Pubdate: Sat, 12 Sep 2015
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Los Angeles Times
Authors: Patrick McGreevy and Melanie Mason


Legislation Calls for Creating New Agency in Anticipation of Possible 
Legalization of Recreational Use.

SACRAMENTO - California lawmakers on Friday passed wide-ranging 
proposals for regulating the medical marijuana industry, which would 
lay groundwork for state control of the cultivation and sale of 
cannabis in the event that voters legalize recreational use of the 
drug next year.

The package of bills, crafted in a compromise between legislative 
leaders and the governor, would create a new state agency to license 
medical cannabis dispensaries and require marijuana growers to adhere 
to the laws and regulations imposed on other farmers, including 
restrictions on pesticides, insecticides and water use.

"This is better than what we have, the status quo, which is the Wild 
West," said Sen. Mike McGuire (DHealdsburg), one of the architects of the deal.

The measures were taken up in the frenzy that typifies the last days 
of the legislative year. Lawmakers worked into the night to vote on 
scores of bills before the clock struck midnight and they had to adjourn.

The home stretch of the 2015 legislative session was marked by 
fitful, often contentious negotiations over legislation intended to 
fight climate change, as well as on proposals to raise taxes to 
repair California roadways and fix funding for Medi-Cal, the state's 
ailing healthcare program for the poor.

Already this year, the Democratically controlled Legislature had 
approved one of the most far-reaching vaccination laws in the nation, 
barring religious and other personal-belief exemptions for 
schoolchildren. Gov. Jerry Brown signed that bill into law.

Legislators and Brown also extended Medi-Cal to cover immigrants 18 
or younger who are in the country illegally. They also ordered 
California's public pension funds to divest their holdings in thermal coal.

Lawmakers sent Brown a proposal to allow physicians to prescribe 
life-ending drugs to terminally ill patients, modeled after a 1997 
Oregon law and strongly opposed by the Catholic Church. Efforts to 
pass the legislation, after the failure of similar measures in past 
years, gained momentum after the well-publicized case of Brittany 
Maynard, a 29year-old Californian with brain cancer who moved to 
Oregon last year so she could end her life.

A proposal to combat climate change, championed by Brown and Senate 
president Kevin de Leon (D-Los Angeles), passed late Friday, but only 
after a provision to slash gasoline use by half had been stripped out 
in the face of oil-industry opposition. The remaining components 
would require utilities in California to procure 50% of their 
electricity from renewable sources such as wind and solar and would 
double the energy efficiency in new buildings.

Despite weeks of marathon legislative sessions and a number of 
late-night, behind-the-scenes negotiations on a variety of pressing 
issues, lawmakers left behind a stack of unfinished business.

The Legislature failed to address funding for critically needed 
repairs to dilapidated roads or raising money for state healthcare 
programs. Brown called special legislative sessions on the issues, 
with proposed tax and fee increases in the mix for both. There was no 
Friday deadline for that work.

Among the proposed healthcare funding sources is a fee on medical 
providers to make up for an impending plunge in federal funding for Medi-Cal.

The possibility remains that lawmakers could return before the new 
legislative year begins in January to take action on the matters.

As part of the special session on healthcare funding, lawmakers also 
have been considering a $2-a-pack hike in the cigarette tax to help 
pay for Medi-Cal. But the prospects for that proposal are unclear. 
The last time cigarette taxes increased in California was 1998, when 
voters approved a 50-centper-pack levy to fund childhood development programs.

Awaiting action late Friday was a bill to increase the smoking age in 
California to 21. If approved and signed by the governor, California 
would join Hawaii as the only states to set the smoking age that high.

Sen. Ed Hernandez (DWest Covina) said he introduced the bill out of 
concern that an estimated 90% of tobacco users start before age 21. 
Raising the minimum age would mean fewer teenagers picking up the 
habit, said Hernandez, an optometrist.

Tobacco-related disease killed 34,000 Californians in 2009 and cost 
the state $18.1 billion in medical expenses, according to studies by 
UC San Francisco. Most states set the legal smoking age at 18; four 
have set it at 19. Some cities, including New York, have raised it to 21.

The Legislature's action on regulating medical marijuana comes as 
momentum builds for a 2016 ballot measure to legalize the 
recreational use of cannabis.

California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996, but it has 
largely been regulated by cities and counties, with rules varying 
among jurisdictions. Marijuana use remains a crime under federal law.

The proposal was welcomed by Nate Bradley, founder of the California 
Cannabis Industry Assn., although he said he wanted to see details of 
the bills before deciding whether he supports the whole package. 
Bradley said one issue of concern for him and, separately, for former 
Assembly speaker and San Francisco mayor-turned-lobbyist Willie 
Brown, has been that the state not disqualify convicted felons from 
running pot shops.

That could hurt low-income residents who could not afford attorneys 
to beat charges, Bradley said.

Brown has been a lobbyist for Oakland's Harborside Health Center, a 
medical marijuana dispensary.

The fate of the aid-in-dying bill rests in the hands of the governor, 
a former Catholic seminarian. Brown has expressed concerns about how 
the proposal was handled by legislative leaders. In July, an earlier 
version of the bill stalled in an Assembly committee. A new version 
of the bill was revived in August after Brown called the special sessions.

A spokesman for the governor said it was more appropriate for 
lawmakers to consider the measure during the Legislature's normal 
course of business, not in a special session.

"I am confident that the governor will listen to the 75% of 
Californians who do support this option, that the governor will take 
into consideration that this is an option for an individual 
voluntarily to pursue," said Dan Diaz, Brittany Maynard's husband. 
"Ethically this decision belongs with the individual working with his 
physician. I am hopeful."

In other Sacramento action Friday, lawmakers sent Brown proposals to:

Automatically register to vote any eligible Californian who obtains a 
driver's license or state identification card - unless the person opts out.

Increase fines for operating a drone that interferes with 
firefighters or other emergency personnel and grant immunity to 
emergency workers who damage a drone.

Urge him to call a special legislative session on California's water crisis.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom