A California lawmaker is pushing new rules on medical marijuana that could make life much easier for the industry and keep the feds out of everyone’s hair.
After trying and failing more than once before, state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano of San Francisco has introduced a bill he hopes will provide the regulation MMJ badly needs in California.
“I’m cautiously optimistic,” Ammiano said. “People have seen that the more regulation you have, the less chaos you have.”
Medical weed was legalized in California in 1996, but Ammiano’s bill would provide the first real uniform regulations since the program started 18 years ago. That lack of regulation has played a big role in tension between the state and federal officials.
All marijuana is illegal under federal law, even though more than half the states have legalized it, decriminalized it, or adopted medical cannabis. But the feds have always focused their raids, seizures, arrests and other law enforcement tools more aggressively on California and other states with loose regulation.
States with tighter regulation generally see less interference from federal agents. Ammiano hopes his rules could convince the DEA and the Department of Justice to back off.
He has tried before. Each time, opponents killed his measures by saying they failed to address specific issues, such as environmental impacts or municipal tax powers. This time, he said, his bill – A.B. 1894 – takes care of everything.
The lack of regulation in California has left individual communities to set their own rules. Some, such as Oakland and San Francisco, enacted strict regulations, while others, such as Los Angeles and San Diego, are still struggling to draft and enforce new rules. In many places, there are no substantial regulations at all.
“While statewide regulations won’t change federal law, it does seem to be the case that states that have uniform, clear regulations are less likely to be interfered with by the feds,” said Tom Angell of the Marijuana Majority. “It’s very confusing in California right now: a patchwork of regulations city to city and county to county.”
A.B. 1894 would create a division in the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control that would regulate MMJ-related entities in California from seed to sale.
Unlike a similar introduced in March by state Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana, Ammiano’s proposal wouldn’t place any new restrictions on doctors who recommend medical weed or on their patients. Correa’s bill has drawn heat from cannabis proponents who say it unfairly restricts doctors and patients.
The Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would create a fee structure to raise tax money from businesses. Local governments could add their own taxes.
“Everyone who has a business pays some taxes,” Ammiano said. “Without regulation, there’s no way to capture any of the income that could go toward our infrastructure or other worthy causes.”
Marijuana policy in California is rapidly liberalizing, even if many in state government don’t yet realize it. Polls show voters are ready to legalize recreational pot. In the meantime, many proponents believe the state needs to adopt MMJ regulations before it can get there.
“We need to show that California has the ability to regulate marijuana,” Angell said. “This would help further demonstrate how tax revenue can be generated and put into needed programs.”