California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) has signed the three remaining cannabis-related bills sent to his desk by lawmakers this session, approving measures related to business licensing changes, distribution of fines collected from illicit cannabis operations and membership of a state marijuana task force.
The actions wrap up Newsom’s work on more than a dozen cannabis and drug policy bills passed by the legislature this year, most of which the governor signed into law.
Here are the three latest bills Newsom signed into law, which his office announced late last week:
SB 833—Sen. Mike McGuire (D): This measure will allow regulators at the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) to approve requests from cannabis cultivators to change their license type to a smaller category or inactive status. Under prior law, there was no pathway for cannabis licensees to do so without going through the entire DCC license application process again. A variety of situations—including market volatility, drought, oversupply and more—could cause a cultivator to want a smaller license or become temporarily inactive.
AB 1448—Assemblymember Greg Wallis (R): Under this new law, a portion of civil penalties that are collected following enforcement action against unlicensed marijuana businesses will be transferred from the state general fund to local treasurers in jurisdictions that brought the action against the illegal operators.
AB 993—Assemblymember Blanca Rubio (D): This adds representatives of the state Civil Rights Department and Department of Industrial Relations to an existing marijuana task force that is responsible for facilitating communication between state and local cannabis regulators.
Earlier this month, Newsom approved a separate bill to prohibit employers from asking job applicants about prior marijuana use. He also signed several other bills into law that will make changes to the state’s marijuana laws in areas such as equity, tracking, testing and licensing.
He separately vetoed a measure to legalize cannabis cafes that supporters said would have given consumers new opportunities t0 socialize and allowed businesses to expand their operations. He also vetoed marijuana packaging legislation that industry operators said would have burdened them with excessive restrictions.
In another noteworthy veto, Newsom rejected a bill to legalize certain psychedelics and create a pathway to regulated access. The move comes as two states, Oregon and Colorado, have already enacted comprehensive psychedelics policy reform. And in California, at least two citizen-led campaigns are working to put the issue on California’s 2024 ballot.
Here are the other cannabis reform bills from this session that are becoming law with Newsom’s signature:
SB 700—Sen. Steven Bradford (D): The legislation will prohibit employers from asking job applicants about prior marijuana use—a policy that would build on existing employment protections enacted last session that bar employers from penalizing most workers for using cannabis in compliance with state law off the job.
SB 622—Sens. Ben Allen (D) and Juan Alanis (R): The bill will change how marijuana plants must be tracked in a way that supporters say will promote environmental sustainability by eliminating the use of single-use plastic tags. While it doesn’t provide specific examples of alternatives to the plastic identifiers that are currently used to track marijuana plants, supporters say that regulators will have discretion to implement ecologically sound policies such as digital tags.
SB 302—Sens. Henry Stern (D), Carlos Villapudua (D), Marie Waldron (R) and Scott Wiener (D): The bill will add people 65 and older who have serious chronic illness to use medical cannabis at health facilities, including “home health agencies. Currently only terminally ill patients are afforded that right. Newsom said in a signing message that he wants lawmakers to send him “clean-up legislation” next year to fix a drafting error. “Specifically, the bill excludes hospitals from its provisions, but could be interpreted to narrow existing law for hospital patients that have both a terminal illness and chronic disease. It is my understanding this was not the intent,” he said. “Many individuals with chronic diseases seek medicinal cannabis as an alternative to opioids for treatment of chronic pain, and their living situation should not be a barrier to access.”
AB 1021—Assemblymembers Buffy Wicks (D), Isaac Bryan (D) and Corey Jackson (D): This new law says that, if the federal government reschedules any Schedule I drug, California health professionals will automatically be able to legally prescribe and dispense it. This could be especially relevant to the psychedelics psilocybin and MDMA, which have been designated as breakthrough therapies by the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and are expected to be approved for medical use as early as next year.
AB 1171—Assemblymembers Blanca Rubio (D) and Matt Haney (D): The measure will give marijuana business licensees the right to pursue legal action against unlicensed cannabis businesses in state superior court if they can prove damages resulting from the operation. Under prior law, regulators and law enforcement were the primary arbitrators of enforcement against the illicit market, so this will give private licensees the means to independently seek intervention.
SB 753—Sens. Anna Caballero (D), Megan Dahle (R), Brian Dahle (R), Melissa Hurtado (D) and Henry Stern (D): This legislation will make it a felony offense for adults who plant, cultivate, harvest or process more than six cannabis plants in a way that intentionally or “with gross negligence” causes “substantial environmental harm to surface or groundwater.”
