Two years ago, Californians showed up to their polling places in droves to express their support for Proposition 64, voting overwhelmingly in favor of legalizing recreational cannabis use and possession throughout the Golden State of California. California was one of the first states to enact any kind of cannabis legislation; medical cannabis has been legal in California going back as far as 1996.

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Passage of Prop 64 made the use and possession of cannabis recreationally legal for adults over the age of 21 in the state of California, however, the reality of what recreational legalization would actually look like in individual communities remained unclear. Once recreational cannabis became legal, countless businesses eager to make cannabis products more readily available to their growing customer base immediately sought to take advantage by providing delivery services.

Such services have proved especially useful for those who consume medical cannabis for health reasons. Many of those who suffer from chronic illnesses or pain are often unable to get to dispensaries in order to purchase much needed medical cannabis products; delivery services allow those in need to bring cannabis to them.

Local Communities Blocking Access to Cannabis

Many communities in California, however, have stayed clear of the cannabis industry, choosing to ban cannabis-related businesses from operating within city borders. But here’s the real issue. Despite cannabis having become recreationally legal in 2016, police officers operating within cities which have chosen to pass legislation banning cannabis businesses have been under the impression that cannabis delivery drivers are subject to arrest in those areas.

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This unfortunate discrepancy between state law and police policy has ultimately led to the arrest of dozens of cannabis delivery drivers.

Policeman talking to a crowd istock/DnHolm

The issue came to a head about a year ago, back in 2017, when California Highway Patrol Office pulled over two men driving an unmarked van for a traffic violation in Mendocino County. Both were employees of Old Kai Distribution, a cannabis distribution company operating legally within the state, and the two were on their way to deliver a large amount of cannabis they had just picked up from a local supplier.

Upon being pulled over, the employees immediately gave the officer a county distribution license, but the officer denied its validity and arrested them both. According to the Acting California Highway Patrol Commissioner at the time, Warren Stanley, the arrest was legal because the company’s distribution license, provided by the state, would not become valid until a few days later, saying “they [the officers] are following the laws that are in place now, and when Jan. 1, 2018, comes they’ll start following the laws that come into effect on that date.”

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Since then, California state regulators have made efforts to clarify the policies outlined by the state’s recreational and medical cannabis legislation. Groups including California police chiefs and the League of California have opposed cannabis delivery, expressing concern that such activities would increase crime rates in areas which ban cannabis sales. However, such claims have ultimately been rejected by the state.

This month, three California agencies published updated regulations making it clear that cannabis companies operating under valid state distribution licenses are not subject to arrest. According to the wording of the Text of Regulations released by the Bureau of Cannabis Control, businesses operating legally under Prop 16 are permitted to “engage in the delivery of cannabis goods as defined in Business and Professions Code section 26001(p).”