When will cannabis legalization in California take effect?

Starting with the assumptions that AUMA makes it onto the ballot and passes in November 2016, legalization will proceed in three stages:  

  1. immediate legalization of “Personal Use” within specified limits;
  2. enactment of regulations; and
  3. licensing, which kicks off lawful commercial activity.  Ultimately, law commercial grows, distribution, processing, and sales by licensed non-medical entities should begin around January 2018.

(The full text of AUMA, along with several other resources, is available in our Guide to AUMA.)

First, AUMA legalizes “Personal Use” of cannabis immediately.  To summarize, persons aged 21 or over can possess, use, and “give away” 28.5 grams of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated marijuana.  They can also grow up to six marijuana plants and “possess the marijuana produced by the plants.”  All of this is subject to a variety of limits under AUMA.  This will not authorize commercial activity, such as retail sale of non-medical marijuana.

Second, AUMA kicks off a process for passing regulations for licensed commercial marijuana activity.  The Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, currently charged with enacting regulations under the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (signed by Governor Brown in October 2015), will be renamed the Bureau of Marijuana Control.  The BMC, along with other departments, will make regulations to implement the AUMA.  The BMC’s director appoints an advisory committee of subject matter experts.     

Third, AUMA directs the licensing authorities to “begin issuing licenses” “by January 1, 2018.”  These licenses will allow businesses to engage in lawful commerce, whether it is a commercial grow, processing, distribution, or retail sale.  January 1, 2018 is also the date the new marijuana tax takes effect under AUMA as well as the date new requirements for physicians’ recommendations for medical marijuana apply under AUMA. 

Nothing in AUMA prohibits licensing authorities from issuing permits earlier than January 2018, but it will be a race to complete the regulations before 2018 so, as a practical matter, we should not expect permits to issue significantly before the deadline.  By comparison, the regulations under the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act are also not expected to be final until January 2018, and that legislation was enacted more than a year before the November 2016 election.      

One final note:  It is possible, if not likely, that the California legislature will modify the legal structure while the regulations are being implemented.  For example, in Oregon,a program referred to as “Early Retail Sales,” the state legislature allowed medical dispensaries to sell in small quantities while the licensing regulations were being finalized, so that consumers would have a lawful source for the marijuana that state law authorized consumers to have.  Pressure will likely mount in California for something similar.