At any given time, California’s politicians are arguing about marijuana.
Some want to treat cannabis like any other business, while others wish to keep the cumbersome web of restrictions and regulations they’ve spun intact. These debates are to be expected, given how the recreational industry has yet to celebrate its first birthday, but the questions speak to how much work must yet be done before we can truly expect this market to thrive.
Should tax rates be reduced? Are environmental laws strong enough? What is the proper metric for defining when someone is driving under the influence of cannabis? Such concerns are as plentiful as the strains at your nearest dispensary. Of all the tweaks — or major overhauls — the industry may require, three notable changes are currently at the precipice of becoming California law.
The first is AB 1793, which would require the state to systematically erase or reduce prior sentences for marijuana possession. While Proposition 64 included a provision to this effect, the bill that finally legalized cannabis in California in late 2016 did not suggest a method to achieve it. AB 1793 seeks to remedy this by compelling the state Department of Justice to find and address all eligible cases by July 1, 2019.
At present, it’s sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. Should he sign it — and pundits seem optimistic he will — it would expand upon work that district attorneys in San Francisco, Alameda, and other counties have already voluntarily initiated. But every Californian deserves the opportunity to have past marijuana convictions expunged or reduced, regardless of the ZIP code where the “crime” occurred.
August has been a banner month for cannabis legislation. After AB 1793 was passed with bipartisan support on Aug. 22, another bill quickly followed. On Aug. 27, the California Assembly approved SB 1127 — also known as “Jojo’s Act.”
One of the thorniest medical-marijuana issues is how best to provide access for minors. While no one is calling for vending machines that offer blunts alongside Pepsi and granola bars on campus, state law currently prohibits all forms of cannabis within 1,000 feet of a public school. That poses a major problem for children like Brooke Adams — a 5-year-old from Santa Rosa who requires a THC tincture to treat frequent seizures.
While the administration at Rincon Valley School District — where Adams hopes to start kindergarten this fall — sympathized with her plight, they refused to enroll her out of concern that keeping medical marijuana products on hand risked a loss of federal funding. For Giovanni “JoJo” Jiminez — a South San Francisco High School student with a severe form of epilepsy — constantly having to leave campus for medication seriously disrupts his education.
In an effort to rectify the situation, SB 1127 would permit parents to administer medical cannabis to children at school — so long as the school voluntarily opts in to the policy. The bill limits the methods of permissible consumption to oral and topical medications — so no smoking or vaping — and also requires that the student in question be a qualified medical marijuana patient. Furthermore, SB 1127 stipulates that no cannabis product can be stored at the school, meaning parents would need to come to campus, administer the medication, then take it with them. Given the voluntary nature of the law, it also means that schools can withdraw from participating at any time.
Rounding out the trio is SB 829, which concerns the protection of compassionate-care programs. It would exempt such programs from the sizable state taxes that currently threaten their viability. (Like SB 1127, this bill was passed and sent to Gov. Brown as part of a last-minute frenzy to approve legislation before the legislature’s final recess.)
Given that the history of medical marijuana has its roots in the efforts of individuals like Dennis Peron — who provided cannabis to AIDS patients and was instrumental in the passage of the Compassionate Use Act of 1996 — the oversight that allows for compassionate-care programs in California to be taxed like businesses is especially devastating.
While it remains to be seen if any of these three bills will ultimately receive Gov. Brown’s signature and become law, they collectively represent the need for state policymakers to continue viewing cannabis legislation as a work still very much in progress.
Zack Ruskin covers news, culture, and music for SF Weekly.
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