Marijuana and California State Law


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Marijuana and California State Law

Marijuana and California State Law

Cannabis Dispensary License

Marijuana and California State Law: A growing number of states are defying the federal marijuana ban, not only by rewriting their own laws, but by actively cooperating with marijuana growing, processing, and use. Many contend that pot should be a state, rather than a federal, concern. California made the sale legal of Marijuana and California State Law reflects that by making a cannabis business license available under state laws for sales to patients and the general public.

There are 17 different types of California marijuana licenses based on the type of business activity involved. The following types of business are permitted under the CA MMRSA law:

  1. Marijuana Cultivators or Growers (Cultivars) with four total acres of growing area,
  2. Marijuana Manufacturers
  3. Marijuana Testing labs
  4. Marijuana Retail dispensaries
  5. Marijuana Distributors and
  6. Marijuana Transporters.

Each of these types of business must acquire its own license as provided in Section 19300.7 of the California Business and Professions Code. For example, a Type 1 license will be allowed for small specialty outdoor operations, whereas a Type 4 license is required for cultivation in a nursery. A Type 6 or 7 license will be required for manufacturers, while a Type 8 license is required for those engaged in testing. Type 10 and Type 10A are for dispensaries. Type 11 is a license for distributors, while transportation businesses must apply for a Type 12 license.

Licensees may usually hold licenses in two separate categories, but only in certain combinations. All cultivators and manufacturers must send their products to a Type 11 licensee in order to obtain quality assurance, and Type 11 licensees must submit marijuana products to Type 9 laboratories.

Federal Law and Marijuana Legality

The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the court held that under the Constitution, Congress may use its Commerce Power to ban even “window box” medical marijuana, whether permitted under state law or not.

The Commerce Power derives from two constitutional provisions: (1) the Commerce Clause, which grants Congress authority to “regulate Commerce … among the several States,” and (2) the Necessary and Proper Clause, which says Congress may “make all Laws which shall be necessary and proper for carrying into Execution” certain itemized grants—including the Commerce Clause.

In Gonzales, the court found that marijuana growing and use were economic activities. It then followed some 20th-century cases that (contrary to earlier rulings) allowed Congress to use the Constitution’s Necessary and Proper Clause to regulate economic activities with “substantial effects” on interstate commerce. 

Was the court correct? Answering that question requires us to determine what the Constitution meant to those who adopted it. Even though the founders did not discuss marijuana specifically, a vast array of sources tells us their answer. The sources include debates from the Constitution’s framing and ratification, and writings informing us how key constitutional phrases were used in legal documents.

All students of the Constitution know it splits authority between the states and the federal government. What many do not recognize is that it deliberately divides responsibility for some closely-connected activities. For example, the founders often observed that commerce and domestic manufacturing were tightly related. Nevertheless, their Constitution granted power over several forms of commerce to Congress, but left authority over California cannabis manufacturing licenses to the State of California. The founders divided authority this way because protecting liberty was a higher priority than regulatory coordination.

So the Supreme Court is wrong to conclude that because an activity “substantially affects” interstate commerce it follows that Congress may regulate it. Many activities, economic or not, substantially affect commerce without being constitutional targets for Congress.

When the Constitution was adopted, the phrase “regulate commerce” was well-understood. It referred to laws governing mercantile trade and certain associated matters, such as tariff barriers, commercial finance, navigation, and marine insurance. It did not include other aspects of the economy. In fact, many of the founders are on record as specifically assuring the public that Congress would have no jurisdiction over agriculture, manufacturing, land use, or (according to Chief Justice Marshall) “health laws of every description.”

Growing marijuana is, of course, a species of agriculture. Processing is manufacturing. The ban on personal consumption is a health regulation. The Constitution places control over all those activities squarely within the state, not the federal, sphere.


So does Congress have any power over marijuana? Under a correct reading of the Constitution, the answer is, “Only some.” The Commerce Clause allows Congress to restrict or ban the marijuana trade across national and state boundaries. Moreover, the Necessary and Proper Clause recognizes some additional authority.

The background and history of the Necessary and Proper Clause establish that the provision is not a grant of authority to Congress, but merely a rule of interpretation. The Clause does, however, acknowledge Congress’s prerogative to pass certain laws “incidental” to regulating commerce. For example, if Congress prohibits interstate trade in marijuana, it might also require interstate shippers to disclose whether their cargoes included the substance—but only if disclosure is reasonably necessary to enforce the congressional ban.

However, incidental powers do not extend to comprehensive regulation of areas, such as agriculture or manufacturing, reserved to the states.

In sum: Under the original Constitution, as ratified by the American people, Congress may regulate, or even ban, marijuana from interstate and foreign commerce. It also may exercise some incidental authority. But it may not constitutionally regulate or prohibit in-state growing, processing, or use of marijuana. For better or worse, those are exclusive concerns of the citizens of the several states.

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