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California sets new rules for medical pot industry

| Oct 12, 2015 | News

h/t LA Times

Nearly two decades after Californians legalized marijuana for medical use and a year before they may also approve it for recreational purposes, Gov. Jerry Brown on Friday approved statewide rules on the growth, transport and sale of the drug.

Signing a trio of bills, the governor created a regulatory system that could be adapted to widespread cannabis use if voters make it legal by passing a ballot initiative next year.

Marijuana advocates have proposed multiple measures for the ballot, and several groups are working to find one they believe will most appeal to voters.

The governor worked out the new regulations with lawmakers after several years of failed attempts by the Legislature to adopt rules that address conflicting concerns of law enforcement and the billion-dollar marijuana industry.

“This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system,” the governor wrote in a signing message. “This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice.”

He noted that some of the new standards don’t go into effect until Jan. 1, 2018, but said “state agencies will begin working immediately with experts and stakeholders on crafting clear guidelines, so local government, law enforcement, businesses, patients and health providers can prepare and adapt to the new regulated system.”

There are an estimated 1,250 medical marijuana dispensaries operating in the state, according to the group Safe Access Now. Annual sales are about $1.3 billion, according to the California Cannabis Industry Assn.

“Gov. Brown and his colleagues in the Legislature have just given the green light to let California’s cannabis industry become the thriving, taxpaying, job-creating industry it was always destined to become,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the association, which welcomed regulation.

The laws create a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (BMMR) to issue and revoke licenses for the cultivation, storage and sale of cannabis and collect fees to pay for the system.

Cities and counties will also have the power to issue and revoke local permits, adopt tougher restrictions on dispensary operations and ask voters to approve taxes on marijuana growers and dispensaries to pay for local public safety expenses.

The new laws includes a provision that preserves the ability of the city of Los Angeles to prosecute businesses that violate rules set in Proposition D, which was approved by city voters in 2013.

Brown said the bills “establish a long-overdue comprehensive regulatory framework for the production, transportation and sale of medical marijuana.”
The laws set aside $10 million for their implementation in the first year, though it will probably take more than a year to staff the new bureau, develop new regulations and begin issuing licenses, according to Russ Heimerich, a spokesman for the Department of Consumer Affairs.

One of the laws designates marijuana like any other agricultural product, subject to the same restrictions on pesticides and water use.

Brown said that bill “sets California on a new path for responsible marijuana cultivation, but the damage to our ecosystem is occurring today.’ As a result, he is directing the Natural Resources Agency to identify projects to begin restoring land used for illegal grows.

The new laws also address the problem of people driving under the influence of marijuana by commissioning research by the University of California, San Diego which will lay the groundwork for new marijuana-specific field sobriety tests.

“California has not had a statewide strategy for curbing drugged driving,” said Assemblyman Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). “Today that begins to change as the University of California will begin critical research on marijuana-impaired driving which will lead to better roadside tools for law enforcement.”