Pubdate: Mon, 03 Mar 2014
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2014 The Sacramento Bee
Author: Peter Hecht
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - Medicinal)


The last time lawmakers tried to regulate California's medical 
marijuana industry, the League of California Cities warned of "a 
radical expansion of existing law" and "a slippery slope to 
distribution of marijuana for recreational use." And police groups 
rushed out talking points protesting the "creation of a massive, 
for-profit medical marijuana model."

California cities and police were long considered obstructionists to 
regulatory legislation they said would legitimize marijuana 
businesses. But now they are jumping into the marijuana-regulation 
effort out of fear that the state is inevitably moving toward a 
sanctioned cannabis industry with or without their input.

Expressing alarm over the changing "marijuana arena," the League of 
California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association 
announced Feb. 21 that they are dropping their policy of 
"unconditional opposition" to laws sanctioning marijuana businesses 
in California. They are backing a new bill that would license medical 
marijuana dispensaries and cultivators while setting new restrictions 
on doctors recommending marijuana to patients.

A battle looms over language in the bill targeting physicians 
specializing in medical marijuana. Yet cannabis advocates say the 
willingness of the two organizations to even consider state oversight 
is a concession that finally could put California on a path to 
regulating its teeming marijuana economy.

For the police chiefs and cities, the legislative effort is a 
recognition that nearly half of Assembly members voted for a bill 
that would have sanctioned California's cannabis industry by giving 
the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control regulatory authority 
over commercial marijuana stores, gardens, laboratories and warehouses.

The two organizations opposed the legislation by Assemblyman Tom 
Ammiano, D-San Francisco, contending it would have undercut local 
authority in policing medical marijuana. The proposal failed on the 
Assembly floor, but Ammiano has vowed to press it again this year.

The groups also are alarmed by the newly approved legalization of 
marijuana for recreational use in Colorado and Washington  and recent 
polls showing as much as 60 percent support for legalizing pot beyond 
medical use in the Golden State. A measure that would expand 
legalization in California and regulate the industry is expected on 
the ballot in 2016.

"Our two organizations independently came to realize that although we 
remain strongly opposed to marijuana use, it is increasingly likely 
that in the near future some statewide regulatory structure for 
medical marijuana could be enacted," Chris McKenzie, executive 
director of the League of California Cities, and Covina Police Chief 
Kim Raney, president of the chiefs association, declared in a recent 
joint letter.

"We also realized that without our proactive intervention, it could 
take a form that was severely damaging to our interests."

The bill the organizations are backing, Senate Bill 1262 by Sen. Lou 
Correa, D-Santa Ana, would put the Department of Public Health in 
charge of licensing medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivators in 
cooperation with local governments.

"It is the first time the police chiefs and the League of Cities have 
come to the table at all," said Don Duncan, California director for 
Americans for Safe Access, a national organization advocating for 
people who use medical marijuana. "Up until now, they've opposed everything.

"Now this is their proposal. It's flawed. But I'm happy to see 
they're coming to the table."

Dale Gieringer, California director for the National Organization for 
the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said police chiefs and cities advancing 
a counterproposal for marijuana regulation "is a major breakthrough."

However, Gieringer said NORML will work to kill the bill if it 
retains language that cannabis advocates see as interfering with a 
physician's right to recommend marijuana to patients.

The bill would require state audits of doctors giving out more than 
100 medical marijuana recommendations and also require that people 
seeking to use medicinal cannabis obtain recommendations from general 
practitioners or through medical network referrals. It also would set 
more stringent rules on marijuana recommendations to minors.

The California Medical Association has not taken a position on the 
legislation. In a 2011 white paper, the group endorsed legalization 
and regulation of marijuana for recreational use, arguing that 
doctors shouldn't be forced into the role of "gatekeepers" for legal 
marijuana use.

In August, a U.S. Justice Department memo said federal prosecutors 
wouldn't target compliant marijuana businesses  medical or otherwise 
in states enacting "robust" industry regulations.

On Jan. 1, Colorado became the first state to offer retail sales of 
recreational marijuana, and similar stores are due to open in 
Washington this spring. Colorado requires state licensing and 
criminal background checks for all marijuana workers, video 
surveillance of sales and shipments, and state monitoring of cultivation.

California's billion-dollar cannabis industry has boomed largely 
without state regulation, and federal prosecutors in 2011 launched a 
sweeping crackdown on cash-reaping medical marijuana businesses they 
charged were operating in "an unregulated free-for-all."

"It is time for us to recognize that this industry is exploding as we 
speak and that we as a society need to have a handle on it," said 
Correa, the senator carrying the bill.

Duncan, of Americans for Safe Access, said he prefers the model 
proposed in Correa's bill, giving public health officials oversight 
of medical marijuana outlets. But other advocates are skeptical. They 
say placing an oversight agency inside the Department of Alcoholic 
Beverage Control is a more effective remedy to satisfy federal 
demands for robust regulation.

In a statement released by his office, Ammiano said the proposal 
backed by the cities and police chiefs is poorly crafted legislation 
that falls short of addressing the spirit of California's 1996 
medical marijuana law, Proposition 215.

"The Senate bill comes from sponsors who have been hiding their heads 
in the sand for years and are finally waking up to the reality of 
medical marijuana, which voters approved more than a decade ago," 
Ammiano said in the statement. "It would be too much, then, to expect 
that their first attempt at regulation would be consistent with what 
the public and smart policy demands."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom