California Regulators Prepare for Legalization’s Next Phase

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The coming months will likely bring the most significant changes to the cannabis landscape in the nation’s most populous state since adult use sales went live last January.

Perhaps the most sweeping transition is the move from temporary licenses to annual licenses, and currently thousands of businesses are staring down expiration dates in the coming months. Many will not make the cut simply because, while they have been able to remain open as a result of leniency and extensions, they are unable to meet all of the compliance requirements. California licensing authorities are aware of the ticking clock and the backlog, and announced on Friday that they will be issuing provisional licenses to compliant and qualifying entities before their temporary licenses expire. (Provisional licenses are essentially a bridge between temporary and annual.)

Also last week, the California Bureau of Cannabis Control’s 22-member Advisory Committee, which will continue to shape specific aspects of the industry, held its first meeting of the year. One major outcome of the meeting was a vote in favor of creating subcommittees on social equity, delivery, and laboratory testing. In preparation for the Committee’s next meeting, slated for June in Los Angeles, these groups will gather to craft recommendations for the full committee to consider. Another outcome was the election of Jeffrey Ferro, a labor activist and a director with the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union (UFCW), as chair of the Committee.

For now, as these broader changes take shape, the Committee’s focus is on what happens on the ground, within individual cannabis workplaces. Last week’s session in Sacramento began with a presentation led by Amalia Neidhardt, Senior Safety Engineer of the Cal/OSHA Research and Standards Occupational Health Unit, in which she detailed the most common problems in the cannabis industry.

Above all, said Neidhardt, the agency has noted that cannabis businesses often either lack or have inadequate injury and illness prevention programs. (In California, all employers are obligated to identify possible hazards and provide training to protect their workers from harm.) The mere identification of hazards, Neidhardt underscored, does not suffice. When Cal/OSHA inspectors carry out on-site visits —which, depending on the severity of an incident or complaint, could be unannounced—they will ask will employees ‘Have you been trained?’ to gauge what they have learned.

Neidhardt also indicated that cannabis businesses have been found to be operating with workplace hazards, like blocked entrances and exits; use extension cords as permanent wiring; lack toilets and, when they are available, fail to provide their employees with hand soap; fail to provide emergency eye wash stations; and store incompatible chemicals together. Non-compliance with the agency’s regulations, Cal/OSHA spokesperson Frank Polizzi told Cannabis Wire, can include higher workers’ compensation premiums, obligatory correction of hazards, and citations with monetary penalties.

Workplace violence, including armed robbery, has also been documented. In response, said Neidhardt, Cal/OSHA is currently developing industry-specific regulations to protect employees from workplace violence, as well as “secondhand marijuana smoke.”

Neidhardt and Ferro encouraged business owners to make use of Cal/OSHA’s free consultation program, which helps businesses identify issues without penalties, as long as employers commit to correcting them. Failing to address workplace hazards, said Ferro, is “the worst thing you can do,” warning business owners who do so that “your business will fail, your investors will be mad, your workers will be unemployed.”

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