- The Washington Times - Friday, December 15, 2017

California has begun licensing recreational marijuana businesses in anticipation of retail weed sales beginning January 1.

The California Bureau of Cannabis Control issued 20 licenses Thursday for medical and recreational or “adult-use” marijuana businesses, giving them the go-ahead to take part in what’s expected to become the nation’s largest legal commercial marijuana marketplace once it gets off the ground next month.

“Last week, we officially launched our online licensing system, and today we’re pleased to issue the first group of temporary licenses to cannabis businesses that fall under the Bureau’s jurisdiction,” said Lori Ajax, the state’s top marijuana regulator.

“We plan to issue many more before January 1,” she said in a statement.

Californians voted in November 2016 to legalize recreational marijuana, but regulations governing the state’s commercial cannabis industry don’t take effect until 2018. Weeks away from legal weed sales beginning, the round of temporary licenses issued Thursday effectively give recipients approval to partake in the state’s commercial cannabis industry as soon as those rules set in.

Among the 20 marijuana operations awarded temporary licenses are dispensaries, distributors, a microbusiness and a testing facility.

The temporary licenses are good for 120 days and may be extended if applicants are awarded annual licenses once they’re available.

More than 1,900 businesses have registered on the cannabis bureau’s licensing site, and more than 200 have submitted applications for licenses.

California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana in 1996, paving the way for the 28 others and counting that have followed suit in the decades since.

Nine states and the nation’s capital have legalized recreational marijuana, meanwhile, including five where it can currently be purchased from retail pot shops: Alaska, Colorado, Nevada, Oregon and Washington state. California is scheduled to become the sixth on Jan. 1, and Massachusetts is presently poised to begin the seventh come July.

California is the most populous state to legalize recreational marijuana, and previous estimates have suggested the state stands to collect up to $1 billion off of cannabis-related taxes during the first year of retail sales.

Marijuana is illegal under federal law, but the Trump administration has refrained thus far from intervening in any of the states that have legalized the plant.

• Andrew Blake can be reached at ablake@washingtontimes.com.

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