Assembly Bill 243 looked innocent enough when Governor Jerry Brown signed it into law on October 9 as part of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA). The aim was to give some semblance of order to the medical marijuana business on the chance that recreational pot, which will likely be on the ballot next November, becomes law.
What it did was wreak havoc among city and county officials who feared that a March 1 deadline written into the law invalidated their ordinances, or foreclosed their future options, to ban or control cannabis unless they took immediate action. The law says:
“If a city, county, or city and county does not have land use regulations or ordinances regulating or prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana, either expressly or otherwise under principles of permissive zoning, or chooses not to administer a conditional permit program pursuant to this section, then commencing March 1, 2016, the division shall be the sole licensing authority for medical marijuana cultivation applicants in that city, county, or city and county.”
The bill’s author, Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), wrote an open letter (pdf) to local officials to “clarify some of the confusion.” He pledged to fix the “inadvertent drafting error” made “during the scramble at the end of legislative session” with emergency legislation when lawmakers return in January. It would become law as soon as the governor signed it.
“This letter should help cool down local officials who have been stampeding to restrict cultivation without adequate consideration,” Cal NORML director Dale Gieringer said last week.
Wood sounded confident, in the letter, that there was bipartisan support for the fix and cooperation from the governor’s office. But, just in case, he had a Plan B:
“Even if my emergency measure is not signed until after March 1st, the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (BMMR), the entity responsible for developing the State’s regulations, currently exists on paper only. It will be many months before the Bureau has the capacity to develop and enforce statewide regulations.”
Cities and counties want a Plan C.
The Bay Area News Group counted 11 cities in the Bay Area that are trying to craft ordinances that would ban or restrict dispensaries before the state law takes effect. “If we don't pass this type of ordinance, we will lose our right to regulate it,” Richmond Assistant City Attorney Patricia Aljoe told her city council.
The Los Angeles Times counted 19 cities in its neck of the woods that have restricted or banned medical marijuana dispensaries recently and said dozens more in the state are considering it. The Times said there was “panic” among medical marijuana supporters.