As a cannabis freedom lawyer, Omar Figueroa has witnessed the impact of prohibition, and how it destroys people lives. “The only way to stop seeing this is to change the laws,” he says. So unlike other lawyers, who may profit from prohibition, he is working hard to end it. He was involved in California’s 2010 and 2012 legalization efforts, neither of which succeeded. This year, he co-authored the California Craft Cannabis Initiative, and is a proponent of the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act, both aiming for the 2106 ballot.
His immediate concern, though, is California’s medical marijuana regulations, AB 243, AB 266, and SB 643. In a last minute legislative twist, after twenty years of regulatory inaction, the final drafts of these bills were written by the Governor’s office, and sent to the Assembly and Senate for approval. At press time, the Governor’s signature is expected to seal the bills into law by October 11th, and Figueroa is concerned.
“The point is that these State regulations are being thrust upon us, and the case for them is built on the idea that the feds will leave us alone if we have a strong regulatory system,” he says. “This is true during the Obama years, but his term is nearly over, and the next President may not be appeased by strong regulations. We may paint ourselves into a corner, in an effort to keep the feds happy, only to have them change their approach. The industry really needs to be concerned as to who the next President is, as they could wipe out legalization all across the country.”
He says the regulations are not all bad though. “Those with a local permit and state license will have immunity from arrest and prosecution, and people will no longer have to be worried about arrest by State authorities,” says Figueroa. A lot of ambiguity and differences in the laws will become clearer, and certain parts of the industry that are still in a gray area, like production of BHO extracts, will get a new regulatory framework.”
Figueroa cautions that the biggest obstacle will be getting local jurisdictions to issue a license. “Some counties are moving quickly” he says, “and, political consultants across the state are already selling their services to cites and counties to help write regulations, but these things take time.” He believes that many locales will take a “wait and see” approach. “The framework would have been fantastic, if it has allowed these uses, unless specifically prohibited,” he says. Instead, each county and city will have to specifically create new laws to enact the state regulations. In other words he says, “it’s not legal unless you have a permit you cannot get.”
A bigger concern to Figueroa is that farmer to patient direct access is not allowed in this new process. He believes that patients should be able to buy directly from the farmer. “They will give better quality and more choices to the patients,” he says. “I would love a cannabis farmer’s market, where you could look at the strains and feel and smell the different offerings.”
Figueroa is worried about the requirement that a distributor participate in each transaction between a farmer and dispensary, as this will drive up the end price of cannabis. According to Figueroa, the state is trying to capture the old post prohibition alcohol rules, originally intended to keep the alcohol cartel and mobs from creating monopolies. “The law insists upon a mandatory middle man, unless you are grandfathered in,” he says. “If the need for this was really so compelling, then there would be no grandfathering.”
These laws will create two sets of taxes, the state taxes and fees and the local taxes and fees. “Some places may make these so high that there [will be] practical barriers to access,” Figueroa says. “We won’t have the level of entrepreneurship we have now, as the smaller producers wont be able to compete. Then, we could start to see mediocre medicines at dispensaries, and poor people will become the black market.”
Figueroa advises people to actively engage in the rule making process, which starts next year at the state level and is beginning now in both cities and counties. The details will be decided in these forums, and input is needed from patients, caregivers, cultivators, and producers, to make sure common sense regulations prevails. After all, with one arrest for cannabis every 51 seconds in America today, we need cannabis freedom at last.
California’s MJ regulations AB 243, AB 266, and SB 643
· Creates immunity from local and state prosecution for license holders
· Allows out of state participation, including ownership and investments
· Eliminates the current nonprofit and not for profit requirements
· Home cultivation is limited to 100 square feet
· Each transaction between a dispensary and farmer requires a “middle man”
· No direct farmer to patient distribution is allowed
· Creates a bounty for local police who will get to keep half of each fine, creating a financial motivation to find violators.