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In California, weed delivery pits the state against the rights of counties and towns

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WASHINGTON (CIRCA) — Chris Boudreau has been working in cannabis delivery in some form for 10 years, and he's seen the impact that localized regulations have had on the people delivering marijuana around California.

"I know of groups that were following all of the state laws and doing everything compliantly, and their drivers would get in legal trouble and get arrested for doing deliveries in cities, even though they were following all of the state laws," Boudreau explained.

Cannabis has been legal for recreational sale in California since January 2018, but around 60 percent of the state still bans its sale. If you live in one of those communities, though, you are still free to use cannabis products — and for many, delivery is the only way to get them. But up until recently, those delivery drivers could be arrested for entering counties or cities that had not legalized the sale of cannabis.

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But now, California's Bureau of Cannabis Control (BCC) has updated its regulations to allow cannabis delivery into areas of the state that ban the sale of marijuana products.

According to the BCC, Prop 64 — the legislation that legalized recreational-use cannabis for the state in 2016 — allows the use of cannabis everywhere in California but lets cities and counties make their own decisions about regulating and selling marijuana within their jurisdictions. You can't buy cannabis in every city or county in the state, but you can use it anywhere.

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So, the BCC is arguing that if cannabis is sold by a business that is based in and regulated by a city or county that has legalized cannabis for sale, cannabis can be delivered anywhere in the state because it is legal to possess or use cannabis anywhere.

"Delivery to those jurisdictions is important," said BCC spokesperson Alex Traverso. "Because there are still far too many areas with a lack of access due to local bans."

According to Boudreau, 35 to 40 percent of Californians had to drive more than 60 miles to get access to cannabis until this regulation update. The businessman says he understands that cities and counties want and deserve the right to dictate what kind of businesses operate within their borders, but that isn't the point of this regulation change.

"It's unique; we’re not saying what kind of business you can have, we’re saying you're denying people access," he said. "Especially people who use this as medicine."

But cities and counties that have outlawed the sale of cannabis don't all agree with Boudreau or the BCC's interpretation of the law.

Sonora, California, was one of the first cities to come out in direct opposition of the BCC's law.

Sonora recently approved a medical marijuana program, but after the regulation update was announced, the City Council unanimously voted to sue the BCC.

"The city has spent an enormous amount of time to establish a program that protects all while allowing those who need the product to purchase locally," City Councilwoman and former Mayor Connie Williams said. "We are joining other cities that want local control as per Prop 64."

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California's constitution gives cities much the same power that the U.S. Constitution gives to states. They have sovereignty in many things, but the state can make laws that supersede all. Prop 64 is unique in that half of it sets statewide law (the ability to possess and use cannabis) while the other half leaves cannabis up to local control (the ability to tax, regulate and sell cannabis).

"[Prop 64] retains provisions granting local jurisdictions control," Williams explained. "The BCC has narrowed the ability of cities to effectively regulate cannabis at the local level."

Boudreau, however, disagrees.

"Delivery is not in your face," Boudreau argued, adding that a store would come with a big sign and add traffic to the community, with people coming specifically to buy that product. He understands why that might not be a good choice for a specific county or city, and thinks they should have the ability to decide if they want it.

But a delivery driver?

"He's just going to pull up, hand the homeowner a bag, and take off," Boudreau explained. "This is about what constituents voted for, what people want, what some people need."

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