Earlier this month the Public Policy Institute of California released a report outlining recommendations for the state if any of several competing measures to legalize the recreational use of marijuana passes this November.
The main takeaway from studying states such as Colorado and Washington that have been dealing with the issue for the past few years: legislation to implement legal pot should be fairly restrictive, at least at first.
"California should err on the side of more restrictive regulation," said study coauthor and Institute research director Patrick Murphy in a release. "The fundamental fact is, from a political perspective, it would be easier to loosen a tight market than tighten a loose one."
Aside from implementing age restrictions and protocols for identifying drugged drivers, the report recommends that sales be restricted to facilities specifically set up for distributing cannabis and that rigorous testing for product quality and safety be required.
At Outliers Collective, one of only two medical marijuana dispensaries in the county licensed to conduct business, staff are both supportive of and seemingly prepared for such a regulatory environment.
"With the tremendous amount of cultivation that we're gearing up for, we could certainly service the medical as well as the recreational market," said Linc Fish, the CEO of OutCo Labs, parent company for the Outliers dispensary, during a tour and interview on Monday (April 18). "I feel pretty strongly, though, that the same controls [for medical dispensaries] should be in place because, regardless of whether it's medical or recreational, it's still a controlled substance that needs monitoring, controls, and tests."
Fish said that, while laboratory testing of medical cannabis is not mandated, as a matter of good practice and satisfying discerning customers, it's common practice among reputable shops to provide lab reports.
"We use both third-party testing as well as a unit on site for product testing. We're strong believers in the notion that everything should be tested — and it needs to be tested not just for THC levels, but pesticides, microbiologics, anything that could harm people.
"It's really difficult to determine exactly where and how the product is grown. That's why dispensaries are pushing for in-house cultivation, so that we have control of the whole process."
During a walk-through of the Outliers facility, Fish pointed proudly to several grow rooms under construction that will eventually cover 12,000 square feet of warehouse space near Gillespie Field in unincorporated El Cajon. The location will be capable of producing 400 pounds of cannabis per month, in addition to another 2000 pounds already being produced off-site at a local Indian reservation (Fish declined to name).
The problem, Fish said, is that addressing the issue via a hodge-podge series of regulations that can vary from county to county or even city to city makes implementing a universal set of standards impossible.
"The reality is that there is no model in place. Every city, every county has variances — and one of the interesting things they did with the new system that's set to take effect in 2018 is that the state laws don't supersede city or county ordinance. Cities can't be less restrictive, but they can be more restrictive.
"In the county, we can cultivate and extract, But, in the city of San Diego, their ordinance is in some ways less restrictive — they can buy branded products while we cannot; they don't have member "source agreements," so they can take product in and the sheriff isn't going to go inspect their sources. They can sell edible products and we cannot, so it's more restrictive out here in the county. But then in the city, you can't cultivate or create extracts, so we actually have more freedom in that regard out here."
Given all these complexities, does Fish see a way forward?
"What I'd like to see is uniformity. I'd like to see the cities and counties look at the state regulations and say, ‘Let's do away with our own regulations and allow the state regulations into place,' because it's going to be really complicated as an industry to have operations in several different cities or counties and have to have each conduct business differently due to local rules…. The state spent a lot of time putting together a new structure, and while I don't know that I necessarily agree with everything they've done, it's on the right path."
Before any action is taken with regard to full legalization, which will likely be before voters in some form or another this fall, the city will hear a report on dispensary-busting efforts this Wednesday (April 20), while the county board of supervisors is scheduled to revisit a temporary moratorium on the opening of any new medical dispensaries that have complied with the permitting process thus far next week.