Pubdate: Sat, 02 May 2015
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Los Angeles Times
Author: Patrick McGreevy


California Lawmakers Are Considering Multiple Plans to Regulate 
Marijuana Shops and Growers

SACRAMENTO - California lawmakers are wading into the politically 
sticky issue of regulating medical marijuana, laying groundwork for 
state control of the sale and cultivation of cannabis with the 
expectation that voters will legalize recreational use next year. 
Brennan Linsley

The Legislature is considering multiple - and conflicting - plans to 
impose the first major statewide restrictions on medical marijuana 
dispensaries and growers; the billion-dollar-a-year industry is now 
regulated largely by local governments.

The debate has pitted cities and law enforcement agencies against 
marijuana growers and sellers.

"The Legislature has an important [task] in getting a bill passed 
this year, especially as we stare down 2016 and the propositions that 
are going to be on the ballot" advocating general legalization, said 
Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), author of one of the bills. "We 
need to have a strong regulatory structure in place before then."

Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have legalized recreational 
pot to varying degrees. In California, as many as four competing 
initiatives to do so are in the works for next year's fall ballot.

Although 53.5% of California voters rejected a general legalization 
measure in 2010, a Public Policy Institute of California survey this 
month found that 53% now support legalization.

California was the first state to legalize the sale of marijuana for 
medical use when voters approved the idea in 1996. Since then, 22 
other states have adopted similar laws.

A study last year by the Survey Research Group, an arm of the 
Oakland-based Public Health Institute, estimated that 1.4 million 
Californians have used marijuana for medical purposes since the law 
took effect.

More than 1,000 marijuana dispensaries are operating in California, 
estimates Don Duncan, California director of the group Americans for 
Safe Access, which advocates for medical marijuana rights.

State efforts to regulate the industry have stumbled over the years, 
in part because the U.S. government has maintained that sales of 
cannabis violate federal law.

The legal disparity has left cities and counties with their own 
hodgepodge of regulations. In 2013, for example, Los Angeles voters 
approved city regulation of marijuana dispensaries, including their 
proximity to schools and public parks.

But in much of the state, a lack of regulation has resulted in a 
"Wild West," said Assemblyman Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), author 
of one of the bills before the Legislature. His proposal, to have the 
state and cities license dispensaries and pot farms, was one of two 
that were advanced by an Assembly committee this week.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla (D-Concord), who chairs the committee, 
said it would take months to forge a single regulatory scheme from 
the proposals now in process.

"It's about time that we did something up here in the state Capitol," 
Bonilla said, describing the process as a "massive undertaking."

Bonta's measure would divide regulation tasks among multiple state agencies.

Marijuana growers would be licensed and regulated by the California 
Department of Food and Agriculture, while sales and storage would be 
licensed by the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. 
Manufacturing and testing of marijuana products, including edibles, 
would be handled by the state Department of Public Health.

His bill would require the state to conduct background checks on all 
license applicants and set fees to pay for enforcement. It would 
allow cities and counties to adopt local ordinances to prohibit 
marijuana dispensaries and set landuse restrictions including bans on 
dispensaries near schools and parks.

The measure's supporters include the Emerald Growers Assn., an 
organization representing 150 marijuana farmers.

"It calls on multiple state agencies to do what they are good at," 
said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the growers' group, adding 
that cannabis cultivation should "be regulated as agriculture." 
Cooley's alternative bill would create a new Bureau of Medical 
Marijuana Regulation to issue conditional licenses to marijuana 
businesses. Cities and counties would issue final operational 
licenses and enforce regulations.

Cooley said regulation and enforcement should not be done by the 
state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. Backers of his 
proposal, such as the League of California Cities, believe that 
department pays too little attention to the quality of community life, he said.

"We have way too many liquor stores," said Cooley, the former mayor 
of Rancho Cordova, a small city near Sacramento.

The League of California Cities has submitted to legislators case 
histories in which the state liquor authorities allowed stores and 
bars to stay open for years after incurring serious violations, 
including those for serving alcohol to minors.

"That is absolutely unacceptable when it comes to marijuana," said 
Tim Cromartie, the lobbyist for the league. "We have serious issues 
with alcoholic beverage control's track record on noncompliant liquor stores."

Law enforcement officials prefer the Cooley bill because it gives 
local governments more control, said David Bejarano, president of the 
California Police Chiefs Assn.

"Locals can move a lot quicker, and they are more familiar with who 
the bad actors are," said Bejarano, chief of the Chula Vista Police Department.

The California Cannabis Industry Assn. opposes Cooley's bill, in part 
because it would split responsibilities among agencies.

State regulation would mean more uniform rules and enforcement 
throughout California, said Nate Bradley, the association's executive director.



The California Legislature is considering proposals, some of which 
conflict with one another, that would:

Charge the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control with 
licensing medical marijuana dispensaries and the Department of Food 
and Agriculture with licensing growers (AB 34).

Create a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to regulate the 
industry but give cities and counties a role in licensing and 
enforcement (AB 266).

Create a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation and allow counties to 
tax those who sell and cultivate cannabis for medical use (SB 643).

Make it illegal to deny an organ to a potential transplant recipient 
because he or she uses medical marijuana (AB 258).

Have state agencies, including the Water Resources Control Board, 
determine the environmental effects of marijuana cultivation and 
pursue new rules to reduce those effects (AB 243).
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom