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Transporting Cannabis: A Road Map that Starts with Public Safety

By Fiona Ma

When we think about cannabis, we think of the dispensaries where it is sold, or the fields where it is grown. But more attention should be paid to the often overlooked middle step — transporting cannabis to the consumer.

I recently convened a Cannabis Transportation Stakeholder Discussion to discuss the myriad of technical, legal and logistical challenges facing the Medical Cannabis Industry when it comes to transporting cannabis from where it is grown to where it is consumed.

This is something that the cannabis industry and government needs to carefully consider as we contemplate the new set of laws California Gov. Jerry Brown just approved. At my stakeholders meeting, law enforcement, private sector labor leaders, industry officials, insurance industry officials, and delivery startups were all on hand to lend their perspective. There were a number of crucial takeaways from our lively and informative discussion, all which centered around public safety.

  1. Law enforcement — Though we had statewide representation at the transportation discussion by the California Highway Patrol, it is clear that this problem extends well beyond the state highways; it impacts local streets and roads, as well as federal freeways. Officers do their best, but the lack of uniformity and statewide standards on how cannabis is transported makes enforcing the laws consistently and fairly difficult on state highways. Policy makers need to develop clear standards that spell out, in detail, everything from the kinds of trucks, cars, motorcycles and bikes that can be used, as well as who should be allowed to transport cannabis. At the end of the day, law enforcement needs to know that the drivers are complying with all requirements and that cannabis drivers are driving lawfully.
  2. Drivers — There should be clear statewide licensing standards for drivers. As is the case with most jobs, every person employed in transporting cannabis should pass a background check, they should be fully trained and qualified in commercial hauling, and they should not drive under the influence. Additionally, law enforcement should be able to access the most up-to-date manifests and delivery schedules, and they need to know drivers have clean records. Keeping Californians safe must be the foundation of every conversation about transporting cannabis.
  3. Technology — The final portion of the discussion was a demonstration of a real-time tracking platform used by a cannabis delivery business. We watched as the (fictional) delivery was tracked on its way to the Board of Equalization headquarters. The various tracking platforms that are currently on the market, or in development, will allow the industry to know where cannabis is at every point in the supply chain. That is good for the industry, good for regulators and tax collectors, and good for law enforcement as well.
  4. Banking — Transportation, done right, can be expensive. Hiring qualified, competent, and safe employees means paying wages commensurate with the skill of the driver. Accessing a professional hauling fleet through private sector contracts is expensive, and most commercial haulers are not set up to deal in a strictly-cash basis. Put simply, creating uniform standards for transportation, tracking, and distribution will be expensive, and will involve industries that operate through billing invoices. As with other issues facing the industry, lack of access to banking services is impeding growth — but in this instance, it’s also impeding public safety.

As conversations continue on the regulation of California’s existing Cannabis Industry, the safe transportation of medical cannabis will have to be a priority. Even though the federal government continues to classify cannabis as a Schedule 1 substance, the reality is it is currently moving on federal highways, state freeways, and on our local streets and roads, and it will continue to do so.

As a state, we need to be more proactive about addressing current problems that will only get magnified as this industry gets regulated and grows. A clear road map for success would ensure that law enforcement, drivers, technology and banking all have clear standards and rules that prioritize the public safety of all Californians.

To view the Cannabis Transportation Discussion, please visit my website here.

Fiona MaFiona Ma

Fiona Ma

About Fiona Ma, CPA, State Board of Equalization

Assembly Speaker pro Tempore Emeritus Fiona Ma was elected to the State Board of Equalization (SBOE) on November 5, 2014 and represents close to 10 million people in 23 counties from the Oregon border to Santa Barbara County. The 5,000 person tax agency affects every taxpayer in California and has broad regulatory and adjudicatory powers and is the only elected tax board in America.

Ms. Ma was elected to represent the 12th Assembly District from November 2006 to November 2012 (after serving the maximum three terms). She was the #112 woman to ever be elected to the California Legislature and the first Asian woman to ever serve as Speaker pro Tempore since 1850 (first Legislature). Ms. Ma first became interested in politics as a small business owner advocating on behalf of other small businesses. She was an elected delegate to the 1995 White House Conference on Small Business under President Bill Clinton and later was elected a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors from 2002-2006.

In the Assembly, Ms. Ma authored groundbreaking legislation to protect consumers, prevent the spread of Hepatitis B, and increase access to quality healthcare. As a joint author of Proposition 1-A (Nov 2008), she was the legislature’s leading advocate to bring high-speed trains to California. Additionally, Ms. Ma has been and continues to be a leader in promoting trade and fostering relationships between California and Asia.

Ms. Ma received her B.S. from the Rochester Institute of Technology (NY), her M.S. in Taxation from Golden Gate University (SF), and an MBA from Pepperdine University. She has been licensed in California as a Certified Public Accountant (CPA) since 1992. Fiona can be reached at [email protected]

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