Alliance immediately sent a memo in support of this effort and some of the points it raises illustrates what might be happening. They ask for a “new paradigm” of the California approach, which is unusual so soon after the program was started. They want to “reconceptualize county and state” regulations, and address the “insurmountable capital requirements” faced by the legacy producers. And many other points. They are asking for “meaningful policy reform”.

The list of deficiencies in the California model for legal cannabis is very long, and it has created more problems than it’s solved. Good reasons to consider reform, but unusual with such a new program. The discussion has just started.

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