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California May Step Up To Orderly Regulation Of Its Medical Marijuana Industry

| Apr 11, 2014 | News

Posted by: : Paul Ebeling

California was the 1st state to legalize Marijuana for medicinal purposes when voters passed the landmark Proposition 215 in Y 1996. Since then, the state failed to establish uniform regulations to govern its growing Medical Marijuana industry, leaving the implementation of a vague Medical Cannabis law to local municipalities to manage.

Then after many failed attempts at regulating its Medical Marijuana program, 1 state lawmaker has introduced legislation he believes he can establish some order to the state’s multibillion-dollar industry.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Assembly member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), whose measure, introduced last month, would create a statewide set of rules for California’s marijuana businesses. “People have seen that the more regulation you have, the less chaos you have.”

In recent years, Ammiano has sponsored a number of similar bills, each of which has stalled or was stopped by opponents who argued the legislation didn’t address key issues, such as the environmental impacts of marijuana cultivation or the ability of local governments to tax the product. Ammiano says his latest measure, AB 1894, addresses every concern and more.

Cities, like Oakland and San Francisco, have enacted clear  rules that dictate where dispensaries can operate and levy fees that generate revenue for local government. Other cities, like Los Angeles and San Diego, are largely unregulated, with very little control over the number of dispensaries or the criteria for doctor recommendations.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and the lack of statewide standards leaves California vulnerable to Fed crackdowns.

Since Y 2011, the Obama administration’s DOJ has shut down Medical Cannabis businesses throughout the state on the grounds that the industry is out of control.

Last month, the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) raided several dispensaries in Los Angeles. By contrast, federal authorities have been less aggressive in states with more strict regulations.

Dispensaries in Colorado, for example, faced fewer DEA raids, and federal authorities have largely allowed the state’s new recreational, adult-use Marijuana program to operate in peace.

Late last year, US Attorney General Eric Holder indicated that the federal government would not intervene in states that had “strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems.”

“While statewide regulations won’t change federal law, it does seem to be the case that states that have uniform, clear regulations are less likely to be interfered with by the feds,” Marijuana Majority’s Tom Angell said in an interview. “It is very confusing in California now: a patchwork of regulations city to city and county to county.”

Mr. Ammiano’s bill would create a division within California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to regulate all Medical Marijuana-related entities throughout the state, from the farmers that cultivate the plant to the storefronts that sell it.

His bill does not impose any restrictions on the doctors who prescribe Cannabis or their patients. Similar legislation, introduced by state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) in March, has faced criticism from pro-Marijuana groups for the restrictions it places on doctors and patients.

Under Mr. Ammiano’s proposal, the ABC would charge fees on Marijuana businesses to raise revenue for the state. Local municipalities would also be allowed to impose additional taxes. “Everyone who has a business pays some taxes,” Mr. Ammiano said. “Without regulation, there’s no way to capture any of the income that could go toward our infrastructure or other worthy causes.”

Some experts believe Mr. Ammiano’s bill could lay the groundwork for the full-scale legalization of Marijuana in California.

“One of the reasons that California’s 2010 initiative to legalize Marijuana didn’t pass is because many communities had an unpleasant experience with cannabis regulation,” said the co-founder and executive director of Oakland’s, the country’s largest Medical Marijuana dispensary.

Recent polls suggest that a majority of Californians support legalizing Marijuana for recreational purposes. A national drug reform coalition, backed by Lieutenant Gov. Gavin Newsom, plans to put a legalization initiative on the state’s Y 2016 ballot.

Meantime, advocates believe strict statewide rules are a necessary next step.

California has to show that it has the ability to regulate Marijuana and demonstrate how tax revenue can be generated and put into needed programs throughout the state.

Mr. Ammiano’s bill will be heard by the California Assembly’s Public Safety Committee later this month.

Stay tuned…


Paul Ebeling

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