Mon | Dec 18, 2017

Confusion coming with California's legal marijuana

Published:Monday | October 30, 2017 | 12:00 AM
In this April 23, 2017, photo, vendors offer marijuana for sale at the High Times Cannabis Cup in San Bernardino, California.

LOS ANGELES (AP):

Ready or not, California kicks off recreational marijuana sales on January 1, 2018, and, mostly, it's not.

Los Angeles and San Francisco are among many cities still struggling to fashion local rules for pot shops and growers. Without the regulations, there could be limited options in many places for consumers eager to ring in the new year with a legal pot purchase.

"The bulk of folks probably are not going to be ready January 1," conceded Cara Martinson of the California State Association of Counties.

In general, California will treat cannabis like alcohol, allowing people 21 and older to legally possess up to an ounce and grow six marijuana plants at home.

Come January, the newly legalised recreational sales will be merged with the state's two-decade-old medical marijuana market, which is also coming under much stronger regulation.

But big gaps loom in the system intended to move cannabis from the field to distribution centres, then to testing labs and, eventually, retail shops.

The state intends to issue only temporary licences starting in January, and it has yet to release its plan to govern the estimated US$7-billion marketplace, the nation's largest legal pot economy.

If businesses aren't licensed and operating in the legal market, governments aren't collecting their slice of revenue from sales. The state alone estimates it could see as much as US$1 billion roll in within several years.

Operators have complained about what they see as potential conflicts in various laws and rules, or seemingly contradictory plans.

The state expects businesses that receive licences will only work with others that hold them. But that has alarmed operators who wonder what will happen if their supplier, for example, decides not to join the new legal market.

Others say it's not clear what could happen in cities that don't enact pot laws, which they warn could open a loophole for businesses to set up shop. Some communities have banned recreational sales completely.

Most banks continue to refuse to do business with marijuana operators - pot remains illegal under federal law - and there are also problems obtaining insurance.

With recreational legalisation fast approaching, "we don't have enough of anything," lamented Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, a marijuana industry group.