Pubdate: Sat, 27 Apr 2013
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2013 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht


Colorado has the nation's most meticulously regulated medical 
marijuana industry. Washington has the first-ever blood-level 
standard for driving while high.

But in the birthplace of America's medical cannabis movement and home 
of the most robust pot economy, California lawmakers can't seem to 
figure out what they want to do about marijuana.

The governance of marijuana in California remains hazy as many 
legislators are skittish over California's medical cannabis industry, 
over an unfolding federal crackdown and over risking disapproval of 
law enforcement interests.

An Assembly committee last week advanced a bill to have the state 
agency that regulates bars and liquor stores oversee medical cannabis 

The bill's author argued that state regulation could discourage 
ongoing federal raids on California marijuana businesses. But law 
enforcement hates the proposal, and marijuana advocates are divided.

A cop-driven bill in the Senate faces furious resistance from 
cannabis advocates who complain that it will criminalize sick people 
relying on marijuana. The bill would punish drivers for any 
detectable level of nonprescription drugs, including marijuana.

Though voters made California the first state to legalize marijuana 
for medical use by passing Proposition 215 in 1996, California lags 
behind in setting the rules.

"Proposition 215 called for the Legislature to come up with 
regulations and they never have," said Sacramento lawyer George Mull, 
whose California Cannabis Industry Association last year pushed for a 
licensing bill for marijuana businesses and is trying again this year.

State Senate leader Darrell Steinberg said it may take two years for 
the Legislature to agree on how  or whether  to license hundreds of 
dispensaries and govern an industry providing marijuana to as many as 
a million Californians with physicians' recommendations for cannabis.

Steinberg, a Sacramento Democrat, has co-sponsored a regulatory bill 
in the Senate that he says will be heavily rewritten before getting a 
vote. He said he is troubled by pot stores that sprouted long after 
Proposition 215 legalized use for people with ailments such as AIDS 
or cancer or "any other illnesses for which marijuana provides relief."

"I don't think there is any secret that, with the dispensary system, 
there has been a lot of license taken and there is very little 
distinction between those who suffer from serious illnesses ... and 
those who can easily get a piece of paper to get the marijuana," 
Steinberg said.

Steinberg said he wants to regulate pot businesses and protect access 
by sick people to marijuana. But he said, "I do not support the 
legalization of marijuana."

In Colorado, where voters approved marijuana for medical use in 2000, 
a for-profit industry thrives under 2010 legislation that licenses 
marijuana stores and commercial cultivation. The law requires video 
surveillance of operations and state registration and background 
checks for medical marijuana workers.

Last year, voters in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana for 
recreational use. While California advocates plan a similar measure 
in 2016, they're still struggling to persuade lawmakers to deal with 
medical marijuana.

A California cannabis industry, once valued at $1.5 billion, hangs on 
a nebulous 2003 state bill that says people with diagnosed illnesses 
have legal protection "to cooperatively and collectively cultivate 
marijuana for medical purposes."

Police and prosecutors in some jurisdictions argue that retail-style 
dispensaries are not legal under California law, and state courts 
have issued conflicting rulings. The state Supreme Court is weighing 
whether cities can ban pot outlets or be forced to accept them.

Amid the ambiguity, federal prosecutors have brought criminal charges 
against California marijuana businesses, asserting that pot 
profiteers are operating in "an unregulated free-for-all."

Colorado's regulated marijuana industry has seen far less federal 
enforcement. With that in mind, the Assembly public safety committee 
Tuesday passed a bill to set a California licensing and oversight 
program for businesses selling, growing, baking, transporting or 
lab-testing medical marijuana.

"We have a state of urgency on this issue," said Assemblyman Tom 
Ammiano, D-San Francisco, the bill sponsor and committee chair. 
"People who are obeying the law are currently being heavily 
prosecuted and having their bank accounts seized. ... It's crying out 
for regulation."

Ammiano's Assembly Bill 473 was blasted by law enforcement interests, 
signaling a difficult road ahead.

"What this bill does is go beyond Proposition 215 and authorize 
dispensaries throughout California," said John Lovell, a lobbyist for 
the California Narcotic Officers' and California Police Chiefs 
associations. "Dispensaries are a blight on communities."

Mull said many lawmakers are intimidated by police lobbying against 
perceived pro-pot legislation. He said fears of more federal raids in 
California, even if legislators act, are another reason "for the lack 
of energy" on marijuana.

Last year, the Assembly passed an Ammiano bill that would have 
created a medical marijuana policing division in the state Department 
of Consumer Affairs, overseen by a committee laden with cannabis 
business interests and advocates. It stalled in the state Senate.

Don Duncan, California director of the medical cannabis advocacy 
group Americans for Safe Access, supports Ammiano's new bill. But he 
is uncomfortable with the agency picked to oversee dispensaries  the 
state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

"ABC is better than not moving forward," Duncan said. "But I really 
do find it an inappropriate place for regulating medicine."

Medical marijuana advocates are out to kill separate legislation 
Senate Bill 289 by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim. Backed by law 
enforcement as "zero tolerance" for "drugged driving," it would make 
it illegal to drive with any detectable level of narcotics.

While SB 289 exempts prescription medications, the legislation 
provides no waiver for people with a physician's recommendation for marijuana.

The bill, to be heard Tuesday, contrasts with the nation's first-ever 
driving under the influence standard for marijuana in Washington. 
Passed by voters as part of that state's 2012 pot legalization 
initiative, it sets a blood-level standard for impaired driving based 
on a specific measurement of pot's psychoactive component, THC.

The California State Sheriffs' Association said in a letter that the 
"any detectable amount" standard in the Correa bill "would provide 
law enforcement the necessary tools to prosecute drugged drivers."

"This bill was designed to placate lobbyists for law enforcement," 
protested Duncan. "It's not OK to pass a law that jeopardizes legal 
medical cannabis patients."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom