A new law outlining strict medical marijuana regulation may be the biggest step toward legalizing recreational pot in California in 2016. 
It may also mean tougher access for medical patients, including criminal background checks and stricter physician oversight. 

Governor Jerry Brown recently signed into law the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (SB643) sponsored by Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) as part of a  trio of bills imposing new rules on the growth, transport and sale for the medical pot industry. Also referred to as Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, it serves as a roadmap for legalization.

Rather than the laissez-faire permissiveness of the current industry, stricter regulation for marijuana growers, distributors and medical marijuana prescribers is hoped to ease federal concerns if  California voters pass initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana use in 2016.

“This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana while ensuring a robust tracking system,” Brown wrote in his signing message. “This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice.

The regulatory framework allows lawmakers to have more oversight on the state’s estimated $2 billion marijuana industry, which has gone largely unregulated for more than 20 years. Paired with AB 266 and AB 243, the three bills will give new structure and oversight through licensing and government oversight. It will also have strict regulation surrounding the prescription process for medical marijuana usage, including fingerprinting of applicants and criminal background checks.

These regulations are long overdue and I’m thrilled that we were able to work together to find common ground on these historic medical marijuana regulations for our state,” McGuire said. “The time is now.”

The state will start issuing licenses in 2018, but Brown said state agencies will begin work immediately to establish guidelines for businesses, stake-holders and companies, local governments and law enforcers to prepare for the new laws and regulation.

“From seed to sale, for the first time in our state’s history, medical marijuana will now be regulated across the state of California,” said McGuire. “Voters passed Proposition 215 nearly twenty years ago and the promised rules and regulations from the legislature were never advanced and our communities and environment have been paying the price ever since.”

 Here’s how it breaks down…

–  A new government agency: The Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs will have the power to give and revoke any of 17 licenses, which individuals or companies in any part of the industry must have. The number of licenses any one company has is also restricted. Separate licenses for indoor and outdoor growing are required, while transportation, product testing, distribution and dispensaries of various sizes will need different licenses.

– Stricter Medical Oversight: The bill will “set forth standards for a physician and surgeon prescribing medical cannabis and require the Medical Board of California to prioritize its investigative and prosecutorial resources to identify and discipline physicians and surgeons that have repeatedly recommended excessive cannabis to patients for medical purposes or repeatedly recommended cannabis to patients for medical purposes without a good faith examination, as specified.” Physician recommendations will be more closely scrutinized, and applicants will be asked for a full set of fingerprints and a criminal background check.

Medical marijuana be recognized as an agricultural product. This allows the state to oversee growth standards and regulate insecticide and water use. Lack of regulation has allowed the industry to cause significant damage to the environment. Gov. Brown said, “The damage to our ecosystem is occurring today.” He also said that he has directed the Natural Resources Agency to create projects rehabilitating land damaged by marijuana growing.

– Quality testing: The Department of Public Health to regulate the testing and quality of cannabis plants. They also ensure tracking of transportation to ensure no product leaves the state for illegal sales.

Counties may impose taxes on marijuana

Close Tracking: The Department of Food and Agriculture, in consultation with the bureau, shall establish a track and trace program for reporting the movement of medical marijuana items throughout the distribution chain that utilizes a unique identifier

– The University of California will study marijuana’s effect on drivers and to recommend standards to enforce impaired-driver violations.

This article goes even deeper in explaining the various points of the three bills.