Pubdate: Thu, 07 May 2015
Source: Appeal-Democrat (Marysville, CA)
Copyright: 2015 Appeal-Democrat
Author: Patrick McGreevy, Los Angeles Times (TNS)


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.

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 Bont, DAlameda, 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 percent of California voters rejected a general 
legalization measure in 2010, a Public Policy Institute of California 
survey last month found that 53 percent 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 last 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."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom