For the second year in a row, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) has introduced legislation to impose state control on a chaotic medical marijuana scene.
But this bill has a twist.
The understaffed, overburdened state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) would oversee a newly-created Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement, rather than have a standalone department run the operation. The aim is to avoid jurisdictional issues arising from having to oversee myriad approaches to medical marijuana from cities and counties.
The bill would give the division the power to establish fees and “statewide standards for the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, distribution, and sales of medical cannabis and medical cannabis products.” Cities and counties would still retain many of their prerogatives, including the right to ban medical marijuana dispensaries, but would have a framework of regulations to work from. Currently, dipensaries are regulated by more than 50 local ordinances.
Ammiano’s bill is largely tailored after legislation he introduced last year that passed the Assembly but couldn’t make headway in the Senate. It was strongly opposed by law enforcement agencies, but also ran afoul of some medical marijuana supporters who thought his legislation favored large, well-funded operators over small collectives and would lead to corporate control of the industry.
There has been talk that state Senator Mark Leno may introduce legislation that does not involve the ABC and addresses some other concerns.
Ammiano’s bill enters a strikingly anarchic arena of competing government interests. Although California legalized medical marijuana in 1996 and authorized nonprofit cooperatives as dispensaries in 2004, federal law still criminalizes possession and sale of the drug. Individual cities and counties have the power to ban dispensaries or scale down their activities, and some have.
Meanwhile, various lawsuits are working their way through the state and federal courts while the U.S. Department of Justice is busting dispensaries and prosecuting people associated with them. The California Supreme Court is expected to rule in May on whether cities and counties can ban dispensaries.