Recreational Marijuana Is Going Legal Soon—What’s the Latest?

by HelloMD

In just a few days, California becomes the next state to legalize recreational cannabis. Big changes are afoot. Are you ready? Here are some pointers on how to navigate the 2018 cannabis landscape.

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Will My Dispensary Be Open on January 1?

On Dec. 14, California’s Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) distributed its first temporary commercial cannabis licenses to several dozen retailers, distributors, microbusinesses and laboratories, with a promise of more licenses to be issued daily. Licensed dispensaries can provide recreational cannabis to adults 21 years of age and older with valid identification beginning Jan. 1, 2018.

The harsh reality is that most cities aren’t ready for legalization. Many counties are still fleshing out their regulations and want all rules in place before permitting recreational sales. Because of this, chances are high that your dispensary will be open to medical marijuana patients but may not be ready to serve recreational users.

RELATED: WILL CALIFORNIA BE READY FOR RECREATIONAL MARIJUANA?

My Dispensary’s Been in Business for Years. Why Does It Need a State License?

Starting in January, all canna-businesses including dispensaries will be required to comply with complex regulations addressing how medicine is grown, produced, tested, transported and packaged. These are important considerations for everyone, but especially for medical marijuana patients who depend on clean, tested medicine to maintain optimum health. Lawmakers hope a regulated cannabis industry will improve the quality, consistency and safety of cannabis products.

How Do I Know if My Dispensary Is Licensed?

The BCC is posting a regularly updated list of licensed marijuana businesses. You can search by street name and city, or to view all licenses, try searching dates between Dec. 15, 2017 and Jan. 2, 2018.

Check the cannabis laws in your city to keep abreast with what’s happening in your neighborhood. Be patient as your dispensary adjusts to—as a means of complying with—the many new rules that are going into effect as of Jan. 1.

Why Remain a Medical Marijuana Patient When Recreational Cannabis Becomes Legal?

For over 20 years, Proposition 215 has allowed medical marijuana patients to purchase and possess as much cannabis as you need for your medical use. Those statutes don’t change with the enactment of Proposition 64.

The rules for recreational users, however, are much stricter. Proposition 64 limits recreational users to obtaining, transporting or giving away no more than 1 ounce of marijuana or 8 grams of concentrated cannabis. This is another reason to keep your medical marijuana recommendation or obtain one before the end of the year.

If you’re between 18 and 20 years of age, you won’t be allowed to purchase recreational cannabis until you’re 21. If you’re under 21 and already have a recommendation, you’ll be able to purchase medical cannabis on and after Jan. 1, even if recreational users can’t.

Is Anything Changing With Marijuana Edibles?

Yes. Parents and youth advocates were concerned that some cannabis edibles looked too much like candy and not enough like medicine. Others felt some products contained excessively high levels of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC), posing risks to the public. Proposition 64 addressed these concerns by creating new standards for edibles.

In January, say farewell to those “medibles” shaped like animals or cartoon characters. They’ll probably reappear, redesigned in a different shape and sold in distinctly different, “child-unfriendly” packaging.

Serving sizes are changing dramatically, with all edibles capped at 100 milligrams of THC per package. Items like chocolate bars must be scored into 10-milligram-sized serving pieces, and products must be blended in such a way that THC and other cannabinoids are mixed equally throughout the product.

Dispensaries will have a grace period during which they can offer the last of their pre-2018 inventory to patients. In 2018, certain items specifically produced for patients, such as tinctures, may contain a higher THC content. Those will only be available to patients. If there’s a product you know will be sun-setting in January due to these changes, now’s the time to stock up.

Brace Yourselves. The Price of Cannabis Is Going Up—Way Up for Rec Consumers

Let’s face it, one reason Proposition 64 passed was because lawmakers were eager for the tax revenues generated from the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry. For example, cultivators must now pay the state a tax of $9.25 per ounce of cannabis flowers and $2.75 per ounce of cannabis leaves—just two of the regulatory costs soon to be passed on to consumers.

In January, cannabis consumers will pay a 15% state excise tax to retailers, in addition to hefty local taxes. Fortune Magazine estimates that in some communities, recreational users could see as much as a 70% increase in cannabis prices come January. The LA Times notes that a $35 purchase of quality cannabis flowers could jump to as much as $70, leaving patients suffering from sticker shock in advance of legalization.

I’m All for Taxing Cannabis, but Is There a Way to Reduce My Expenses?

Yes. Your city’s sales and use taxes will be waived at your dispensary if you possess a Medical Marijuana Identification Card (MMIC) issued by the California Department of Public Health.

The sales and use tax waiver applies to retail sales of medicinal cannabis products, which includes flowers, concentrates, edibles and topicals.

Is This MMIC the Same as My Doctor’s Recommendation?

No. The MMIC is issued by the California Department of Public Health. The MMIC is obtained only at your County Public Health Department—not through your doctor or evaluation center.

There’s a fee for the MMIC, but Proposition 64 requires that counties cap fees for the MMIC at $100. Discounts are available for qualifying low-income patients. If you rely on more than a few grams of flowers per year, investing in the MMIC will bring immediate cost savings and bolster your legal standing as a medical marijuana patient. A current doctor’s recommendation is required to qualify for the MMIC—another reason to keep or obtain your cannabis recommendation.

It’s important to note that an MMIC isn’t required to purchase medical marijuana at a dispensary.

Visit the California Health Department’s MMIC FAQ page for more information. Call your county office to ask questions about its MMIC application and to make an appointment.

Your Marijuana To-Do List

Keep your recommendation or get one before the end of the year.

Your recommendation:

  • Guarantees access to your dispensary, regardless of whether it has received a recreational license.

  • Allows you to possess the amount of cannabis products recommended by your doctor.

  • Exempts you from sale and use taxes on cannabis products when paired with a state Medical Marijuana Identification Card.

  • Enables you to purchase certain products only available to medical cannabis patients.

  • Allows 18-to-20-year-olds to access dispensary services as a medical marijuana patient. Recreational users must be 21 or older.

Photo credit: Sean Oldham

If you’re new to cannabis and want to learn more, take a look at our Cannabis 101 post. HelloMD can help you get your medical marijuana recommendation; it's easy, private and 100% online.