Ammiano, Leno bills moving
By Dale Gieringer, California NORML
A broad coalition of California medical marijuana supporters is backing 2012 Assembly legislation to legally regulate the commercial sale, production and processing of medical cannabis. A Senate bill would adopt the current AG guidelines.
Advocates are co-sponsoring a comprehensive bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-SF), AB 2312, to create a state regulation system under the Dept. of Consumer Affairs. The bill is based on a drafted ballot initiative, the Medical Marijuana Regulation Control and Taxation Act, proposed by Californians to Regulate Marijuana, a coalition including ASA, the United Food and Commercial Workers Local #5, the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform, California NORML, the Emerald Growers Assn. and others. The initiative effort got off to a late start, lacked funding, and was called off on March 8, 2012. Its proponents decided to pursue a legislative strategy instead.
Advocates say that better state regulation is badly needed to fulfill Prop 215’s mandate for a “safe and affordable” system of access for all patients in medical need. The legislature passed Senate Bill 420 in 2003, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, which authorized the establishment of patient collectives and coops. However, its terms have been disputed, precipitating hundreds of court cases with conflicting decisions and leaving collectives vulnerable to raids by federal authorities, who demand “clear and unambiguous” compliance with state law.
AB 2312 would eliminate ambiguities perceived in SB 420 by clearly legalizing sales, distribution, processing, cultivation under a state registration system.
Registrees would be protected from criminal penalties but could face civil fines for failing to abide by regulations. These would be promulgated by a new state board in the Dept. of Consumer Affairs, funded by registration fees. Individual patients and caregivers growing at home would be exempt. Local laws and prohibitions against dispensaries would be pre-empted, except for reasonable zoning requirements, and every county and city would be required to permit at least one dispensary per 50,000 residents unless local voters specifically opted out. The bill also authorizes local governments to levy a supplementary sales tax of up to 2.5% on medical marijuana.
A second, less ambitious medical marijuana bill, SB 1182, is being sponsored by Sen. Leno. It would simply re-write SB 420 to make it clear that any collective, cooperative or other business entity could legally operate provided that it complied with the Attorney General’s guidelines, issued in August, 2008.
Both bills have been approved in committee but face further debate before coming to a vote. Both face serious opposition from law enforcement as well as the California League of Cities, which is hostile to legalizing dispensaries.
Yet another source of opposition to AB 2312 comes from skeptics within the reform community, who worry that it will create a regulatory straitjacket for the industry, or that small-scale collectives will be squeezed out by big-money profiteers.
Proponents boast a poll by EMC Research showing that 77% of Californians support regulating, controlling and taxing medical marijuana. Unlike Colorado, the only state to have completely implemented a statewide regulation system, California faces substantial political divisions over the issue, as well as conflicting appeals court decisions which are waiting to be settled by the state Supreme Court.