Exclusive: Assemblyman Ammiano Speaks On Medical Marijuana


SF Weekly
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano: “The voters spoke clearly in 1996”

By Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town
Northern California Correspondent
When California Assembly Bill 2312 was pulled out of committee last week, local cannabis organizations and activists began a heated debate, theorizing why the bill was removed before having a chance to be voted on by the legislature. Toke of the Town was able to interview Assemblyman Tom Ammiano late Thursday afternoon.
We appreciate that Assemblyman Ammiano was able to talk to us during a very busy day. Some of the interview questions have been edited for clarity. All of Mr. Ammiano’s statements are verbatim. 
Toke: Is there any truth to the rumor that Americans for Safe Access and other groups were strongly opposed to the clause in AB 2312 allowing Board of Supervisors or town council members of any California town to ban dispensaries in their towns if they felt compelled to instead of allowing the voters to decide? Is there any truth to the rumor that ASA convinced you to remove the bill or was it the other way around? 
Ammiano: There has always been a clause in AB 2312 that permits local jurisdictions to opt-out of the state standard proposed in AB 2312, what changed coming out of the Assembly Appropriations committee is the threshold which was lowered from a vote of the people in that local jurisdiction, to an ordinance enacted by the local government. I understand that there are concerns regarding bans by local governments, and wish there would have been more opposition to AB 1300 which passed last year with me as the only “NO” vote on the floor. I support a vote threshold to enact bans, but AB 1300 allows local jurisdiction to enact ordinances without going to the voters, which is why I opposed it. 


Thus, local governments are citing this law as the current standard, and the political reality is that local governments do have a strong presence here in Sacramento and their concerns were shared by legislators. I took the amendment coming out of the fiscal committee because it not only addressed strong and capable opposition, but it also reduced costs by hundreds of thousands of dollars for each local government. I also want to add that not all local governments are bad actors; there are many good actors such as San Francisco and Oakland, and counties such as Mendocino and Humboldt. 
Toke: Why did you pull the bill? Because it wasn’t ready or because you felt that it wouldn’t be able to pass?
Ammiano: The reasons are interrelated, there was little doubt among the Senators I spoke with on the need for this bill, but there were concerns about the details of the proposed regulatory structure.
What is the definition of “soft legislation”? Is there such a thing or is it traditional when progressive legislation is introduced, to keep the language vague in order to get it through and go back later to “tighten up” the weaker measures?
Ammiano: I haven’t heard the term “soft legislation,” but it’s not an uncommon strategy to introduce a proposal with a skeleton framework and flesh out the details as it moves through the legislative process. In fact, this is inherent to the legislative process.
TokeIn a perfect world, what would you suggest to the Ca. voters on how to proceed? The voters have already decided, how should we move forward?
Ammiano: The voters spoke clearly in 1996, and also called for implementation, and voters should demand that local governments observe the law and quit hiding behind weak arguments of the failed war on drugs that has clearly resulted in more harm than good. Seventeen other states have followed California’s lead and there continues to be public support among four out of five Californians. Voters should also demand that their federal representatives and the U.S. Department of Justice and Drug Enforcement Administration finally reschedule cannabis. Most importantly, and often overlooked, voters should ask their candidates for local, state and federal office where they stand on medical cannabis issues, and talk within their local communities about candidate positions.
TokeWas the pressure from the activists and patients who contacted up you up to the morning of the hearing opposed to NORML and ASA, a factor in pulling the bill?
There were a number of factors in asking for more time, the main factor was concern from members of the Senate regarding the details of the proposed regulatory structure. If coalition building is easy, it’s not being done right.
TokeIs the protection for individual patients that were in 215, was that extended to collectives, cooperatives, and cultivation in AB 2312? 
Ammiano: AB 2312 did not change any current laws regarding patients, and stayed away from any changes to Prop 215, which must be changed by statute initiative. Similar to existing law, AB 2312 provided limited criminal immunity from certain state-level marijuana offenses to persons engaged in commercial medical cannabis activities who are registered with the state, and these people need not be patients to claim the protections. The goal is to have a clear set of rules for patients, caregivers, the public, local governments, and people involved in this industry.
TokeWhat is the next step?
Ammiano: The Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee conducts a multi-year “sunrise” process for every profession and trade that seeks regulation, and they will conduct this formal process beginning in the fall. They will produce a report on the regulatory policy, examining issues such as the appropriate agency to house a regulatory body, what that body should look like, what their powers should be, and what standards should be used in making decisions. They will also conduct a public hearing this fall, and I plan to introduce a refined bill next year.

Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco

Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at jackrikess.com.

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.