Oakland-based Auntie Dolores is a well-known brand in the country’s biggest legal cannabis state. The company has been making cannabis-infused edibles, like brownies and pretzels, for California’s medical marijuana users since 2008. Its products, which include gluten-free and vegan options, can be found in 150 dispensaries around the state.
But running a cannabis business in a California can be a very difficult balancing act. "Our laws are just so out of date in terms of how the industry has evolved," says CEO Julianna Carella, a former professional dancer. The system it established "doesn't work in an environment that has this many dispensaries and this many patients."
In 1996, California became the first state to sanction medical marijuana and in 2013 annual sales approached $1 billion, according to a report by ArcView Market Research, making it the country’s largest legal cannabis market. But industry executives complain that the Golden State has yet to implement the kind of statewide regulatory framework that would give clear guidelines to a business like Auntie Dolores.
While dispensaries operate openly in California, the law only explicitly permits cultivation and distribution by non-profit "collective, cooperative cultivation projects." The guidance is vague on how these organizations should specifically function.
The questions that arise are as basic as how to transport plant matter to factories and ship finished products to stores
California’s approach is "very gray and we try our best to stay safe and not have any issues arise while we're trying to get the product to the patients that want it and need it," Carella says.