Pubdate: Thu, 13 Mar 2014
Source: Mother Jones (US)
Copyright: 2014 Mother Jones and the Foundation for National Progress
Author: Josh Harkinson


California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, but like
the pimply-faced stoner dude you may have known in high school, it
hasn't had the healthiest of relationships with Mary Jane. The Golden
State differs from most others with medical pot laws in that it
doesn't actually regulate production and sale of the herb. Instead,

it lets cities and counties enact their own laws-though in practice
most haven't. The result has been the Wild West of weed: Almost any
adult can score a scrip and some bud from a local dispensary,
assuming, of course, that it hasn't yet been raided and shut down by
the feds.

But all of that might be about to change. The California Police Chiefs
Association (CPCA) recently announcedsupport for a bill that would put
the state in the business of regulating the medical pot trade. Though
you'd think cops would have pushed for such a thing decades ago, the
reality is quite the opposite: The CPCA and other law enforcement
organizations have, until now, opposed pretty much every reform to
California's medical marijuana system for fear that anything short of
completely abolishing it would legitimize it. "With no regulations,
you get your doors kicked in."

The CPCA's change of heart "is a huge for us," says Nate Bradley,
executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association,
the state's marijuana industry trade group. Bradley agrees with his
police adversaries that tighter regs would legitimize medical
marijuana, which is why the CCIA has pushed for them since the group's
inception four years ago. Bolstering his case, the US Department of
Justice last year announced that it would no longer raid dispensaries
in states that it believes are regulating them adequately-a
formulation that seemed to exclude California. New rules issued last
month by the Obama administration allow banks to accept funds from pot
dealers, but only if they're licensed in the state where they operate.

So why are California's drug warriors reversing course? "We could no
longer ignore that the political landscape on this issue was
shifting," the CPCA explained in a letter written jointly with the
League of California Cities. Polls and changing federal policies
suggest that medical pot reform "could be enacted," and that "without
our proactive intervention, it could take a form that was severely
damaging to our interests."

The bill that law enforcement groups are backing, SB 1262, is flawed,
but it's something that "we can work with," says Bradley, who
previously worked as a cop in California's Yuba County. Advocates of
medical pot don't like how the bill constrains the ability of doctors
to recommend marijuana, outlaws potent pot concentrates such as hash
oil, and puts regulation in the hands of the Department of Public
Health, rather than the Department of Alcoholic Beverages Control.

Ultimately, the fight is a proxy for what comes next: A 2016 ballot
measure to legalize recreational marijuana. The pot industry wants the
California ABC to regulate medical pot so that it can transition
seamlessly to regulating recreational pot. Police interests, on the
other hand, want to discourage outright legalization by empowering the
Department of Public Health to draw a brighter line between the
medical and recreational uses of pot.

Either way, Bradley sees the reform of California's dysfunctional
medical marijuana system as a win. "Tight, workable regulations are
way better than no regulations," he says, "because with no
regulations, you get your doors kicked in."
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