Pubdate: Thu, 10 Sep 2015
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2015 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts


California has allowed some form of access to medical marijuana for 
almost 20 years. In that time - as the "movement" to relax and 
reverse cannabis prohibition morphed into a multibillion-dollar 
"industry" - most of the state's elected officials have reacted by 
either decrying the state's cannabis trade or ignoring it completely.

There is one major exception. And if the state Legislature succeeds 
in crafting statewide rules on cannabis and passes them onto the 
governor for signature by tomorrow's deadline, the exception will 
have ruled again.

The first city in the state to get a handle on the businesses selling 
medical marijuana within its limits was Oakland (followed closely by 
San Francisco). When crafting that city's rules, in 2004, those 
involved quickly found themselves deadlocked. Should there be eight 
dispensaries allowed in the city, or six? Should they pay this tax, 
or that? Nobody could agree, until the mayor entered the room.

Action was swift, according to those present. There would be four 
dispensaries, said the mayor, who then rattled off what would become 
of the city's landmark dispensary ordinance, before abruptly exiting.

"He said, 'Here's what you need to do,' - and then he left the 
room,'" says Dale Sky Jones, chairwoman of the Coalition for Cannabis 
Policy Reform, the group pushing to legalize recreational marijuana 
at next year's ballot.

That mayor was Jerry Brown, who has continued to be a rare decisive 
force on cannabis during his climb back to the Governor's Mansion.

As attorney general in 2008, Brown issued a set of "guidelines" for 
how cannabis businesses ought to operate. Now known as "the attorney 
general's guidelines," they have served as the de facto Bible for the 
industry since (and have been quietly deferred to, without updating 
or much comment, by the current attorney general whenever the 
cannabis question arises).

And with Brown as governor again, state lawmakers, industry players, 
and the affected public - concerned straight-laced citizens as well 
as marijuana users - are banking on him to get something done.

While there are two bills in the state Legislature that would 
regulate the industry - one in the Assembly and another in the Senate 
- - the ultimate shot-caller is the governor.

Eccentric, inscrutable, and ultimately all-powerful, Brown will 
decide the future of marijuana in California - and since becoming 
governor, he has uttered barely a word on the subject.

Brown's office could not be reached for comment (the line at his 
Sacramento office was busy and an email to a spokesperson bounced back).

But it is obvious that he is driving the process from behind the scenes.

On paper, the authors of marijuana reform are North Coast state Sen. 
Mike McGuire and Alameda Assemblyman Rob Bonta, lead authors of the 
two regulatory bills: Senate Bill 643 and Assembly Bill 266, respectively.

After a full year of negotiation and back-and-forth between the 
state's marijuana industry and the powerful Police Chiefs Association 
and League of California Cities, both SB 643 and AB 266 were entirely 
gutted a few weeks ago.

By press time Tuesday, they were identical, containing - 
word-for-word - rules on regulating doctors that had been circulated, 
via back channels, by staffers from the governor's office in the last 
week of August, according to sources close to the process.

What does Brown want? His preference is to create a "Bureau of 
Medical Marijuana Governance" under the Department of Consumer 
Affairs. Run by a bureau chief - or marijuana czar - appointed by the 
governor, the bureau would be responsible for licensing "commercial 
cannabis activity" by Jan. 1, 2017.

Small growers who don't sell their crops would not need a license. 
There would be separate licenses for growing, selling, manufacturing, 
transporting, and distributing - and, in a page from the alcohol 
industry's book, distributors would not be allowed to acquire other licenses.

Dispensary operators could not run more than three locations, and 
there would be a cap on how many licenses were issued to concentrate 
makers using "volatile solvents" - hence, a limit on makers of 
powerful "butane hash oil."

All cannabis product would be "tracked and traced": the licensing 
authority would be emailed a "manifest" on what product was going 
where. All marijuana would have to be transported, including for 
retail deliveries, in a special storage compartment "affixed to the 
vehicle." That is to say, no duffel bags or briefcases.

Dispensary employees would also be required to go through a mandatory 
training process overseen by the state.

Sounds simple enough. So what's holding it back? According to 
multiple sources in Sacramento, the two lawmakers are squabbling over 
which bill gets to include more of Brown's language they get to 
include in their respective bills - essentially fighting over who 
gets to have the credit for someone else's work.

Efforts to reach Bonta were not successful. Reached for comment 
briefly at press deadline, McGuire said that only "technical 
amendments" were holding up the process.

By the time you read this, this could all be irrelevant. The bills 
could have been amended and passed - or the negotiation could be 
ongoing until the final deadline.

But whatever happens (or has happened), it is because of Jerry Brown. 
And he hasn't even been "officially" involved.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom