California Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill Advancing in Assembly

LA Dispensary

SACRAMENTO, CA —  A proposal to impose state control over California’s medical marijuana industry, which has been largely unregulated since Proposition 215 passed in 1996, has advanced to a third reading and possible vote in the California Assembly.

Assembly Bill 473, introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), would create a  new agency within the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to regulate the growth, supply and sale of medical cannabis, replacing standards that now vary wildly from one city and county to another.

The bill has received favorable reports from the Committees on Public Safety, Health, and Appropriations, and a third reading has been ordered for the full Assembly to consider the bill.

Although a majority of the hundreds of thousands of legal medical marijuana patients in California rely on dispensaries, the state has so far left regulation up to its localities.

The result is a situation where what is tolerated on one side of a suburban highway may be prosecuted on the other side.

There are currently more than 50 local ordinances, urban and rural, regulating medical marijuana dispensaries, which has led to a patchwork of local laws that serve some patient populations, but not others, forcing many people to travel long distances or use the black market to obtain a strain of medical marijuana that works for them.

This patchwork system has also caused confusion for public officials, and created more work for law enforcement.

The proposed bill hopes to change that by creating the Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement (DMCRE), which would be a part of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

The DMCRE  would be empowered to establish statewide standards for the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, distribution, and sale of medical marijuana and medical marijuana products, as well as a statewide licensing fee structure.

The bill also requires the DMCRE to develop uniform policies statewide for the taxation of the medical marijuana industry, establish a licence structure and uniform identification card program.

The DMCRE would be required to work in conjunction with state law enforcement agencies to enforce medical marijuana regulations to ensure compliance with the law.

“California has been in chaos for way too long,” says Ammiano. “Cities have been looking for state guidance, dispensaries feel at the mercy of changing rules and patients who need medical cannabis are uncertain about how their legitimate medical needs will be filled.”

“This is a concrete plan that will keep medical marijuana safe. We will get it into the right hands and keep it out of the wrong hands.”

Ammiano similar bill last year, Assembly Bill 2312, but it called for establishing an entirely new agency that critics said would have created a cluster of legal, fiscal and jurisdictional troubles.

The bill barely passed in the House, but stalled in the state Senate.  The bill had support from medical marijuana patients, dispensaries, and advocates.

A separate bill to regulate the medical marijuana industry in California has already been passed by the California Senate, and awaits consideration by the Assembly.

That bill, Senate Bill 439, would require that medical marijuana dispensaries are non-profit, although dispensary owners would be able to receive “reasonable compensation” and reimbursement for expenses for providing medical marijuana to patients.

The bill’s sponsor, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), said that the Senate Bill, combined with the Assembly bill introduced by Ammiano, would create a well-regulated medical marijuana industry that would, hopefully, allow California to come to “some sort of an understanding” with the federal government, who still maintains that marijuana is a dangerous, addictive, and prohibited drug.

Since 2011, when federal prosecutors in the state announced their crackdown on the unregulated medical marijuana industry, the DEA has raided numerous dispensaries and other medical marijuana-related businesses, including Oaksterdam University.

In the past two years, hundreds of California dispensaries have shuttered their doors, in part because of the fear of federal prosecution and in part because of local moves against them.

Steinberg’s bill would adopt guidelines issued by Gov. Jerry Brown when he was the state’s attorney general in 2008, making it clear that the dispensaries cannot operate at a profit. Those operating within the guidelines could not face state prosecution, although they could still face federal prosecution.

The 2008 guidelines also said dispensaries should track their members and product and take steps to discourage the marijuana from going to those without a legitimate medical need. Steinberg’s bill would put those non-binding guidelines into state law.

Sen. Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) said nearly 50 California cities use the 2008 guidelines already to regulate dispensaries in their communities.