State Overview: California

California’s commercial cannabis licensing and regulatory scheme dates back to the early 1990s and is an ideal example of how people using their voices can make major changes within the community and legal system.

In 1996, the Compassionate Use Act allowed patients with a valid doctor’s recommendation to grow and use marijuana with limited immunity against criminal prosecution. Despite this new defense, law enforcement continued to prosecute possession, cultivation and distribution of marijuana as a felony. Because of this, the California Legislature in 2003 passed Senate Bill 420, which introduced the legal concept of collective growing under a cooperative model. During this time, California’s attorney general published guidelines encouraging people who wanted to pool their medical recommendations to cultivate marijuana to form a nonprofit mutual benefit corporation. Membership in the collective, and other factors, allowed individuals facing prosecution to present an affirmative defense. However, for years Californians continued to face prosecution for marijuana-related offenses.

In 2018, Proposition 64 went into effect, not only decriminalizing possession, cultivation and transportation of marijuana, now called “cannabis,” but also establishing a platform to license legally established cannabis businesses. Currently there are three branches of California’s cannabis licensing regulators: the Bureau of Cannabis Control is the lead agency and regulates retail, microbusinesses, testing and distribution facilities; the California Department of Food and Agriculture governs cultivation and processor licenses; and the California Department of Public Health oversees non-volatile and volatile manufacturing. For the average Californian, Proposition 64 legalized the purchase, gifting, possession, use and transport of certain amounts of recreational cannabis for individuals 21 and older, and allows medicinal cannabis to be purchased from licensed retail dispensaries by individuals ages 18 and older with a medical recommendation.

Oversight of licensing in California begins with the local jurisdiction of the proposed business location and boils down to a land use issue. Many cities still have a ban on the establishment of commercial cannabis businesses while others have welcomed the business opportunities. Cannabis businesses create thousands of jobs and tax revenue is propping up cities and counties throughout the state during the global pandemic. The regulatory process is always subject to change, but all in all, California has become a leading force in the commercial cannabis industry.

Jennifer S. Rosenthal | Law Offices of Jennifer S. Rosenthal

Jennifer Rosenthal is a criminal defense lawyer and seasoned cannabis attorney.  It just so happens that being a legal champion is in her DNA. She comes from a family of attorneys and has extensive experience as both a civil litigator and criminal defense lawyer. At an early age, she began working in her father’s law firm and quickly realized she had a passion for justice.

Jennifer was one of California’s earliest cannabis attorneys representing many of the first industry entrepreneurs with her stellar reputation and deep knowledge of cannabis policy and regulations.  She also works closely with Monterey County’s Cannabis Program advocating on behalf of her clients and the community. Jennifer is a founding Board Member of the Monterey Cannabis Industry Association and currently serves as Vice President.

As a criminal defense lawyer, Jennifer represents defendants from all walks of life in both serious violent felonies and misdemeanor charges.  She successfully handles complex cases achieving favorable results for her clients involving assault and battery, domestic violence, drunk driving, sex crimes, narcotics possession, and more.

Jennifer believes in giving a voice to those who were not given an opportunity to use theirs. She has also served on the Board of Directors of Legal Services for Seniors for six years. For the last five years, Jennifer has served on the board of CASA of Monterey County (Court Appointed Special Advocates) a non-profit that advocates for children who have experienced abuse or neglect, where she currently serves as President of the Board.

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