In an attempt to add clarity to California’s oft misconstrued medical marijuana laws, the state Senate voted 22-12 yesterday in favor of Senate Bill 439, which aims to provide protection for dispensary owners in exchange for much more strict regulation.
The new legislation cuts through any previous confusion on compensation, making it clear that dispensaries cannot operate at a profit. Owners of dispensaries would be allowed to receive reasonable compensation and reimbursement of certain expenses, and would also be able to offer pay and benefits to their employees.
Senate Bill 439 borrows heavily from Governor Jerry Brown’s 2008 interpretation of Prop 215 and SB 420, California’s two current pot laws, from when he served as the state’s Attorney General. Those non-binding guidelines are now the basis for the state’s latest attempt to curb the booming cannabis biz. Besides the clear-cut language on profits, the new bill will also require dispensaries to perform meticulous record-keeping on inventory and members.
California’s current wild-west methods of regulating weed have led to varying ordinances being passed in countless local municipalities, and outright pot shop bans in hundreds of others. This conflicting mash-up of state, city and county laws has only caused more confusion for lawmakers and local law enforcement.
The gray area and uncertainty in the language in California’s aging medical marijuana laws undoubtedly provided enough cover for many shady, and even criminal, organizations to prosper. For the past two years, the Department of Justice and federal DEA squads have used that same flawed language as their own excuse to crack down on marijuana outlets up and down the state, kicking down dispensary doors, confiscating inventories and cash, and ruining the lives of Californian business owners.
California Senate President pro tempore, Darrell Steinberg (D -Sacramento), says the new legislation is “intended to come to some sort of an understanding with the federal government”.
With its success in the Senate yesterday, SB 439 now moves to the State Assembly where Rep. Tom Ammiano (D – San Francisco) hopes to push it through to the Governor for final passage.
Ammiano’s amended bill includes instructions to create a new Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement (DMCRE), which would operate under the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The DMCRE will be tasked with many duties, including the development of a statewide taxation policy, licensing fees and procedures, as well as a state-wide ID card program. The DMCRE will be the authority on California standards for growing, testing, transporting, distributing, and selling medical marijuana and related products. They will work with state law enforcement agencies to enact,monitor, and enforce the new regulations.
Those opposed to the bill included the regular peanut gallery of the California Narcotics Officers’ Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the International Faith Based Coalition – all of whom argued that the bill only serves to expand the distribution of weed in what they call a “direct violation of federal law”.
Supporters of the bill may not be too high on the new load of regulations that SB 439 will bring, but they do appreciate the protection that it will offer. Specifically, the bill states that an owner or employee at a collective or dispensary cannot be prosecuted under state laws, as long as they are in compliance with the new rules and regulations.
However, the new law obviously cannot supersede federal marijuana laws, or overrule the State Supreme Court’s recent ruling to allow California cities to ban pot shops.
The war rages on.