An attempt to regulate California’s chaotic medical marijuana system moved a step closer to becoming law in May.
A bill sponsored by state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a Democrat from San Francisco, cleared the Assembly’s Appropriations Committee May 23. It now moves to a full vote in the Assembly in the last week of May.
California voters first adopted MMJ at the polls 18 years ago. Ammiano’s bill would impose the first real regulations on the system since it first took effect.
“I am optimistic that we can continue to work with all parties to finally create regulation that will satisfy all needs, from federal law enforcement down to the very sick patients who depend on the health benefits only marijuana can provide,” he said in a news release.
Ammiano’s approach isn’t the only effort to create order. Another bill could come up for a vote in the Senate soon.
That legislation has the support of law enforcement groups and the League of California Cities, while civil libertarians and marijuana proponents back Ammiano’s bill. The key difference between the two bills at this point is who is tasked with regulating the industry.
Ammiano’s proposal would leave that job to a special division within the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. That office would handle licensing, fees, and other regulations from seed to sale, and local governments would be allowed to collect their own taxes on MMJ.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. Lou Correa, Democrat of Santa Ana, would put control in the hands of local municipalities instead. It would codify their right to ban dispensaries and MMJ cultivation and would allow them to set their own rules for pot sales.
This would encourage further development of a trend in which hundreds of California communities have banned dispensaries and even weed grows in response to neighbor complaints. These actions have shut the door on thousands of cannabis patients across the state.
Correa’s bill also originally contained provisions tightly restricting doctors who recommend weed. But they were removed in Senate committee after physician groups complained the rules could subject them to federal prosecution.
The Compassionate Use Act, adopted by California voters in 1996, left the state with the nation’s first medical marijuana system – and almost no framework for regulating it. The law was vague, broad, and poorly written, a problem that has led to repeated federal raids and police crackdowns over the years.
Medical marijuana is legal under state law, but all pot remains illegal under federal law. The Obama administration has said it won’t interfere with states that legalize medical or recreational weed, as long as they enforce regulations that ensure eight federal priorities, such as keeping the drug away from minors.
“While statewide regulations won’t change federal law, it does seem to be the case states that have uniform, clear regulations are less likely to be interfered with by the feds,” Tod Angell, head of the Marijuana Majority, said in April. “It’s very confusing in California right now, a patchwork of regulations city to city and county to county.”