Thumbs down on medical marijuana bureau

A dispensary's sign on Ventura Boulevard in the San Fernando Valley. (Photo: Laurie Avocado)

Amid a last-minute flurry of  hostile amendments and despite backing from some in law enforcement and the cannabis industry, an attempt to set up the state’s first Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation has been defeated in the Assembly.

The action by the Assembly Appropriations Committee followed intense negotiations between lawmakers, marijuana advocates and law enforcement.

A recent committee analysis of the bill said the support and opposition was murky because  the current version had been in print for less than a week.

“Today’s defeat of this bill (SB 1262)  means that these types of laws and regulations will not be in place to protect consumers,” said state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. “There are folks who need medical marijuana … but the question is, what are you getting when you buy medical marijuana?”

The bill would have established a medical marijuana regulatory office within the Department of Consumer Affairs.

Assemblymember Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, an advocate for adult recreational legalization, had worked with Correa on amendments designed to satisfy those who complained that the bill would be unnecessarily tough on the industry.

Due to the sponsors’ concerns, however, those additional amendments failed to surface in the bill’s final version.

“I’m disappointed that once again we have been unable to move some good policy for medical marijuana in California,” Ammiano said in a statement. “The final form of SB 1262 included provisions that would have gutted the industry in some parts of California. That was a kind of poison pill and the police chiefs who sponsored the Senate bill wouldn’t budge on that.”

Despite his co-authorship status, Ammiano ultimately withdrew any formal support of the most recent version of Correa’s legislation.

“I think you have to break up the advocates into at least two groups: those that were interested in legitimizing and bringing regulations to this medicine, this medication that the voters of California passed back in ’96, and those people who want absolutely no regulation,” Correa said.

A recent committee analysis of the bill said the support and opposition were murky because  the current version had been in print for less than a week.

Cannabis business interests were in support of Correa’s efforts and were also been actively engaged in negotiations.

“We were very sad to see it die today,” said Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association. “We’re dealing with the Wild West that needs to get fixed, and there are people who don’t want the Wild West fixed.”

Voters in California approved the country’s first-ever medical marijuana activity back in 1996 with the Compassionate Use Act. The industry is now estimated to be worth about $1.8 billion.

An appropriations committee analysis estimated the cost for setting up a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation at $20 million, while the industry would generate $400 million in annual sales taxes. Costs, proponents contended, could have easily been absorbed.

“We were at the table the whole time to have any fee necessary or make sure the costs were covered,” Bradley said. “There was no doubt in our minds and in the minds of the people in the building here that we were willing to pay any costs possible to make sure that this regulation system worked. ”

Though California is presumed to be on track to legalize marijuana for adult recreational use in the 2016 election cycle, when major players in the game like Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project are prepared to invest in another ballot push.

“I look forward to California entering the 21st century on marijuana policy,” Ammiano said. “It may have to come from the voters.”

Ed’s Note: Corrects house in lede to Assembly, fixes committee to Assembly Appropriations, sted Senate, 2nd graf. 



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