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Friday, June 5, 2015

California May Finally Be Serious About Regulating Medical Marijuana

Posted By on Fri, Jun 5, 2015 at 9:43 AM

click to enlarge california_marijuana_template.jpg
Cannabis is here in California to stay. Multibillion-dollar industries are tenacious like that.

And now, almost 20 years after California legalized medical marijuana, state lawmakers appear ready to do something about it.

In a remarkable week for cannabis in the United States — on Wednesday, Congress gave its strongest-yet support for ending the federal war on the drug — the state Assembly on Thursday gave initial approval to comprehensive statewide regulations, rules for the country's weed basket that both players in the cannabis industry and the state's powerful police lobby agree on.

Approval from the state Senate and from Gov. Jerry Brown is still needed. But all of the above is huge. It's a long time coming — and just in time for the expected legalization of recreational cannabis next year.

There were, earlier in the year, several medical marijuana regulation bills in the Assembly: one supported by the cops, and two others supported by the state's cannabis industry.

Those have now been merged into one, Assembly Bill 266, which has the official support of the Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities as well as the Emerald Growers Association, which lobbies on behalf of small cannabis farms in Humboldt and Mendocino counties. 

California is still the only state in the country without statewide regulations for its medical marijuana industry, despite direct guidance from the federal Justice Department to come up with some rules.

AB 266 passed the Assembly floor on Thursday by a 50 to 5 vote. If approved by the Senate and signed into law by Brown, it would:

*Create a new office under the Governor, called the Office of Marijuana Regulation;

*Require anyone conducting "commercial cannabis activity" to get a license from one of several state agencies;

*Sets tiers for those licenses, leveling the playing field for small and large operations;

*Define cannabis as an agricultural product and put the Department of Agriculture in charge of cannabis cultivation;

*Put the Department of Public Health in charge of cannabis testing laboratory certification and product safety;

*Put the Board of Equalization in charge of dispensaries and transportation;

*Require the California Highway Patrol to set standards and figure out how to test for cannabis intoxication in drivers.

"This is an amazing bill and a huge win," said Hezekiah Allen, the former Humboldt County cannabis cultivator who now serves as the Emerald Growers' Association executive director. 

There would be separate licenses for growers, sellers, and transporters of cannabis. No entity would be allowed to have more than two licenses.

The bill requires agencies to start setting up detailed rules — as in how much licenses would cost, a huge issue — in 2016, and to have the licensing in place by 2018.

The bill would also protect medical cannabis patients' abilities to grow small amounts of marijuana for no more than five people without having to get a license. Those patients would not, under these rules, be allowed to sell that marijuana without a permit.

The bill would also require the various "Ubers of marijuana" — including San Francisco-based Eaze and Meadow — to acquire licenses.

There are some problems with AB 266. For one, it bars anyone with a felony drug trafficking felony from acquiring a license. That may sound good, but consider: all of the activities this bill now licenses were, not long ago, drug trafficking felonies.

That won't please some cannabis industry and legalization movement hard-liners.

Nor will the continued ability, protected under this bill, for "dry" cities and counties to ban marijuana sales or cultivation outright — though that was absolutely required by the more-conservative elements, namely the Police Chiefs and League of California Cities.

The bill may be amended again in the Senate before it reaches Brown's desk. Still, this is the most serious attempt yet by California to regulate its estimated 40,000 medical marijuana grow sites and thousands of dispensaries. And it's about time.

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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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