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Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano Pulls Plug on Medical Marijuana Reform Bill

Posted By on Tue, Jun 26, 2012 at 7:45 AM

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Attempts to reform California's often confusing and always contentious medical marijuana industry have been put on hold until next year -- at the earliest.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano on Monday withdrew from consideration Assembly Bill 2312, medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access announced. The bill would have created statewide rules and a Sacramento-level bureaucracy to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries. Cannabis dispensaries, like San Francisco's 22 licensed pot clubs, are currently overseen by local law, creating a patchwork of sometimes conflicting rules across the state.

The bill made history after winning approval in the Legislature, and was awaiting a hearing in the Senate. But marijuana opponents in the Legislature made some key changes to the bill -- and some marijuana advocates were vocal opponents. So Ammiano called the bill back, with an eye to reintroducing a better bill next legislative session.

A.B. 2312 began life as the successor measure to Proposition 19, 2010's failed marijuana legalization effort. After deciding they had no chance to make the fall ballot, initiative sponsors Americans for Safe Access and United Food and Commercial handed off reforming their industry to Ammiano, who two years ago introduced a marijuana legalization bill in Sacramento, which eventually made it to the ballot in the form of Prop. 19. Follow?

In addition to creating the first universal rules by which dispensaries from Crescent City to San Diego could abide -- and which, presumably, law enforcement could learn -- the bill would also have:

* Created a "Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement," akin to an Alcoholic Beverage Control for pot;

* Required dispensary operators to secure a state license as well as any local licenses and permits;

* Allowed localities to tax local medical marijuana sales up to 2 percent;

* Set a standard of one medical cannabis dispensary allowed per 50,000 people;

* And allowed localities to ban dispensaries outright by a majority vote by the city council or board of supervisors.

That the bill was even called a vote on the floor of the Legislature was seen as a victory: ASA credits a last-minute organizing spree for saving the bill from legislative limbo.

But it was that last provision -- an unfriendly amendment inserted after a committee hearing -- that led ASA to withdraw its support, spokesman Kris Hermes said on Monday.

Currently, California counties and cities can enact bans: San Mateo County, San Leandro, and Danville all have bans, for instance.

"Sadly, there are more bans out there than cities with regulations" for medical marijuana dispensaries, Hermes said. But with ban language in A.B. 2312, "we were reticent to continue supporting it."

The bill also received some vocal opposition from medical cannabis activists and legalization advocates, some of whom feared a "corporate takeover" of the medical marijuana industry by collectives in cahoots with state regulators.

"A.B. 2312 favors large-scale, wealthy collective operators over the small collectives providing true community benefit," wrote LA-based activist Degé Coutee in a letter to the Senate committee tasked with considering the bill. "While statewide guidelines need to be codified, A.B. 2312 in its current form is a bureaucratic monstrosity that creates more problems than it solves."

Such opposition didn't have any sway on Ammiano's decision to pull the bill, according to Ammiano spokesman Curtis Nonsinneh.

"There's something in here for everyone, but nothing without it," he said Monday.

The bill will now go to a Senate committee for hearings in the fall before it goes back up for a vote in the 2013 legislative session.

"Of course we're happy that this issue will be vetted further and there will be an opportunity for further input from stakeholders," Notsinneh said.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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