California’s marijuana laws have been in a limbo for almost two decades. Big business has never been forbidden from the industry, but it’s never been particularly encouraged either. Vague and contradictory laws of municipalities, counties, the state, and the feds have backhanded each other for years, resulting in a minefield of gray area legality.

But legalization is coming, likely sooner rather than later, and a swarm of regulations and taxations are going to be unleashed on an industry that’s been relatively kind to small time cultivators. Even if recreational marijuana doesn’t pass in the 2016 ballot, another bill promoting much greater medical marijuana regulation than we’ve ever seen in the Golden State is on the horizon.

Those mom and pop Davids aren’t going to be much competition for investment-funded Goliaths if new state regulations aren’t careful to carve out a place for medical marijuana caregivers. VICE argues in a recent article that a heavily regulated recreational arena is likely to be much friendlier to big business than it is to thousands of smaller producers getting by partially because of loose regulation.

Other states have served as a battleground for the same struggle. Washington’s governor signed a bill earlier this year to combine the state’s medical and recreational markets. Recreational suppliers generally liked the idea; medical caregivers did not. And restrictions are getting tighter on medical marijuana in Oregon and Colorado as well.

But there are some powerful champions on the side of the pioneers who’ve been carving out a cannabis industry since Prop 215’s induction in 1996, and before. Amanda Reiman, who manages marijuana policy and law for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), spoke to VICE about efforts from herself and others to protect what medical marijuana providers have fought to earn. She says that advocating a tired licensing fee structure is good way to make sure that the market can stay profitable for small producers and open to new cultivators without swaths of investment cash behind them.

What Reiman makes clear is something that many already now: now’s the time to act if we want to protect what we have and try to shape the future of the cannabusiness in California.

“How do we best serve seriously ill patients who may need large amounts of cannabis and could get priced out of a recreational market? How do we protect the small grower? How do we ensure this industry isn’t taken over by large outside interests? Those are vital conversations we’re having, and all stakeholders should take part,” Reiman said. “In the meantime, we can quibble all day about how the perfect regulatory system would look, and never agree, but what we can all agree on is that 10,000 felonies for marijuana in California every year is not OK. So at the end of this process, while we’re not going to have something that everybody loves, it’s going to be whole hell of a lot better than criminality.”

Image via Flickr user Rusty Blazenhoff