Recreational weed: When can Californians buy it?

Apr 6, 2017

Marijuana is recreationally legal in California, and has been since Proposition 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, passed in the November election. So if it’s legal, when can the general public buy it?

Terrance Alan is as interested in that answer as anyone, for two reasons. He’s a member of the Cannabis State Legalization Task Force, which was established by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors. And he’s also planning to add cannabis infused items to the menu at Café Flor where he’s general manager and one of the owners.

There’s historic precedence for this menu addition.

Alan says that as the gay community moved from Polk Street and the Tenderloin into the Castro, Café Flor became a hangout. Some of those who frequented the coffee shop were AIDS activists, back when the condition was known as “the gay plague.”

There was no treatment, so activists had to improvise. Many found that the physical wasting of people with AIDS could be somewhat diminished if they ate food containing marijuana; it gave them the proverbial “munchies,” restoring their appetites.

 

“So,” Alan says, “one could say this is where it all began, and so I would like to see this be the place where our first experiment in making consumption more normalized can happen.”

The stereotypical pot brownie is likely to be on the new menu, but Alan has a grander vision.

“What about a cannabis infused soda, at the beginning of your sit-down with friends? Or tea? Or coffee? Those liquid intakes will metabolize quicker in your body and you will have that experience faster than if it was part of a big meal,” he explains.

But don’t get in line just yet for your cup of cannabis coffee: Flor (as it has recently been renamed) can’t offer it for at least a year, maybe longer — not until the state Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation (BMCR) gives the approval. And that won’t come until 2018.

Licenses allowing businesses to sell cannabis in any form are required to be available New Year’s Day, 2018. But there’s no guarantee Flor will be at the front of that line.  

“We’ll be able to issue some licenses,” says Lori Ajax, BMCR chief. “We may be able to issue some temporary licenses. But for some of the people, it may take, you know, a few months before we issue licenses.”

Ajax says there will be a wait because it just won’t be physically possible to issue that many licenses all at one time. Think of it as Black Friday for cannabis businesses.

Rules and regulations will be in place, by then. Ajax says other states where recreational cannabis use is in effect have been very generous sharing what they’ve learned. Colorado’s governor met with California lawmakers earlier this year, for example. One issue that really got the attention of the Californians was the area Terrance Alan hopes to exploit: the area generically called edibles.

“They had a lot of issues with the edibles,” according to Ajax. Inexperienced customers were consuming too much at once, getting them uncomfortably high. There were also scary stories of children going to hospitals because they’d gotten into attractively packaged marijuana products.   

“So those are lessons, important lessons, for us to look at,” says Ajax.

Lessons imply education, both for government and the public. In Colorado, officials consider a dose of THC to be 10 milligrams. Other states have debated lower doses. Coffee shop owner Terrance Alan thinks  California will also adopt statewide dosage standards that are consistent across the marketplace.

“So if you get a brownie, it’ll be sectioned into five or 10 milligram sections,” he speculates. “A piece of chocolate bar would be sectioned within five or 10 milligrams.” Such guidelines will be extremely important for new users. “You aren’t blindly going where you haven’t gone before,” Alan chuckles.

Medical marijuana dispensaries already provide recommended doses for edibles. But to use Alan’s example, have you ever tried to precisely “section” a brownie?

It won’t be easy, as the Department of Public Health — the agency responsible for figuring this out — is likely to discover.

And there’s another consideration. While state law says it’s okay for adults to consume marijuana, counties, municipalities, and even neighborhoods can have their own rules.

And then there’s the federal government. Use and possession of marijuana are felonies under federal law, and members of the Trump administration are hinting at more stringent enforcement. Will that impact California’s regulations?

“You know,” says Lori Ajax, “we can’t predict what’s going to happen at the federal level. And what we’re doing – we’re going to focus on what we can control in the state of California. And so right now we’re operating under the federal guidelines.”

Ajax was with the Alcoholic Beverage Control Board for over 20 years. She says her experience with highly regulated products containing alcohol is a major help in crafting regulations for recreational cannabis.

There will be statewide hearings on just what those regulations should be, sometime in late spring or early summer.