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Will California Regulate Medical Marijuana?

Efforts to regulate medical marijuana in California could be headed for trouble – yet again.

With just 30 days left to reach a deal that would ensure the new rules pass in the legislature, lawmakers are still floundering, and there are few signs they know exactly what they want the law to do.

Lou Correa
Lou Correa

The proposal to reform the state’s scant MMJ regulations was introduced by Sen. Lou Correa, Democrat of Santa Ana. A competing medical marijuana bill, introduced in the California Assembly, died earlier this year.

A central concern remains unresolved as the legislative deadline looms: Who would be in charge of enforcing the regulations?

The bill in the Assembly sought to put that control in the hands of a state agency, part of the reason it failed. Correa’s bill initially left local governments in control of enforcement – a power many local leaders want.

But Correa changed that portion of the bill when it became clear it would die otherwise. He put the Department of Public Health in charge, and then changed that to the Department of Consumer Affairs.

But Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, objected to that approach and said he wanted the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to oversee the industry. Police groups, the main sponsors of the legislation, don’t like that approach – they fear that would legitimize recreational marijuana by treating the drug like alcohol.

These people are hopelessly stuck in the past. California will likely legalize recreational weed in 2016, and efforts to delegitimize it aren’t having any noticeable effect in the state.

Correa’s bill faces another problem that could help kill it: No one knows how much the regulations would cost, said Don Duncan, California coordinator for Americans for Safe Access.

Several attempts to impose regulation on the cannabis industry have died in the legislature over the past few years. When voters approved the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, the law failed to create much oversight. Unregulated MMJ dispensaries popped up by the thousands across the state.

cannabis-plantsSome local residents have complained about the glut of shops, but many don’t want to see them go. Many good dispensaries provide a needed service to struggling patients.

Two principal groups have stood in the way of regulation: police and municipal governments. The state’s major law enforcement groups and the League of California Cities supported Correa’s bill only when it became apparent to them that legalization is likely to happen in a couple years.

But they lost many of their favorite provisions – including rules that would have impeded doctors – as the bill made its way through Senate committees. Now the question remains: Can lawmakers pass this legislation?

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