AB 623—Assemblymember Phillip Chen (R): Prior California law required THC variance testing of cannabis edibles containing 10 mg of THC per serving, and products that contain 10 percent more or 10 percent less THC than 10 mg must be destroyed. That standard means that even lower THC products such as cannabis beverages with 5 mg of THC will fail the variance test, so this measure will require regulators to develop “appropriate testing variances” for low-THC products.
AB 1126—Assemblymembers Tom Lackey (R) and Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D): The legislation will prohibit the unauthorized use of a universal cannabis symbol for commercial purposes and authorize the California Department of Tax and Fee Administration (CDTFA) to seize products that feature the symbol without authorization as contraband.
AB 1684—Assemblymember Brian Maienschein (D): This will make it so administrative fines and penalties that local officials can impose against certain violations by unlicensed cannabis cultivators can also be applied to unlicensed marijuana manufacturers, processors, distributors and retailers.
SB 51—Sens. Steven Bradford (D) and Michael Gipson (D): The legislation will allow people who qualify as social equity business applicants to continue to apply for and renew provisional retailer licenses through January 2031. Regulators stopped accepting provisional licenses for all business types this summer, but because of the ongoing challenges associated with obtaining an annual license still exist, this measure creates a narrow extension that only applies to equity applicants seeking retail licenses. Newsom said in a signing statement that while he backs the effort, the bill “does not address the fundamental issues that continue to increase costs and uncertainty for those seeking to participate in the legal market.” He said that the temporary extension “may remove pressure to confront local permitting challenges and slow efforts to facilitate the transition of provisional licenses to annual licensure” and to that end wants to work with lawmakers to “consider long-term solutions to streamline licensing requirements and move us beyond short-term fixes.”
SB 540—Sen. John Laird (D): The measure will require the state Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) to work with the Department of Public Health (DPH) to create a “brochure with information about steps for the safer use of cannabis” that will need to be provided to people who shop at a dispensary for the first time. It will also mandate that DCC reevaluate labeling and packaging regulations by July 1, 2025 and every five years thereafter. Laird said in a press release that the new law “will promote responsible and informed cannabis consumption” and that the brochure “will empower individuals with knowledge, promote responsible consumption and minimize potential harm.”
Here are the marijuana and drug bills that the governor vetoed:
SB 58—Sen. Scott Wiener (D): The bill would have legalized the possession and cultivation of small amounts of psilocybin, DMT and mescaline for adults 21 and older. It would also have established a work group under the California Health and Human Services Agency (CHHSA) to study and make recommendations on establishing a regulatory framework to access the substances for therapeutic and facilitated use.
AB 374—Assemblymember Matt Haney (D): This measure would have legalized marijuana cafes, allowing dispensaries to offer non-cannabis food and drinks at their location if they receive local approval. It would have further explicitly authorized “live musical or other performances on the premises of a retailer or microbusiness licensed under this division in the area where the consumption of cannabis is allowed, and the sale of tickets for those performances.”
AB 1207—Assemblymembers Jacqui Irwin (D), Josh Lowenthal (D) and Kevin McCarty (D): The legislation would codified a new definition for marijuana product packaging that is considered “attractive to children” and would therefore be prohibited. It would have specifically banned the use of images such as “cartoons, toys, or robots,” “any real or fictional humans,” “any fictional animals or creatures” and “fruits or vegetables, except when used to accurately describe ingredients or flavors contained in a product.”
California officials cleared a campaign this summer to begin signature gathering for a 2024 ballot initiative to legalize the possession, sale and regulated therapeutic use of psilocybin. It’s one of multiple campaigns in the state that are seeking to enact psychedelics reform through the ballot process next year.
Another California campaign filed a proposed initiative for the state’s 2024 ballot this summer that would create a $5 billion state agency tasked with funding and promoting psychedelics research that it hopes will accelerate federal legalization of substances like psilocybin and ibogaine.
Newsom’s thinking on psychedelics policy issues has been somewhat opaque. He was asked about Wiener’s bill last month, and at the time he said that he understood the “profound” therapeutic impact of psychedelics for people with conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder. But he said that fatherhood has given him a different perspective on drug policy reform.
Newsom also vetoed another progressive drug policy bill from Wiener last session. It would have created a pilot program for overdose prevention sites in California—a measure advocates insisted would save lives.
Newsom did recently separately sign legislation that would allow doctors to immediately start prescribing certain currently illicit drugs like psilocybin and MDMA if they’re federally rescheduled.
Image element courtesy of Gage Skidmore.