Pubdate: Mon, 10 Mar 2014
Source: Daily Review (Towanda, PA)
Copyright: 2014 Associated Press
Author: Lisa Leff, Associated Press


SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Law and order may soon be coming to the Wild West of weed.

A California lawmaker has introduced legislation to regulate the 
state's freewheeling medical marijuana industry - the farmers that 
grow the drug, the hundreds of storefront shops that sell it and 
especially the doctors who write recommendations allowing people to use it.

The state in 1996 was the first to authorize marijuana use for health 
purposes - there are now 20. But to this day no one knows how many 
dispensaries and patients California has or what conditions pot is 
being used to treat because the loosely worded law did not give 
government agencies a role in tracking the information.

The bill introduced by state Sen. Lou Correa marks a milestone not 
only because it would provide significant state oversight of the 
multi-billion dollar industry for the first time, but because it is 
likely to get serious consideration in Sacramento after years of inaction.

SB1262 is the brainchild of the California Police Chiefs Association 
and the League of California Cities, two politically influential 
groups that have stood in the way of previous efforts to legitimize 
pot growers and dispensaries by subjecting them to state control and taxation.

"This legislation seems counterintuitive, but we polled our 
membership and over 90 percent of the chiefs felt that, regardless of 
how you felt about the marijuana issue itself, there needed to be a 
responsible public safety approach to this," said Covina Police Chief 
Kim Raney, president of the chiefs association.

Medical marijuana advocates, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for a 
statewide regulatory scheme they hoped would make the industry less 
susceptible to federal raids and arrests, is taking a wait- and-see 
approach on Correa's legislation.

They prefer a bill held over from last year, cosponsored by 
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and Sens. Darryl Steinberg and Mark Leno, 
that calls for regulating and taxing medical marijuana like alcohol 
and places fewer restrictions on doctors than Correa's measure does, 
but are prepared to hammer out a compromise, said Lynne Lyman, 
California director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

"We are very encouraged by law enforcement coming to the table with 
their proposals and we think we can all work together and come up 
with some model legislation in the state, finally, 18 years later," Lyman said.

The police chiefs and cities are getting on the regulatory bandwagon 
now because they worry that if they don't champion a plan of their 
own, marijuana advocates will succeed in getting the Legislature to 
pass one that aggravates the ongoing concerns of law enforcement and 
local governments instead of addressing them. Last year alone, the 
groups beat back three bills that would have required pot shops to be 
licensed by the state but that the league feared would make it harder 
for cities and counties to ban or regulate them.

Meanwhile, public support for legalizing the recreational use of 
marijuana, as voters in Colorado and Washington have done, is growing 
and the White House has softened its stance on the issue.

"We were very concerned about the legislation last year," League of 
California Cities lobbyist Tim Cromartie said. "We thought it was 
unwise to purely play defense. We thought we needed to play offense."

The bill co-sponsored by the league and the police chiefs' 
association would require the California Department of Public Health 
to license dispensaries and cultivation sites but only if they first 
had secured operating permits from local jurisdictions. The 
department also would develop "quality assurance" procedures for 
testing marijuana for bacteria, mold and nonorganic pesticides, which 
growers would be prohibited from using.

The legislation also imposes substantial new requirements on doctors. 
If passed, it would allow medical marijuana recommendations to be 
given only by either a patient's primary care doctor or a licensed 
specialist to whom the doctor has referred the patient. The doctor 
must have completed a certification course that covers substance 
abuse training.

The issuing doctor also would have to instruct the patient on dosage, 
whether the marijuana should be smoked, eaten or applied externally, 
and even what strain to use.

Certified doctors also would have to keep detailed records and to 
report how many recommendations they give and why to the California 
Medical Board, which would audit those who issue more than 100 in a year.

The mandates represent a significant departure from the status quo. 
Doctors currently can recommend marijuana to treat any ailment they 
choose and do not have to report to the state any information about 
their patients or the number of recommendations they issue and for what.

California Medical Association spokeswoman Molly Weedn said the 
organization has not had a chance to review Correa's bill but would 
probably take a position on it in coming months.

Don Duncan, co-founder and California director of Americans for Safe 
Access, a medical marijuana advocacy group, thinks the new 
requirements for doctors "go overboard," but at this stage is trying 
to persuade Correa to amend the bill instead of working to defeat it.

"Nothing is perfect. If we get a good-enough bill, that's better than 
no bill," Duncan said.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom