Pubdate: Wed, 17 Jun 2015
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Copyright: 2015 East Bay Express
Author: David Downs


With a Landslide Vote, the California Assembly Passed Sensible 
Medical Pot Regulations. This Is What the End of a Drug War Looks Like.

California's billion-dollar medical cannabis industry stands a good 
chance of getting its first-ever state-level regulations this year. 
Assembly Bill 266 passed by a landslide vote - 62-8 - on the Assembly 
floor on June 4, and experts say it faces decent odds of passing the 
state Senate and being signed by Governor Jerry Brown.

If that happens, California will begin regulating the cultivation and 
distribution of medical cannabis statewide, as called for by voters 
nineteen years ago when they passed Proposition 215 and kicked off 
the modern era of medical pot. "We watched history getting made," 
said Nate Bradley, lobbyist for the California Cannabis Industry 
Association, referring to the Assembly floor vote. "The votes came 
out and it was just a powerhouse - boom, 50. Then it went to 62. Even 
some 'no' votes flipped. That many votes is nothing but a win."

AB 266 is an unprecedented compromise - the merging of one 
police-crafted bill and one that was more industry-leaning. It is 
co-authored by Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), Ken Cooley 
(D-Rancho Cordova), and Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles). 
The bill spreads regulatory authority over seven state agencies, with 
oversight by the governor's office. It creates twenty specific 
business licenses for the commercial medical cannabis industry. 
"Local jurisdictions were onboard - [along with] industry, patients, 
the reform movement, unions, the medical board; it's really kind of 
historic that happened," said Hezekiah Allen, director the Emerald 
Growers Association, which represents small pot farmers.

Bonta said in an interview that his bill would benefit East Bay 
patients and collectives by "fully bringing the industry out of the 
shadows." The bill also could end the federal crackdown by installing 
the strong state controls that the US Department of Justice has 
called for. "By implementing this stronger regime throughout 
California, it adds a greater chance and a higher level of protection 
against that type of federal intervention we've seen in the past," 
Bonta told me.

AB 266 now heads to the Senate, where medical pot regulations have 
already passed two key litmus tests. Last year, a regulatory bill 
from then-Senator Lou Correa cleared the Senate before it died in the 
Assembly. The Senate also voted this year to pass pot regulations 
from Senator Mike McGuire (D-Eureka). "I think that those are good 
signs," Bonta said. "I think there's some inter-house dynamics that 
can get tricky. This is when things get a little more difficult."

Regulations could cost $10 million annually, but would be financed 
mostly by licensing fees. There are an estimated 40,000 cultivation 
sites throughout California, and an estimated 4,000 medical marijuana 

We're also seeing unprecedented buy-in from California's sprawling 
bureaucracy, and the Brown administration. The state Board of 
Equalization has employees assigned full-time to a task force on 
cannabis taxation. The state water board is working on water 
regulations. And other state agencies are mobilizing as well. "From 
what we've been told, divisions are already preparing," Bradley said 
of the state agencies. "Everyone has people assigned to look at this issue."

The bill also creates a first-ever oversight role for the governor's 
office to ensure accountability and sort out regulatory overlap. "The 
governor was part of the conversation through which the bills were 
merged," explained Allen of the Emerald Growers Association.

Opposition to AB 266 is mostly coming from hardcore marijuana 
activists and law enforcement groups, which either want fewer 
regulations or marijuana to remain illegal.

AB 266 would have mixed effects on patient rights. The legislation 
exempts patients "who do not provide, donate, sell, or distribute 
cannabis to any other person or entity" from having to get a license, 
as well as primary caregivers who have up to five patients.

But the bill also continues the patchwork of bans and restrictions on 
cultivation and distribution that have been enacted by about half of 
California's cities. Patients in places such as Fresno and 
Pleasanton, as a result, would remain behind enemy lines.

But statewide rules should ease local bans over time, Bradley said. 
Local pot industry tax revenue is "also going to be another huge 
motivating factor," he said.

"It won't address the patchwork overnight, but it will start 
standardizing the elements of regulations [that] locals can 
customize," Allen added.

All in all, a tectonic shift in California policy is occurring. "A 
revolution is underway in how we talk about cannabis and nowhere is 
that revolution more obvious than in the legislature," said Allen.

"We're really excited with where this bill is," Bonta said. "I think 
it's historic. It's unique. We've never seen a bill of this nature on 
this topic have this much momentum at this stage in the process."

If California sorts out its regulations in 2015, the stage will be 
set for adult-use legalization next year in the eighth largest 
economy in the world, thereby bringing the century-long war on 
marijuana to an end.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom