Pubdate: Sat, 12 Sep 2015
Source: Sacramento Bee (CA)
Copyright: 2015 The Sacramento Bee
Authors: Christopher Cadelago and Jeremy B. White


After years of false starts and nearly two decades after California 
legalized cannabis for medical purposes, lawmakers Friday sent Gov. 
Jerry Brown a legislative package to regulate the billion-dollar industry.

Medical marijuana would be newly defined as an agricultural product 
with rules for water use, discharge and pesticides, and would be 
tracked and tested through the process.

The trio of bills would allow for testing and labeling of edible 
marijuana, overseen by the Department of Public Health, and prevent 
environmental degradation like water diversion via the Department of 
Food and Agriculture, which would also manage cultivation.

Overseeing it all and tasked with handling transportation and 
distribution licenses would be a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana 
Regulation, housed within the Department of Consumer Affairs and 
headed by a director who would need to be confirmed by the Senate.

Everyone involved in the cannabis industry, from cultivators to 
dispensary owners, would need to receive two licenses: one from the 
state and one from their local city or county. By requiring a local 
license, the legislation would allow municipalities with bans or 
restrictions to keep them in place. They also could put before voters 
taxes on cultivation and retail, in addition to the sales taxes on 
marijuana, and could designate fees to recoup regulation costs.

Many people with past felony convictions could not get a license 
unless they have obtained a certificate of rehabilitation, a 
provision sure to frustrate advocates who argue such a prohibition 
falls heavily on minority communities.

The deal does not include a excise tax for environmental cleanup and 
public safety because that would have required a two-thirds vote.

California is one of 23 states, along with Washington, D.C., that 
allow medical marijuana use.

The compromise package, crafted in the last several days by Brown's 
administration, ends nearly two decades of political intransigence on 
medical marijuana. California voted to decriminalize the drug for 
medicinal purposes in 1996, and now is one of 23 states, plus 
Washington, D.C., to allow medical marijuana.

Year after year, attempts to pass statewide controls on grows and 
distribution faltered under the weight of industry infighting, law 
enforcement hostility and the unwillingness of state lawmakers to 
establish guidelines for a drug that has not traditionally provided 
many electoral advantages and remains illegal under federal law.

Last year, a police-backed medical marijuana bill by former Sen. Lou 
Correa of Orange County died in an Assembly Committee after critics 
derided it as too restrictive. It competed with an industry-supported 
bill by then-Assemblyman Tom Ammiano that also went down.

But this year appeared to hold more promise. Lawmakers said they were 
impelled this year by the recognition that a wave of voter 
initiatives legalizing recreational marijuana across the West will 
almost certainly place a ballot initiative before voters in 2016. The 
federal government has advised that it will not crack down on states 
that allow cannabis use under a well-defined regulatory structure, so 
California's effort could offer a reprieve from years of federal raids.

Medical marijuana advocates stepped up their professional presence in 
Sacramento with fundraisers and workshops. Law enforcement groups out 
to protect public safety, labor unions who want to further organize 
the marijuana workforce and cities and counties intent on preserving 
local control and taxation were finally on the same page.

As the session drew to a close, however, that progress was threatened 
by what supporters characterized as a shortsighted turf war among 
legislators and Capitol staffers over who would claim credit.

The action by Brown's office came weeks ahead of expected proposals 
for next year's ballot to legalize recreational marijuana. Lawmakers 
involved in the push, including Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho 
Cordova, said they were motivated to act before initiative drafters 
could put their stamp on the cannabis industry.

We will not let someone freelance in a state of nearly 40 million 
people these kinds of important public safety and public health policies.

"By the Legislature acting though this deliberative process, putting 
this framework together, the issues this bill addresses will not be 
superseded by a ballot initiative," Cooley said in an interview. "We 
will not let someone freelance in a state of nearly 40 million people 
these kinds of important public safety and public health policies. 
That is a colossal benefit. And it actually is historic."

Much of the criticism in the final days focused on who would be 
eligible to work in the industry. Law enforcement groups were adamant 
that certain felons be banned from operating dispensaries. On the 
other side, Alice Huffman, president of the NAACP in California, 
lobbied for an exemption for some felons who have not re-offended in 
the last five years.

"The issue we care about I think short of got short-shrifted in the 
rush to get it done," Huffman said.

Former Assemblyman Rusty Areias, representing Harborside Health 
Center, perhaps the state's best know collective operator, said he 
was "aghast" at the speed of the legislation, copies of which were 
distributed to the media Friday.

"Twenty years to get to this point. And the paper is still hot," 
Areias said. "Nobody has seen this bill. Nobody has read this bill. 
And, we're going to pass this legislation ... This is important 
legislation, probably one of the most important this year. And the 
people of California deserve better."

He added, "I served a lot of time in this body, and we didn't always 
read all of the bills, but we read the important bills."

Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, one of the authors of the bills, 
said people with marijuana-related felonies would not be kept out of 
the industry. He and Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, added that 
much of the language in the three bills were introduced months ago.

Lawmakers portrayed the votes as a victory that shattered years of 
stalemate. Cooley said that he reached out to Correa and Ammiano with 
a text message:

"You plowed. You planted. Today is harvest day."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom