A San Francisco lawmaker has introduced legislation in California that would create statewide regulations for medical marijuana dispensaries for the first time. Currently, medical collectives are governed by local municipalities, which recently won the right to ban the centers outright in the state supreme court.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano says the bill will help the state stave off federal raids, pointing to the recent memo released by U.S. Deputy Attorney General James Cole that asks federal prosecutors to respect state marijuana rights in states with robust regulatory systems in place. Ammiano doesn't have much time to get Assembly Bill 604 passed this session, though, as Sept. 13 is the last day for each house to pass bills according to the state legislative calendar.
"Statements recently from Attorney General Holder looked like a positive step toward an improvement over the situation that exists in California today," Ammiano told California Public Radio Tuesday.
A companion bill identical to AB 604 was also introduced in the state Senate.
The bills - which are similar to a measure Ammiano unsuccessfully ran back in May - would charge the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control with creating a new Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement The re-written bills would require the department to regulate the sales, cultivation, distribution and testing of medical cannabis.
If passed, the laws would be in place by January 2015, at which point and everyone selling, growing, testing or processing cannabis for sale in a dispensary would have to be licensed. That does not include patient-growers and private primary caregivers, but they would not be able to sell any excess meds to dispensaries - as is the case currently. Shops would be able to remain open in the interim under undefined "emergency rules", though they would presumably follow the suggestions outlined in the bill.
The bills also call for the state to limit the number of growers and marijuana grown to "a number no greater than what is necessary to meet statewide need" based on patient counts among other stats. All licensed entities - producers, growers, sellers, etc. - would be subject to inspections and $5,000 application fees before they could be licensed. Registration fees from dispensaries would pay for the regulations.
Medical marijuana has been legal in California since the mid-1990s, but storefront dispensaries only began popping up in 2003 after laws were expanded to allow for patient collectives. Since then, patients have been allowed to get marijuana from dispensaries (colloquially and appropriately known as collectives in California) for a "donation" to the collective. No further regulations were enacted at the state level and since then dispensaries collectives have been at the mercy of city and county governments.
Some argue that the lack of state regulations has made it easier for federal prosecutors to go after growers and collectives in California in recent years and point to the recent Cole memo as proof.
"If you look at where the federal government has cracked down on medical marijuana and where it hasn't, the overriding theme is that those states with good regulation schemes have mostly been left alone," said Stephen Downing, former LAPD Deputy Chief and current spokesman for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. "The Justice Department's recent announcement that they'll respect states' marijuana policy as long as they're smartly and strictly regulated is an unsubtle hint that California needs to get its act together with bills like this one."