Nevada City attorney Heather Burke discusses changing landscape of cannabis law | TheUnion.com

Nevada City attorney Heather Burke discusses changing landscape of cannabis law

Changes to California's marijuana laws will affect several aspects of a billion-dollar industry over the next several years.

Nevada City attorney Heather Burke's advice to cope with those changes?

Know the law.

Burke, who on Tuesday gave a seminar at the Nevada County Courthouse, told a crowded courtroom that the state's transition from a collective/cooperative model to the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act, as well as Proposition 64, will give growers until 2019 to conform.

Three levels of law — federal, state and local — will change over the next few years. Some of those changes, like a need for growers to obtain state and local licenses, are known. Other changes, like what a new U.S. attorney general might do once in power, remain unclear.

"We're definitely looking at some dire federal consequences," Burke warned.

Recommended Stories For You

Cannabis law has many moving pieces. The state continues to operate under the collective/cooperative model. Under that system a patient can get a recommendation for medicinal marijuana that states the person needs, for example, 99 plants.

"Law enforcement is right," Burke said. "That makes no sense."

The regulation and safety act, passed in late 2015, changed that system. Prop 64, approved in November, will further tweak the law.

The state is expected to have a licensing system in place by January 2018. Growers will have a year after that's implemented to become compliant, Burke said.

Growers must obtain licenses from both their local government and the state under the new system. If a local jurisdiction decides against issuing licenses, no cultivation can legally occur there.

Nevada County is expected to develop grow rules over the next several months. Supervisors have said that cannabis advocates will have a voice in that process.

What's unknown is how the federal government's stance will change under a new presidential administration.

The Rohrabacher-Farr Amendment, which restricts the U.S. Department of Justice from stopping states implementing their own medical marijuana laws, will expire in late April.

Additionally, Sen. Jeff Sessions, Donald Trump's pick for attorney general, has publicly opposed cannabis.

Burke advised people in the cannabis industry to get their permits when they become available. They also should maintain good faith when working toward becoming compliant.

"Most people want to comply," Burke said. "They're trying to comply."

To contact Staff Writer Alan Riquelmy, email ariquelmy@theunion.com or call 530-477-4239.