Pubdate: Thu, 25 Jun 2015
Source: Sacramento News & Review (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Chico Community Publishing, Inc.
Author: David Downs


California Lawmakers Appear Ready to Finally Regulate Medical Marijuana

After nearly two decades of uncertainty, lawmakers appear ready to 
greenlight policy regulating medical pot

Marijuana isn't legal in California yet, but it could become even 
more legit going into next year's legalization debate.

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

If that happens, California finally will begin regulating the 
cultivation and distribution of medical cannabis, as called for by 
voters 19 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."

A.B. 266 is an unprecedented compromise-the merging of one 
police-crafted bill and one that was more industry-leaning. It is 
co-authored by local Assemblyman Ken Cooley, the Democrat from Rancho 
Cordova, and would spread regulatory authority over seven state 
agencies, with oversight by the governor's office. It creates 20 
specific business licenses for the commercial medical-cannabis industry.

"Local jurisdictions were on board-[along with] industry, patients, 
the reform movement, unions, the medical board; it's really kind of 
historic that happened," said Hezekiah Allen, director of the Emerald 
Growers Association, which represents small pot farmers.

Assemblyman Rob Bonta, who also co-authored the bill, said in an 
interview that his bill would benefit 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, which the U.S. Department of Justice has demanded.

"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 explained.

A.B. 266 now heads to the Senate, where medical pot regulations have 
already passed two key litmus tests, beginning with a 
health-committee hearing on July 7.

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.

"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. Under the proposed law, 
the state Board of Equalization would have employees assigned 
full-time to a task force on cannabis taxation. The state water board 
would focus on water regulations. And other state agencies also would 
be mobilized.

"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 to sort out regulatory overlap. 
Allen of the Emerald Growers Association said he had heard that the 
governor's office "was part of the conversation through which the 
bills were merged."

Opposition to A.B. 266 is mostly coming from hardcore marijuana 
activists and law-enforcement groups; the former want fewer 
regulations-and the latter simply want marijuana to be illegal.

The bill 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 Sacramento County and 
Fresno, 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."

"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 possibly bringing the century-long war 
on marijuana to an end.

Next month, on July 7, the Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana 
Policy, which includes Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom as a member, plans to 
release its year-and-a-half-in-the-making report on the good and bad 
of marijuana legalization in California.

The report is considered a road map for groups aiming to legalize pot 
in California on the November 2016 ballot.

Groups such as ReformCA aim to put a marijuana-legalization 
referendum on the 2016 ballot and must gather at least 585,000 
signatures to qualify.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom