California’s 2021 Legislative Session: Employment Rights, Hospice Care, Pets’ Rights, and More

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UPDATE 9/28/2021 – Gov. Newsom has signed into law SB-311 by Sen. Ben Hueso, to require hospitals to allow terminal patients to use cannabis. Cal NORML supporters sent in 750 letters to Gov. Newsom in support of SB-311. Thanks to all who took action!

UPDATE 9/16/2021

Highway Billboards: Cal NORML supported a bill by Asm. Bill Quirk, AB 1302, to allow billboard ads for cannabusinesses on state highways except within 15 miles of the state line. The bill would restore a rule that was in place prior to a San Luis Obispo court ruling which banned them everywhere on state highways and interstates. Billboards provide useful information to consumers in search of legal cannabis outlets. Many licensed cannabis retailers are located on state highways, and should by no means be forbidden to advertise their presence there. No other legal product is subject to a similar highway billboard ban. AB 1302 passed in the legislature, but was vetoed by Gov. Newsom, who says he will work with the bill’s author to “refine and advance its regulation of cannabis while also remaining faithful to the will of the voters.”

Testing: SB 544 by Sen. Laird (D-Santa Cruz) requires the DCC to establish specific testing standards for all compounds and contaminants contained in cannabis products, something for which Cal NORML has been advocating. This bill has been signed into law, along with AB 1138 by Assemblymember Blanca Rubio (Unlawful cannabis activity: civil enforcement) and AB 1222 by Assemblymember Phillip Chen (Cannabis packaging: beverages).

Hemp CBD Products: Asm. Aguiar-Curry reintroduced her bill (AB-45) allowing for hemp-derived CBD products to be included in foods, beverages, and cosmetics. Cal NORML supported the bill in concept but objected to its ban on hemp cigarettes. AB 45 saw last-minute amendments that removed the hemp cigarette ban only once they are taxed. Cal NORML is now neutral on the bill.

Criminal and Civil Penalties: SB-73 by Sen. Wiener (D-S.F.), which would extend eligibility for probation to certain drug crimes, including some cannabis offenses, passed the legislature and awaits the Governor’s signature. Cal NORML supports SB 73. AB 1138 (Rubio) would create $30K fines for people engaging in commercial cannabis activity without a license. It is being opposed by the Drug Policy Alliance and other human rights groups.

State Regulation: Much of the legislative action on cannabis was devoted to streamlining regulation of the cannabis industry. The legislature approved a comprehensive bill by Gov. Newsom to reorganize state regulation under a single agency. The new Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) will assume functions previously shared by the former Bureau of Cannabis Control, Department of Health, and Department of Food and Agriculture.

License Extensions: On the business side, much energy was expended on extending the expiration date for provisional licenses, which had been set to expire in July 2021. Extending the licenses is critical since, as of March 2021, 83% of the industry was operating under provisional licenses due to regulatory delays, in particular burdensome requirements under CEQA (California Environmental Quality Act) for local environmental impact reviews (EIRs) that don’t apply to other industries. After much debate among cannabis advocates and environmentalists, the Governor’s budget trailer bill allowed provisional licenses to be extended up to January 1, 2026. It also forbade new provisional applications after July 1, 2022 for applicants seeking multiple licenses on contiguous premises over one acre. As approved by the voters, Prop. 64 had originally sought to ban such large farms for five years to allow smaller businesses to compete, but that provision was derailed when regulators allowed companies to obtain multiple licenses. The Governor also budgeted $100 million to aid local governments in processing EIRs for cannabis license applicants.

Consumption Lounges: AB 1034 by Asm. Richard Bloom (D-Santa Monica) would allow for the preparation and sale of food and beverages at locally licensed cannabis consumption lounges. It passed the Assembly 52-5 but has been held over at the author’s request until next year for consideration by the Senate.

Veterinary Use: A bill by Asm. Ash Kalra (D-San Jose), AB-384, would have allowed veterinarians to recommend cannabis for pets. Cal NORML supported the bill, but it was killed by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.

UPDATE 5/4/2021 – Asm. Quirk’s bill AB 1302 allowing for restricted cannabis billboard ads advanced out of committee last week, while a competing bill from Asm. Jacqui Irwin to effectively ban them did not advance, despite opponents false claims that marijuana use is up significantly among teens following legalization. 

SB 59, to extend provisional licenses for cannabis businesses, is heading for a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing on Monday, May 10. This bill is critical to the fledgling cannabis industry: as of March 2021, 83% of the legal cannabis industry was operating under provisional licenses. Bottlenecks at local levels are holding up permanent licensing; meanwhile provisionals are set to expire and must be extended. (The bill ultimately got folded into the budget trailer bill.)

4/12/2021: Senator Skinner’s bill to open up local access to cannabis businesses passed the Sen. Governance committee, with tax provisions omitted. Other cannabis industry bills are scheduled for a 4/20 (no kidding) hearing​ in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee, including Asm. Quirk’s better billboard bill AB 1302, for which Cal NORML wrote a letter of support.

Cal NORML is tracking over 30 bills that address cannabis this legislative session.

Asm. Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) stepped up to introduce a Cal NORML-sponsored employment discrimination bill, AB 1256, with language that will be amended after further discussion with stakeholders. Our intent is to end employment discrimination based on testing for non-psychoactive cannabis metabolites in urine, hair or bodily fluids for both recreational and medical cannabis users, while allowing employers to maintain a safe workplace by disallowing cannabis use or intoxication on the job. Nevada and New Jersey have similar laws as do New York City, Washington DC, Atlanta, Rochester NY and Richmond, VA. In addition, 20 states protect medical marijuana users’ employment rights.

Read More about Cal NORML’s Employment Rights Campaign.

Cal NORML has begun a campaign to ask that Gov. Newsom sign SB-311  “Ryan’s Law,” a bill that would require hospitals to allow terminal patients to use cannabis, under certain restrictions. The same bill was “reluctantly” vetoed by Newsom last year, citing concerns hospitals had about federal funding. Write To The Governor and Ask Him to Sign SB-311.

Asm. Kalra (D-San Jose) has introduced AB-384, which would allow veterinarians to recommend cannabis for pets. Cal NORML supports this bill, along with SB-73 (Wiener), which would extend eligibility for probation to certain drug crimes, including some cannabis crimes. A bill by Asm. Wood (D-North Coast), AB 527  would mirror potential FDA rescheduling of cannabinoids in CA law, in the way that AB 710 did for cannabidiol did in 2018.

On the business side, Asm. Irwin (D-Santa Barbara) has introduced AB-273  which would ban billboard ads for cannabis businesses on California’s many state highways. Cal NORML opposes the bill because it treats cannabis unfairly and makes it more difficult for consumers to find retailers. Asm. Quirk has introduced AB 1302, also to address outdoor advertising, which Cal NORML supports. AB1034 (Bloom) would allow for food preparation in cannabis consumption lounges.

Cal NORML also supports SB-59 (Caballero), a critically important bill to extend provisional licenses for cannabis businesses. A promising bill from Senator Skinner, SB-398, would simplify the process for local governments to approve cannabis businesses by letting them leave regulation up to the state. And SB 544 from Sen. Laird would require the BCC to establish specific testing standards for all compounds and contaminants contained in cannabis products, something for which Cal NORML has been advocating.

Asm. Aguiar-Curry has re-introduced her bill (AB-45) allowing for hemp-derived CBD products to be included in foods, beverages, and cosmetics, and a companion bill by Sen. Allen (SB-235). Both bills contain a ban on hemp cigarettes; Cal NORML sees no reason to ban hemp cigarettes. Tell us your thoughts.

Other bills, some of them “spot” bills without full language, address cannabis delivery services, taxes, penalties for unlicensed activity, cannabis testing, hemp cultivation, equity, and the consolidation of California’s cannabis regulators. We will keep our members and supporters informed of upcoming hearings and votes on these bills. Join Cal NORML’s email alert list for legislative updates.

PLEASE HELP CAL NORML IN OUR WORK PROTECTING YOUR RIGHTS IN THE 2021 CALIFORNIA LEGISLATIVE SESSION. Make a sustaining donation, or join with a personal or business membership today. 

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