Bid to regulate medical marijuana in California fizzles 

Marijuana legalization may be considered by some as a foregone conclusion. But meanwhile, California has failed yet again to regulate its medical marijuana industry.

For the third year in a row, an effort in the legislature to pass statewide regulations on how medical cannabis can be grown, sold and transported in the state has fizzled out.

Currently, medical marijuana dispensaries and growing facilities operate under a patchwork of city and county law. Existing law says medical marijuana can be grown and dispensed, but does not say exactly how.

A bill which would have created a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement in the Department of Consumer Affairs, authored by state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), failed to make it through a committee hearing by the Legislature’s deadline Thursday.

Marijuana advocates hailed the bill’s failure, saying that the regulations were too confusing and too onerous, and would have encouraged cannabis purveyors to go underground.

“We were hopeful that reasonable regulations to protect patients, farmers and dispensaries, as well as public safety, could be achieved in California this year,” Dale Gieringer, director of Californa NORML (which opposed the bill) said in a statement. “However, although a lot of progress was made, it was impossible to do so in the time that we had."

A Correa spokesman did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The bill, SB 1262, would have for the first time put a state agency in charge of issuing licenses in a way similar to how the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control licenses bars and liquor stores.

Dispensaries and medical marijuana grow houses and farms serving five or more people with medical marijuana recommendations from a doctor would have paid a fee of up to $8,000 for a state license.

They would also have to adhere to any local rules – including laws banning the sale of marijuana outright. About 200 cities and counties across the state have banned medical cannabis dispensaries, including many in the Bay Area.

Operating such a bureaucracy would have cost about $20 million a year, according to an Assembly estimate issued this week.

Anyone with a conviction for “drug trafficking” would be barred from earning a license, and cannabis would have to be transported in specially modified vehicles. Provisions like these were unworkable “poison pills,” according to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

Correa’s bill included language originally written by Ammiano, who made reforming marijuana a key priority upon taking office in 2009.

Ammiano threw his support behind Correa’s bill – earlier versions of which were written by the state’s police lobby – after his efforts failed, but in the end did not support the version up for a vote Thursday.

“I look forward to when California can enter the 21st Century on marijuana policy,” said Ammiano, who will be termed out in January.

The state’s medical marijuana industry could be as big as $1.8 billion or more. The state takes in $400 million in taxes on medical marijuana, according to a 2009 Board of Equalization estimate.

Though voters in California voted against marijuana legalization in 2010, legalization seems all but certain to be on the ballot and pass in California in 2016.

Legalization has vocal support from politicians like Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who has pledged to campaign for the “right initiative.”

California was the first state in the country to allow sick people to access the plant, in 1996. Some form of medical marijuana is now available in almost half of the country, with adults allowed to purchase marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington.

Voters in two more states – Oregon and Alaska – will vote on legalization this fall.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has worked as a reporter in San Francisco since 2008, with an emphasis on city governance and politics, The City’s neighborhoods, race, poverty and the drug war.
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