New Weed Order: California Cops Are at Last Willing to Make a Dope Deal

As uneasy peaces go, it's not quite Israelis and Palestinians holding hands or dogs and cats living together.

But it is close. California's legal-marijuana supporters and the state's powerful police lobby — sworn enemies from the dawn of drug prohibition and intractable political opponents for the 18 years medical cannabis has been legal — are going forward together on rules for a statewide weed market.

The new unification was signaled Thursday, when Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) signed on as a co-sponsor of the marijuana-industry regulations introduced by state Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana).

This is a big deal: Ammiano, whose first move on arrival in Sacramento five years ago was a short-lived effort to legalize marijuana outright, has had subsequent efforts to regulate medical pot sabotaged time and again. His most recent attempt was killed by the same cop lobby, the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities (whose public safety committee consists of retired police chiefs), that wrote the first draft of the Correa bill, SB 1262, which Ammiano is now carrying.

Put another way: A Hatfield just agreed to be the best man at a McCoy wedding, a few months after a McCoy set fire to the Hatfield barn.

This new alliance is tenuous and uneasy, but it is something — and a long time in the making. “For 18 years, all you ever heard out of the police was 'No, no, no, no,'” a Capitol-connected staffer says. Now, the same Assembly members the cops were bullying into killing the groundwork for real cannabis business are telling the cops to shove it and get something together.

With the police chiefs' support, Gov. Jerry Brown will sign weed industry rules into law, the rules that the federal government says California needs in order for feds to leave the state's weed industry alone.

All that's left is to settle on a bill that everyone can agree on at crunch time.

As things stand, a state-regulated weed industry would look like this: The state Department of Consumer Affairs would issue licenses for a fee to pot sellers, pot growers, and pot distributors. One person, or one company, can only have one license, which would mean a grower could not also sell. The state would inspect pot for quality and sellers and growers for compliance with the law. No licenses would be doled out in cities or counties that declared themselves “dry” (about 200 cities and counties now ban weed stores). And if someone were growing weed for themselves or for a group of five or fewer people, no license would be required, thereby preserving the right to grow your own.

Compare that to the first go-round. The first bill mandated that only primary care physicians could write recommendations to use medical marijuana — essentially ensuring that no one could access medical marijuana (good luck getting your doctor at Kaiser to sign off on you smoking weed). And compare that also to last summer, when the same cop lobby now saying it's time to regulate was still arguing that medical marijuana is a sham.

It is clear there has been remarkable progress, but it is not yet over.

There are some big sticking points left. As written, the rules would prohibit anyone with federal law enforcement trouble from getting a state license. This won't fly in the East Bay, where Berkeley Patients' Group and Oakland's Harborside Health Center — the Bay Area's two biggest weed stores by reputation and major local taxpayers — are locked in court battles with the feds.

Left unwritten, too, are rules on where and how marijuana can be grown, big deals indeed in rural areas where cannabis is a big-time cash crop.

Still, the two sides are about “80 to 85 percent” on the same page, with six weeks left to get things just right so that the bill is ready for a final Legislature vote and the governor's signature in September.

“We're not going to have a bill that's perfect for everyone,” says Hayward Assemblyman Bill Quirk, who's been a steady defender of legal weed in Sacramento, “but this is a good start.”

And one that took 18 years to conceive. The cops fought so long and so hard against any kind of movement on medical marijuana as a way to stave off outright legalization. Now they've accepted medical use as a real thing. It's not so outrageous anymore to think that some day they'll come around to legal weed — and that that day could be sometime soon.

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