An effort to at last regulate California's medical marijuana industry -- something a local lawmaker has been trying to do for nearly his entire term in office -- is back again, and this time, with a heavy hitter in its corner: The federal government.
After setbacks in May and in 2012, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's "Medical Cannabis Regulation and Control Act" -- which would create a division of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to oversee first-ever uniform rules on medical pot -- is back, thanks in no small part to the August memo from the Department of Justice, which says states with "strong regulatory framework" would be left alone by the feds.
That sounds good to California, where the DOJ has shut down hundreds of dispensaries over the last two years. But there's not much time: lawmakers in Sac have until Friday to get the bill passed, and the same forces that killed it the last time -- law enforcement lobbies -- are still there.
The effort is last ditch because any bill to become law this session needs to be passed by the end of the week. After that, it will need Gov. Jerry Brown's signature within 12 days -- or it's back to the future and waiting until 2014 to accomplish what's been in the works for years.
Even getting the bill presented took some trickery: a parliamentarian maneuver called "gut and amend," in which a bill that in February was all about eyewitness testimony at trial becomes in September all about controlling and regulating California's billion-dollar gray market weed industry.
Ammiano's cosponsors on this legislation include fellow San Franciscan Sen. Mark Leno, and more importantly, Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. It was Steinberg who also tried his hand at marijuana reform this year -- an effort supported by Brown that would have codified the "attorney general guidelines" under which dispensaries operate -- but was shot down in August after intense lobbying from law enforcement.
Steinberg is also said to be re-inserting weed regulations into another unrelated bill.
Not everyone is thrilled with Ammiano's bill. In fact, a vocal contingent of the medical cannabis community loathes it. Scary for some is the stipulation for "registration" of cultivators: will pot growers really be willing to tell the government their address and pay taxes? The fact that Alcoholic Beverage Control and not the Department of Public Health is in charge of weed sends a bad message, and for some, any taxation is unacceptable.
However, so is the current state of affairs. Medical marijuana's been legal in the state for nearly 17 years, since the 1996 Compassionate Use Act was passed. Since then, plenty of patients have been able to access the weed they need, but plenty more have been shut out of the game by the 200-plus leery City Councils and Boards of Supervisors passing outright bans on dispensaries (the most-recent, Pinole in the East Bay, voted to ban just last week).
Add into the mix the clear message from the feds -- regulate and we'll go away; fail to do so and we'll keep shutting dispensaries down. It seems obvious that the time has long been ripe to get something done.
Furthermore, if outright legalization in California is to happen, the sense is that medical regulation needs to take place first -- and this is the "last chance" for that to occur in 2013, said Don Duncan, an activist who is California director for Americans for Safe Access, the medical weed lobby, in a statement.
"It's time for state legislators to roll up their sleeves and finish the job of implementing California's medical marijuana law."