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A Look Back at One Year of Adult Use Marijuana Sales in California

© Sharon Letts/ Stock Pot Images

For obvious reasons, the cannabis industry in California gets a lot of coverage, both from the “cannabis media” and from more mainstream outlets. As many know, the consumer market in California is huge; by itself, California boasts one of the largest economies in the world. Comprising about 12% of the entire country’s population, California holds 10 million+ more people than live in Texas and its population is roughly the same as those of Florida and New York combined. In other words, it’s big and there are a lot of people there.

In November of 2016 – after 20 years of medical marijuana – voters in CA approved recreational marijuana legalization, with sales beginning in January of 2018. We covered much of the journey of the last year here at The Marijuana Times, from the good news to the most ridiculous. High taxes and restrictive regulations kept a lid on explosive growth, forcing many smaller competitors out of business before they really got started.

Some of the problems were anticipated by activists in the state. “[T]hese problems were foreseeable from the outset, from the time the legislature passed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (2015), the template on which the current regulations are based,” Dale Gieringer, Director of CA NORML, told The Marijuana Times.

“It was inevitable that CA’s culture of backyard ‘mom & pop’ growers would be unable to compete in a legalized market,” Dale said. “It’s not like the parsley, tomatoes, or grapes we buy in the store are produced by small-scale backyard farmers. Modern day agriculture is performed most economically by large agribusiness enterprises.”

This new reality means that the demand served by small growers before legalization will now be met for the most part by large-scale growers. “Sadly, there was no way that all of these legacy growers could be accommodated under legalization. (I say sadly, because many of them were friends and supporters during the 40-year struggle for legalization),” Dale told us.

And while focus is on the adult use industry, Dale also wants lawmakers to keep an eye on improving the newly regulated medical marijuana program in CA. “[I]t’s most important that access for medical patients be protected and expanded, especially since MMJ has proven to be an effective harm reduction substitute for prescription opiates. Existing taxes and regulations have made it harder for needy patients to get affordable access to the medicine they need.” Along these lines, CA NORML would like to see the state protect medical marijuana patient giveaways as well as create employment and prescription drug protections for medical patients in the state.

Overall, Dale thinks the bureau that oversees adult use cannabis in California is doing a good job, considering the restraints it operates under. “Under Lori Ajax’s leadership, the Bureau of Cannabis Control has been very responsive to industry and consumer concerns. We are especially happy that they have ruled that local governments can’t ban licensed deliveries to residents in their jurisdictions. The problem is that there is only so much BCC can do within the straightjacket of existing state laws. For example, there’s nothing BCC can do to spur local governments to license more dispensaries. Nor can they streamline the laws that have chopped up transportation, cultivation, distribution, testing, manufacturing, etc. into so many rigidly discrete categories.”

The potential of the cannabis market in California is massive. Hopefully they are laying the groundwork for an industry that serves consumers with the best products at the lowest prices – something that should be the goal no matter what the industry.