Medical marijuana businesses obeying California law will continue to face U.S. Justice Department pressure after a last-minute effort to regulate the cannabis industry at the state level died last week.
A bill authored by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, would have created a new wing of the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to license and oversee the medical marijuana industry, which nets more than $1.3 billion in annual revenue.
Earlier Ammiano efforts to pass statewide regulations — California law gives regulatory responsibility to cities and counties, some of which have permitted medical marijuana businesses while others have banned them — failed in May and in 2012. But a last-minute push materialized following an Aug. 29 memo from U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder's top lieutenant.
States with a "strong regulatory framework" at the state level would be less likely to encounter opposition from federal law enforcement agencies, according to Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole, who also signaled that the Justice Department would not sue to overturn marijuana legalization in Washington and Colorado.
Federal pressure has led to the closure of more than a dozen Bay Area medical marijuana dispensaries and hundreds more across the state since 2011, including nine with city permits in San Francisco. Federal officials also have sued to seize the properties where licensed dispensaries operate in Oakland, Berkeley and San Francisco's Mission district.
"The current unregulated situation can't continue and the U.S. Department of Justice memo makes it clear we need to have a plan for California," Ammiano said in a statement Friday, before adding that he will try again in the next legislative session in 2014. "Although this is already the strongest and most effective legislation California has seen, it can still be honed and I will keep working."
The last-minute push required a parliamentarian trick called "gut and amend" that swapped language from a cannabis regulation bill that died in May into an unrelated bill that needed to pass both the Assembly and the Senate by the end of last week.
The move was opposed by law enforcement lobbies such as the California Narcotic Officers' Association, along with groups representing health care professionals.
Key opposition also came from the League of California Cities and Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, whose city approved tight restrictions on marijuana businesses in May.
Ammiano's bill "wouldn't have regulated anything," said John Lovell, a Sacramento-based lobbyist for law enforcement interests.
Police wanted tighter restrictions on doctors who write medical marijuana recommendations, which was not addressed in AB 604 or in a separate failed bill authored by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg.
Instead, Ammiano's legislation "would have allowed big marijuana retailers to get wealth," Lovell said. "The bills you get with gut-and-amend are big-money bills."Unique medical marijuana dispensary approved in downtown San Francisco
An unorthodox medical marijuana dispensary — one that would provide "nonpsychoactive" cannabis products, such as creams and oils instead of buds — is set to open in San Francisco's downtown.
CBD Wellness Solutions received approval from The City's Planning Commission on Thursday to open at 212 California St. after the current tenant, a bank, vacates the property.
The dispensary will focus on marijuana high in CBD, or cannabidiol. Unlike better-known tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, this component of marijuana is not psychoactive, according to Brendan Hallinan, an attorney for the club.
CBD Wellness Solutions received approval despite opposition from restaurants such as Tadich Grill, which is on the same block along with Michael Mina and other prominent eateries.
City planners voted 6-1 to approve the dispensary despite the fact that they are waiting on the Board of Supervisors to revisit zoning rules around clubs. About 90 percent of The City is off-limits to medical marijuana. When the board will take up the issue is unclear.
There are currently 26 active medical marijuana storefronts in San Francisco, according to the Department of Public Health, which issues permits.