Proposed changes to a medical marijuana bill in the California Legislature would take MMJ out of the hands of a state agency and give locals even more power to interfere.
State Sen. Lou Correa, a Democrat from Santa Ana, is pushing legislation to regulate California’s medical weed industry for the first time since voters legalized it in 1996. His bill has the backing of law enforcement and municipal groups.
Originally, it would have given the state Department of Public Health the power to license and regulate MMJ dispensaries across the state. But that authority will now go to local governments instead.
The League of California Cities announced the changes May 16. The League, which represents municipal governments, is one of several major groups backing Correa’s legislation. Others include the California Police Chiefs Association.
The Senate Appropriations Committee was set to make the amendments to the bill during a hearing scheduled for May 19. The legislation has already undergone significant changes in earlier committees.
The League of California Cities indicated it might withdraw its support for the bill after those changes removed almost all provisions regulating physicians who recommend marijuana. State medical groups and pro-MMJ forces complained the restrictions would limit the ability of doctors to do their jobs, and might land them in legal trouble.
The League has yet to abandon its backing of Correa’s legislation. The group praised the new amendments, saying they would give local communities more control at a reduced cost.
Under the amendments, local officials, rather than the state government, would handle code enforcement and other regulations. Local ordinances and rules would govern. The proposed law would cement the power of municipalities to ban dispensaries and medical pot cultivation.
Marijuana advocates strongly support an alternative proposal introduced in the state Assembly. That bill, sponsored by Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco, would put control of the industry in the hands of the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.
The distinction is key: Local control gives municipal officials the power to stamp out MMJ in their communities, while Ammiano’s bill keeps that power in the hands of the state.
Recent history shows the leaders of California’s counties, cities, and towns take a dramatically more hostile view of marijuana than do the state’s voters. Correa’s legislation is in keeping with this hostility, while Ammiano’s tries to find a balance between both sides.
The recent changes to Correa’s bill may appease some MMJ proponents – especially the removal of the restrictions that would have handcuffed doctors. But the senator’s decision to give local authorities more power to prohibit MMJ may make his legislation even harder to swallow.