California Department of Technology Coordinates Integration of 3 Separate Cannabis Licensing Systems

When voters in the state chose to legalize marijuana in November, they also gave the government a deadline by which they needed to start licensing cannabis businesses: Jan. 1, 2018.

by / June 1, 2017
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In a mad dash to prepare for regulating the heretofore untamed cannabis industry, the California Department of Technology is coordinating the integration of three separate licensing systems for different agencies.

When voters in the state chose to legalize marijuana in November, they also gave the government a deadline by which they needed to start licensing cannabis businesses: Jan. 1, 2018.

“The schedule’s aggressive,” said Scott Paterson, a senior adviser for the state IT department. “We’ve got regulation development that’s being done, we’ve got possible legislation changes. We do know that the [Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act] is already in statute, so we are marching toward that order. But it’s an aggressive schedule for addressing any type of it project, let alone four.”

Those four systems would be the licensing systems for three different departments — Food and Agriculture, Consumer Affairs and Public Health — as well as a track-and-trace system for CDFA. Each department will be responsible for licensing businesses in different parts of the cannabis industry, following every step in the process from seed to sale.

The track-and-trace system is still going through the procurement process, but the vendors have already been selected for all the licensing systems:

That January deadline, Paterson said, essentially forced the state to seek out a faster-than-usual way to get things done. As an example, for the licensing platform, it used the Software Licensing Program. To stand up the systems, it’s using an agile process.

“With the tight timelines that are in place now, January 2018, what is the minimum viable product that we can have up and need to have up by that date? We know that we need to accept applicant information. Do we need to have renewals up? No, because they’ll only renew annually,” he said.

So the state will add in renewal capabilities later. Another item on the list that won’t necessarily be complete by January is inter-department communication.

“The platform that they’re on will allow for API and communications between platforms; that is possible,” Paterson said.

They’ll also need to set up back-end access for a crowded alphabet soup of state agencies, as well as government entities outside the state — the California Department of Justice, the State Water Resources Control Board, the Department of Fish and Wildlife, and on and on.

As they set it up, Paterson said one major concern is ease of use. Since the marijuana industry in California has been mostly unregulated — despite two decades of the drug being legal for medical uses — the state will likely be working with people who aren’t used to working with the state. And though California has consulted with other states that have already set up regulatory systems, it has a larger population than any other. Inevitably, marijuana regulation will be a bigger haul.

“We know that we’re under the microscope," Paterson said, "and it’s very important to every one of us that we do this right.”

This article was originally published on Techwire.

Ben Miller Staff Writer

Ben Miller is the business beat staff writer for Government Technology. His reporting experience includes breaking news, business, community features and technical subjects. He holds a Bachelor’s degree in journalism from the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno, and lives in Sacramento, Calif.