by Lauren Mendelsohn (Law Offices of Omar Figueroa), Juli Crockett (MMLG) and Michael Cooper (MadisonJay Solutions LLC) from NCIA’s State Regulations Committee
Do you have views on the regulations that will govern California’s cannabis industry? If so, California’s window for the public to make comments on the proposed permanent industry regulations is about to draw to a close. But you don’t need to be an expert on arcane administrative procedure or even a lawyer to participate in the comment period. Keep reading to learn more about what is at stake and how to make sure your voice is heard.
Overview and Introduction to the Regulatory Process
On Friday, July 13, 2018, California’s three cannabis licensing agencies (the Bureau of Cannabis Control, or “BCC”; the Department of Food and Agriculture, or “CDFA”; and the Department of Public Health, or “CDPH”) released their much-anticipated proposed permanent regulations for cannabis businesses pursuant to the Medicinal and Adult Use Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act. This began the 45-day public comment period of the regular rule-making process. During this time, the public has a chance to review and comment on the proposed regulations, and the agencies must consider these comments and may make changes based on this feedback.
Below are links to the proposed regulations and the summary sheets released by the agencies:
Bureau of Cannabis Control Proposed Regulations
Bureau of Cannabis Control Summary of Proposed Changes
Department of Food and Agriculture Proposed Regulations
Department of Food and Agriculture Highlights of Proposed Regulations
Department of Public Health Proposed Regulations
Department of Public Health Summary of Proposed Regulations
Currently, cannabis businesses in California are operating under emergency regulations that were originally adopted in December 2017 and re-adopted (with a few changes) in June 2018. The emergency regulations will stay in effect until the regular rule-making process is complete and the final regulations have been formally adopted at the end of this year.
In addition to publishing the proposed regulations, the agencies also each published a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking Action (NPRM), which contains various information about the proposed rules such as a summary of existing law and who to contact with questions and comments. The agencies were also each required to publish an Initial Statement of Reasons (ISOR), which contains the agencies’ reasoning and basis behind why they crafted a rule the way they did.
You can find the agencies’ NPRMs and ISORs below:
Bureau of Cannabis Control NPRM
Bureau of Cannabis Control ISOR
Department of Food and Agriculture NPRM
Department of Food and Agriculture ISOR
Department of Public Health NPRM
Department of Public Health ISOR
Highlights from the Proposed Final Regulations
These regulations will have a number of impacts on how the cannabis industry operates in California. For example, new advertising regulations would go into effect; packaging and labeling requirements would change; certain edible products could contain up to 500mg THC per package (versus the current limit of 100mg THC per package); and outdoor licensees would be prohibited from using light deprivation.
Those are just a few of the key proposed changes. Please refer to the summary sheets published by the agencies, listed above, for a more comprehensive list.
What Makes an Effective Public Comment?
There are six standards in the Administrative Procedures Act (APA) that agencies including the BCC, CDPH and CDFA must follow when conducting rulemaking actions. They are:
- Authority – The agency must be permitted or obligated by law to craft a particular regulation. (Gov. Code § 11349(b))
- Reference – The agency must refer to the provision of law that the agency is implementing or interpreting via the regulation. (Gov. Code § 11349(e))
- Consistency – The regulation cannot be inconsistent with other laws and/or regulations, and needs to be harmonious with existing provisions of law. (Gov. Code § 11349(d))
- Clarity – The regulation must be easily displayed or written so that it will be easily understood by the people affected. (Gov. Code § 11349(c))
- Nonduplication – The regulation cannot serve the same purpose as another existing state or federal law or regulation. (Gov. Code § 11349(f))
- Necessity – There must be substantial evidence in the record for needing the regulation in order to fulfil the purpose of the statute or other provision of law that the regulation implements or interprets. (Gov. Code § 11349(a))
Since the BCC, CDFA and CDPH have to comply with the standards above, it’s a good idea to focus your comments around one or more of those specific areas, as opposed to just making a comment that you dislike a particular proposed regulation without giving any reason why. That way, it is more likely that the agency will respond to your comment by making an adjustment to the proposed regulation(s) in question.
How to Submit Your Comments
Comments on the proposed regulations can be submitted to the agencies by mail or email, or offered in-person at one of the agencies’ scheduled public hearings. Your comment must include the following: (1) the subject title of the proposed regulation; and (2) specific concerns regarding the proposed regulation, which the agencies deem most helpful if they identify the section number in question, discuss the issue, suggest changes to the text, and explain why any desired modifications address the issue.
Please note that all comments received during the public comment process become part of the official record which is public information. Thus, you may not want to include any confidential or identifying information in your comments.
All comments must be submitted to the respective agencies by 5:00pm on August 27, 2018 or provided at one of the scheduled public hearings. Below are the locations of the public hearings, which will take place throughout the state during the months of July and August. (This information is subject to change; please check for updates on the California Cannabis Portal.)
Bureau of Cannabis Control Hearing Dates and Locations
The first two BCC public hearings have passed. There will be a final public hearing on August 27, 2018 from 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 p.m. at the Tsakopoulos Library Galleria, 828 I Street, Sacramento, CA, 95814.
California Department of Public Health Hearing Dates and Locations
The first two CDPH public hearings have passed. There will be a final public hearing on August 27, 2018 at 10:00 a.m. at 8400 Edes Avenue, Oakland, CA, 94621.
California Department of Food & Agriculture Hearing Dates and Locations
The first three CDFA public hearings have passed. There will be a final public hearing on August 28, 2018 from 1:00 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. at the California Department of Food & Agriculture Auditorium, 1220 N Street, Sacramento, CA, 95814.
Some Final Words
Collaborate. Join with other groups, trade associations, brain trusts, friends. Have reading groups. Get together and consider problems and solutions from multiple points along the supply chain, so that the solutions you offer can be relevant, functional, and comprehensive. There are many smart people working on this right now, so if you don’t have the time to this by yourself, link up with a trusted group that is commenting in accordance with your interest. Comment letters signed on by many stakeholders are very powerful.
Most importantly, “Keep Calm and Carry On!” Even though operators may see major changes being contemplated in these regulations, these are NOT YET IN EFFECT. Operators still need to remain compliant with the EMERGENCY regulations that are currently in effect, until the final regulations – post comment period – are officially adopted. This draft can and will change, so folks shouldn’t be making major business decisions based on the draft, as elements may either fall away, shift, or be added. (Think about the 24-hour security guard requirement in the Readopted Emergency Regs – it came and went within a 5-day comment period.) There are items in this draft that are sure to receive a LOT of comments and suggestions, so keep calm and carry on following the emergency regulations during this comment period.
Finally, even for operators outside of California, this process is nevertheless important to watch as the path that California takes will impact how the rest of the country chooses to regulate the cannabis industry, and it is also important to participate in if you plan to expand into the Golden State.
NCIA’s member-led State Regulations Committee (SRC) examines and reviews the varying cannabis industry-specific statewide regulations and works to establish best practices or guidelines for states and municipalities to facilitate the development of regulations and compliance procedures.