California opens new marijuana agency 5 years after legalization, aiming to simplify rules

Five years after California legalized recreational marijuana, Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a law aimed at simplifying how the state regulates the growing industry.

The new law creates a single Department of Cannabis Control, consolidating enforcement, licensing and environmental oversight that had fallen under three different departments.

Industry representatives praised the change, which Newsom first proposed in January 2020.

We “are excited to see the consolidation,” said Lindsay Robinson, the executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, representing over 400 licensed businesses across the state. “We see this as a big win for the industry.”

The Department of Cannabis Control will now take over responsibilities from the Bureau of Cannabis Control under the Department of Consumer Affairs, CalCannabis under the Department of Food and Agriculture and the Manufactured Cannabis Safety Branch under the Department of Health.

Cannabis companies had often expressed difficulty navigating three different agencies with varying protocols and processes, according to Robinson.

“I think that having all of this housed under one agency is going to help with communication, it’s going to help with transparency and hopefully with process time for applications too,” Robinson said.

The department will also manage California’s track-and-trace system, following the movement of cannabis and cannabis products through the legal supply chain.

The Newsom administration wants to make it less likely someone will choose to operate in the illicit market, Christina Dempsey, the Acting Deputy Director for the DCC, told The Sacramento Bee by email.

Robinson called the licensing of California’s cannabis industry when voters approved recreational cannabis use in 2016 a “behemoth project” from the start.

“There’s still some hiccups, we’re still sort of in this phase of we’re slowly maturing,” Robinson said. “The consolidation is just kind of part of the maturation, that hopefully it’ll make things easier not only for the regulators, but also for the folks navigating the system.”

Employees of the pre-consolidation agencies will continue to use their same offices to ensure continuity and stability, according to Dempsey, and will receive advance notice if office locations change.

The new state department falls under the Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency. It will still use the current licensing systems, but the law prohibits the department from renewing provisional licenses starting in 2025.

The provisional licensing program was scheduled to sunset at the beginning of this year. The new law extends it until 2026.

The bill also creates a deputy director of equity and inclusion to oversee the new department’s programs and ensure implementation of the California Cannabis Equity Act.

Cannabis businesses do not need to submit new license applications with the new department. Existing licenses and license applications will automatically be transferred to the Department of Cannabis Control.

Researchers also do not need to worry about changes to grant funding under the consolidation. Local government and law enforcement may continue working with existing contacts.

The new department also comes with a new logo: a simple cannabis leaf with intertwining leaves that, according to the department’s press release, represent “the unification of the three programs and collaborative spirit with which DCC intends to engage businesses and stakeholders.”

The Department of Cannabis Control is located at 2920 Kilgore Road in Rancho Cordova, where the Bureau of Cannabis Control formerly resided.