The California Assembly killed a bill May 29 that would have provided the first set of meaningful regulations for the state’s chaotic medical marijuana system.
Lawmakers voted 27-30 to reject a bill that would have created a state-level agency to regulate MMJ. The bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, was favored by the weed industry.
That leaves one other proposal, recently passed by the state Senate, to impose rules on the largely unregulated medical pot industry. That bill, sponsored by Democrat Lou Correa of Santa Ana, would put regulation in the hands of local communities.
Debate over Ammiano’s bill was almost entirely one-sided, with no lawmakers openly opposing it. Some with concerns about local control said they had been convinced communities would still be able to regulate pot shops within their boundaries.
“We have medical marijuana dispensaries popping up next to schools,” said Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, Democrat of San Bernardino. “We have them popping up all over town. It’s not a pretty sight in my community, so please, sign on to this bill.”
Nonetheless, lawmakers from both parties voted against the bill in large numbers. The issue of local control over regulations seemed to be the central problem.
Ammiano’s bill would have given the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control oversight of the MMJ industry. That industry, legalized by voters when they passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, has been largely unregulated ever since.
In 2003, the legislature enacted a law, SB 420, that tried to impose rules, but it accomplished little. In the years since, medical pot dispensaries have proliferated across the state, with little beyond voluntary state guidelines to govern them.
Local municipalities have tried to regulate the dispensaries, and last year they got a major boost from a state Supreme Court ruling that said they could ban the shops. Hundreds of communities have done so, while others have imposed tight new rules limiting the number and location of dispensaries. Still other municipalities continue to rely on the loose state guidelines.
“There is a general acknowledgment and recognition that the way things are now is not acceptable,” Ammiano said. “There’s chaos, there’s no order. It allows for so many bad actors that the whole issue gets besmirched.”
Industry insiders and civil libertarians supported his bill primarily because it favored uniform state control over a patchwork of local regulations. Correa’s bill initially took the same approach until it was amended to favor local control. The Senate passed that bill May 29.
Ammiano has tried and failed to enact MMJ legislation before. Both houses of the legislature have been reluctant in the past to adopt any policies that alienate either the state’s many medical marijuana supporters or its many law-and-order voters.
Assemblyman Adrin Nazaria, a Burbank Democrat who voted for the bill, said he believed it preserved local control. It would allow Los Angeles to continue its policy of limiting the number of dispensaries in the city, he said.
“I would have very great concern about any type of legislation we do here impacting the ability of that measure’s full implementation,” Nazaria said, but added he was convinced Ammiano’s bill would allow the city to enforce the rule.