A customer buys cannabis products at a store in West Hollywood, Calif., on Jan. 2, 2018. (David McNew/Getty Images)
California hopes new cannabis licensing laws enacted Jan. 1 will help reduce burgeoning illegal market sales and the growing number of injuries and deaths from cannabis vaping.
Assembly Bill 1126, authored by Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), authorizes the state to issue citations for companies that falsely claim a product is licensed by using the universal cannabis symbol.
The state’s Department of Cannabis Control, created in 2017 after recreational cannabis was legalized in the state, will now be able to issue citations to anyone who falsely claims a product is licensed or who uses the cannabis universal symbol on non-licensed cannabis products.
Violations can cost up to $5,000 for licensees, who sell a product that is out of compliance, and $30,000 for unlicensed individuals, like black market operators.
All licensed cannabis or cannabis products sold are required to be in an opaque package that is tamper-proof and child-resistant, and marked with the official symbol. Each package must also be re-sealable if it contains more than one serving. Existing law also prohibits packages and labels from being attractive to children.
Co-sponsors of the new law—the California Cannabis Manufacturers Association and Kiva Confections—say it will help the state’s marijuana market.
“This legislation would provide critical support to the growing legal market and help protect consumers from unlicensed businesses,” the co-sponsors said in a statement. “The culture around the legal cannabis industry recognizes the necessity of legislation such as AB 1126, as to protect consumers and put money back into the regulated market.”
According to an analysis of the bill, in August 2019 there were 2,807 cases of hospitalization or deaths related to the use of cannabis vaping products reported to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The figure is described in the analysis as a sharp increase from years prior.
“It is believed that much of this ‘vaping crisis’ was the result of untested, unlicensed manufactured cannabis products,” Mr. Lackey said in the bill’s analysis.
A report published in May 2022 by the Reason Foundation, an American Libertarian think tank, estimates that as much as two-thirds of cannabis sales in California are made on the black market.
There have also been cases where licensed cannabis businesses run a “back door” operation of illegal marijuana sales in addition to their licensed activity, according to a bill analysis.