Pubdate: Sat, 10 Oct 2015
Source: Los Angeles Times (CA)
Copyright: 2015 Los Angeles Times
Author: Patrick McGreevy


Brown Creates a Regulatory System That Later Could Be Adapted for 
Widespread Use.

SACRAMENTO - Nearly two decades after Californians legalized 
marijuana for medical use and a year before they may approve it for 
recreational purposes, Gov. Jerry Brown has imposed statewide rules 
on the growth, transport and sale of the drug.

Signing a trio of related bills Friday, the governor created a 
regulatory system for medical cannabis that could be adapted for 
widespread use if voters make it legal by passing a 2016 ballot initiative.

Marijuana advocates have proposed at least five measures for the 
ballot, and several groups are working to find one they believe will 
most appeal to voters.

The governor worked out the new regulations with lawmakers after 
several years of failed attempts by the Legislature to adopt rules 
that address conflicting concerns of law enforcement and the 
billion-dollar marijuana industry. "This new structure will make sure 
patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust 
tracking system," Brown wrote in his signing message. "This sends a 
clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California 
is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice."

He noted that some of the standards, including the licensing system, 
don't take effect until Jan. 1, 2018. But, he said, "state agencies 
will begin working immediately with experts and stakeholders on 
crafting clear guidelines, so local government, law enforcement, 
businesses, patients and health providers can prepare and adapt to 
the new regulated system."

An estimated 1,250 medical marijuana dispensaries are operating in 
the state, with sales of about $1.3 billion, according to industry groups.

"Gov. Brown and his colleagues in the Legislature have just given the 
green light to let California's cannabis industry become the 
thriving, taxpaying, job-creating industry it was always destined to 
become," said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California 
Cannabis Industry Assn., which welcomed regulation.

The new laws create a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to 
issue and revoke licenses for the cultivation, storage and sale of 
cannabis and collect fees to pay for the agency's work.

Cities and counties will also have the power to issue and revoke 
local permits, adopt tougher restrictions on dispensary operations 
and ask voters to approve taxes on marijuana growers and dispensaries 
to pay for local public safety expenses.

Currently, some cities and counties have ordinances allowing them to 
license and limit the number of dispensaries. The new laws preserve 
the ability of Los Angeles to prosecute businesses that violate rules 
set by voters in 2013.

The new state bureau, to operate within the administration's 
Department of Consumer Affairs, will convene an advisory committee to 
develop standards and regulation aimed at protecting patients.

Some $10 million has been set aside to fund implementation of the new 
laws for the first year. But the hiring of staff, development of new 
regulations and issuing of licenses will probably take longer, 
according to Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of 
Consumer Affairs.

The state departments of Public Health and Food and Agriculture will 
enforce rules on the quality of marijuana and growing practices.

The new laws designate marijuana as an agricultural product, subject 
to the same regulations on insecticide and water use as other crops. 
That will address the negative environmental impact of illegal 
growing operations, said state Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), 
author of one of the bills.

Brown said he was directing his Natural Resources Agency to identify 
projects to begin restoration of land damaged by marijuana growing.

He hailed California's "new path for responsible marijuana 
cultivation" but added, "The damage to our ecosystem is occurring today."

California voters legalized medical cannabis in 1996 when they passed 
the Compassionate Use Act. A proliferation of pot shops has since 
been regulated by a patchwork of city and county ordinances that ban 
them from some areas and allow a significant number in others.

Although federal law makes the sale of even medical marijuana a 
crime, the U.S. Department of Justice issued a memorandum in 2013 
saying prosecution should focus on the most serious threats.

That memo put pressure on California to adopt strong regulations, 
because it indicated that states with such rules would be less likely 
to see prosecutions of medical marijuana license holders.

The new rules were also welcomed by growers, including Ata Gonzalez, 
chief executive of G FarmaLabs, who is a cultivator and distributor 
to more than 600 dispensaries in California.

Gonzalez recently bought land in Desert Hot Springs for a processing 
plant and indoor growing.

The new rules will require him to alter his operations, but Gonzalez 
said he would adjust.

"Personally, I don't believe anyone will ever be 100% happy with the 
way these regulations were going to be written, but I have to tell 
you, [our firm] appreciates this well-thought-out set of guidelines," 
Gonzalez said, predicting "a good and positive outcome."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom