This Season's Crop of Medical Marijuana Bills May Be the Last Before the Storm

Friday, April 24, 2015

While prospective ballot initiatives to legalize recreational marijuana and tweak pot laws pile up in the California Secretary of State’s office, state lawmakers are preparing to take what may be a final stab at bringing order to the medical marijuana trade before even further chaos is unleashed.

Senate Bill 643, with the tentative support of California NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) and other medical marijuana advocates, passed its first legislative hurdle on April 20, the counterculture pot holiday 4/20. Like its predecessors, the bill establishes a licensing system for cultivation, distribution, transportation and testing that have been haphazardly attended to by local government.

The bill, authored by Democratic Senator Mike McGuire, was passed unanimously by the Senate Business and Professions Committee. It is still a work in progress as it heads to the Senate and Governance and Finance Committee. McGuire, who represents a big chunk of the North Coast where marijuana growing is famously plentiful, emphasized on his website that lack of proper regulation has proven to be an environmental hazard.

“Aside from local zoning regulations, this legal, multi-billion dollar industry is completely unregulated. . . . Of particular concern is the devastation of our watersheds, forest lands and the  growing ‘edibles’ market that is estimated to take up to 30 percent of the current medical marijuana market.”

As of Wednesday, text of the bill on stated that a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation would be created under the state Department of Consumer Affairs, like last year’s failed Senate Bill 1262. But NORML says on its website the agency “was deemed unfit for the task” and a substitute, perhaps the Board of Equalization (BOE) or Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), could be pressed into service.    

The legislation would apply only to commercial providers, not individual caregivers. Among its provisions, it would ban growing pot in residential neighborhoods and set organic standards that must be met by 2022. The bill, itself, would become law in 2018.

The Santa Rosa Press Democrat said NORML took issue with a ban on people with marijuana-related convictions from getting business licenses and expressed concerns about a fee structure that wouldn’t burden small farmers. There is come concern about where the state will get the money to create a new bureau.

The staff analysis of SB 643 listed 15 related bills that failed in the past and three other new ones (AB 26 and AB 34 and AB 243), all in the Assembly, coming under consideration this session, and struck a pessimistic note about the future bureau establishing its regulations through rulemaking, rather than having a “clear statutory framework.”

The analyst, Sarah Mason, warned,

“This process can take years, given requirements for notification, public comment and additional delays that arise whenever amendments to proposed regulations are made. It is unlikely that the Bureau would be able to meet the deadlines for regulations set forth in this bill, and the regulatory process in general has been criticized for lacking transparency and robust stakeholder input that the Legislative process allows for.”

Supporters of marijuana legislation hope that a show of discipline by the state over what has turned into a wild proliferation of pot dispensaries, inconsistent application of the law and rogue growers in some areas would help deter the ongoing crackdown by U.S. Attorneys.

President Obama and members of his administration, including Attorney General Eric Holder, had signaled since 2008 that the federal law against possession, sale and cultivation of marijuana would not be aggressively enforced in states that had passed laws legalizing medical marijuana. That included California, which legalized it in 1996.

But that has not been the case. The U.S. Senate confirmed Loretta Lynch as Holder’s replacement Thursday, which does not necessarily bode well for future relations between the state and federal government on marijuana.

Lynch told the Senate that she had never smoked marijuana and does not support legalization. She also does not share the sentiment of her boss, President Obama, that pot might be less dangerous than alcohol.  

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Sen. Mike Mcguire Introduces Sweeping Marijuana Bill (by Julie Johnson, Santa Rosa Press Democrat)

Will California Legislature Tame the Wild West? (by Jeremy Daw, The Leaf)

Senate Commitee Approves McGuire Medical Marijuana Regulation Bill with Amendments to Be Determined (California NORML)

Senate Committee Buries Statewide Medical Marijuana Regulation (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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