Two Decades after Legalization, California Agrees to Regulate Medical Marijuana

Monday, September 14, 2015

It’s not exactly the calm before the storm, but state lawmakers attempted to bring some semblance of order to the handling of medical marijuana in California—agreeing with the governor on a trio of bills regulating the industry— before voters legalize recreational pot at the polls.

California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana two decades ago but has only provided a rudimentary mechanism piecemeal for people to cultivate, purchase and sell it. In the interim, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) has enforced federal laws in California that still criminalize marijuana, in part because of what they say is insufficient state regulatory oversight.  

Lawmakers scrambled on Friday to sign off on incarnations of legislation that have been kicking around for years, incorporating the governor’s version of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act proffered two weeks ago into the three bills. They seemed to have come up with something the governor approves of, but according to the East Bay Express, marijuana advocates “howled that they were being cut out” of the final deal.

The legislation establishes the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, in the Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) to oversee licensing and supervise all things related to medical pot.

Back in April, California’s branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) said on its website the department “was deemed unfit for the task” and suggested that a substitute, perhaps the Board of Equalization (BOE) or Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), could be pressed into service.    

That didn’t happen.

Senate Bill 643, Assembly Bill 266 and Assembly Bill 243 establish a licensing system and regulatory framework for cultivation, manufacture, storage, distribution, transportation and testing that have been haphazardly attended to by local government. The bills flesh out the duties of the pot bureau and enumerate 40 specific regulatory functions, including requirements that the Medical Board of California make sure doctors aren’t overprescribing pot to unworthy patients.

The bureau chief would have the power to “create, issue, renew, discipline, suspend, or revoke licenses for medical marijuana activities within the state and to collect related fees,” according to a legislative staff analysis. Although the state could issue and deny licenses, so could localities. A city could still ban the growing and sale of medical marijuana.

The bills tap the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) to make sure weed is properly tested for purity and potency, and the public is informed of the results. The Department of Pesticide Regulation (DPR) and the California Department of Food and Agriculture (CDFA) will oversee pot like any other agricultural product, setting and enforcing standards for protection of the product and environment.

There will be taxes at the state and local level, as yet undetermined.

Everything, including fingerprints of growers, would be tracked throughout the distribution chain in databases. Licensing officials would be authorized to share information in the database with law enforcement agencies.

All three bills must be approved for any one of them to take effect. The governor is expected to sign them.

–Ken Broder


To Learn More:

Lawmakers Announce Deal on Medical Marijuana Legislation (by Christopher Cadelago and Alexei Koseff, Sacramento Bee)

California Lawmakers Regulate Medical Cannabis—Historic Deal Announced (by David Downs, East Bay Express)

California Finally Reaches Agreement on Medical Marijuana Rules (by Mike Adams, High Times)

Medical Marijuana in California Lawmakers Reach 11th-Hour Deal on Regulation (by Lisa Leff, Associated Press)

This Season’s Crop of Medical Marijuana Bills May Be the Last Before the Storm (by Ken Broder, AllGov California)

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