Insights for Regulators from California Cannabis Control

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November 9, 2022

Oaksterdam University Dale Sky Jones recently served as a keynote speaker and panel moderator at the California Cannabis Control SummitThe event brought together regulators from across the state and nation to share information and resources. Here, we talk to Event Designer Katherine Blair about the issues facing regulators as they help to shape the new licit cannabis market:

Oaksterdam University: Tell us about your role with Infocast, the organization that plans this event. 

Katherine Blair: I do all the market research into new laws and regulations. I talk to advisors who either work in different forms of government or who spoke at CCC the prior year. I take a look at what’s new in the law and what advisors are saying. I put that all together and create the agenda for the event and put together a list of potential speakers for each topic.

OU: Tell us about the history of the conference. 

KB: Our first year was 2019. This is a relatively new conference for us. For municipal officials, a number of them just needed a place to get together with their counterparts from other parts of the state to create a forum to share best practices and lessons learned in how to write local municipal code.

OU: What was the impetus for starting the conference?

KB: The big issue for CCC is that about 70 percent of California municipalities still don’t have cannabis regulations on the books. Even though MAUCRSA (Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act) created a new market for regulated cannabis it also posed questions for municipal officers — mayors and their staff; county supervisors; zoning, building, and fire code officials; law enforcement officers; public health officials; city and county attorneys; district attorneys — all these different people in different aspects of government have had to switch their thinking on cannabis. 

Prior to this, cannabis was seen as an illegal substance. The perception was very negative. Now that it’s legal they’re looking to enforce a completely different set of laws and regulations.

For example, District Attorneys were used to looking at farming as illegal, but now it’s about getting enforcement officers to walk the farm, whether it’s indoors or outdoors, and make sure the building and fire codes are correct and that there’s enough security. City and county attorneys must think about ‘what are our liabilities?’ Zoning officials must plan for different types of activities within their borders. As a state, it’s legal but each municipality has to get together and think about how this activity fits within their particular city or county. 

OU: How does regulation differ between municipalities? 

KB: Everyone has a different population and makeup. They’re going to regulate very differently in Humboldt County than in San Diego.

Quite a lot of municipal officers in small jurisdictions don’t have the same amount of money for research as places like L.A., Sacramento, San Francisco, and San Diego. Those larger cities can create a department of cannabis and staff it to create regulations and zoning. They have the money to do this.

A lot of really small places don’t have the money for staff to come up with new regulations and pay consultants or lawyers to make sure they’re doing this in the best way possible.

The conference is particularly helpful for small communities that don’t have as many resources. Oftentimes those are the most negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. They need this information the most.

OU: What is the goal of the CCC? 

KB: Let’s put these people together, share information and hopefully write better code. Let’s learn from each other’s mistakes, create an environment where citizens in each municipality have the opportunity to work in cannabis whether it’s farming, manufacturing, retail, or delivery.

OU: What are some of the questions regulators must account for as they write laws for their communities? 

KB: Where can these cannabis retailers and manufacturers be zoned? How do local police officers handle when someone is driving under the influence of marijuana? How do they create a licensing structure that communicates with the state in a way that makes sense?

That’s really the goal for this conference to get all of these officials together in the same room and get them talking about what’s working and what isn’t working, to share best practices and lessons learned in writing codes and the creation and enforcement of policy.

OU: How is education important to regulators?

We’re really excited to have Dale speak. It will be great for these municipal officials to hear from Oaksterdam because oftentimes they write laws and they don’t always understand how their code or new zoning systems affect the actual businesses themselves.

There tends to be a lack of knowledge among public officials for example the equipment used, the banking and tax impediments, the social aspects.

Most cannabis businesses are all cash. They can’t bank in the same way, so how do you collect taxes from a business that can’t just deposit money? 

There is also a lack of knowledge about the difference between cannabis and synthetic cannabis. 

OU: What about education when it comes to handling cannabis businesses that once were illicit and now want to be legal?

KB: There needs to be a lot of education when it comes to handling a cannabis business that was an illicit business that wants to be legal. A lot of businesses in California have been illicit for years. Now they have the opportunity to be legal businesses that are licensed. The local municipality has to shift its focus from ‘this is a business I need to shut down’ to ‘this is a business I need to work with to help them become licensed, understand fire and safety codes, labor laws, and do all these things they haven’t had to do before. Let’s bring them into the legal fold, as opposed to tamp down the business, destroy the product, and put people in jail.

It’s a shift that has to happen, especially in those communities negatively impacted by the War on Drugs. There is a huge social equity component to understand. These shifts are important. 

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