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Are You Ready to Vote on Weed Shop Policing?

Are You Ready to Vote on Weed Shop Policing?
Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

A proposed law that would have established policing of marijuana dispensaries statewide was essentially killed in the California legislature last week.

Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML, says it's now time to take the matter directly to voters. He envisions the possibility, in 2016, of an initiative that would ask you to approve both the legalization of recreational marijuana and the creation of a regulatory framework for all pot retailers.

That could mean having the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control act as police for medical and recreational shops:

A bill by state Sen. Lou Correa of Santa Ana was shelved in the Senate Appropriations Committee Thursday, essentially freezing its chances of passing this year.

In a statement, Correa blamed forces that wanted to ...

 ... preserve the Wild, Wild West—meaning those that want it to be totally unregulated, want it to operate without any regulation or oversight–won the day. Over 20 years, we’ve sat on our hands and we’ve done nothing to regulate this exploding medicine in the state of California.

Gieringer says NORML never formally supported the bill because of its law enforcement roots—it was written by the California Police Chiefs Association—and because of deal breakers that remained in the language.

The initial version of the legislation limited what kind of doctors could recommend medical weed, and it outlawed concentrates such as wax altogether. Those provisions were later removed.

Still, it's law enforcement roots were obvious, Gieringer says. The cop lobby never really recognized the legitimacy of medical marijuana in California until this bill.

It still contained deal breakers, Gieringer said. They included:

-Having the Department of Consumer Affairs, instead of Alcoholic Beverage Control, police dispensaries. He said Consumer Affairs wanted nothing to do with the bill, which would have jeopardized its status with Gov. Jerry Brown, who has to sign off on legislation.

-Requiring that dispensaries applying for state licensing be recognized as legit in their home cities. NORML thinks that some jurisdictions are being unjust about shutting out dispensaries altogether. In fact, one of the reasons pro-marijuana groups want regulation is to legitimize pot shops statewide. Under regulation they would be licensed or permitted by the state. This bill raised a chicken-or-egg situation, with one side wanting local legitimacy, and the other wanting statewide approval.

-Charging shops about $8,000 for licenses: NORML, which wanted those fees to be about $1,000, Gieringer says. But the larger number was desired because it could cost as much as $20 million to set up a regulatory system. The fees would help cover that cost.

What's next?

Are You Ready to Vote on Weed Shop Policing?
File photo by Timothy Norris for L.A. Weekly

NORML has been trying to get dispensary regulation on the books since 2012. Pro-marijuana groups say it's time to let dispensaries have state recognition, licensing and oversight rather than having them live and die by the whims of local governments.

Tom Ammiano, a friend of the pro-marijuana movement who lent his support to the Correa bill and who unsuccessfully tried to get his own dispensary regulation passed, is terming out of office. That leaves the pro-pot lobby with fewer options to get their own legislation enacted.

Gieringer, however, says he expects someone to step forward next year with another regulation bill.

At the same time, given that the deadline to get an initiative squared away is only about 12 months away, he expects that medical marijuana regulation would be a part of a widely anticipated effort to put recreational-pot legalization on the state ballot in 2016, a presidential election year.

NORML is joining the Drug Policy Alliance and other groups as part of a unified effort to get legalization done that year.

"We wanted to have a really nice medical marijuana regulation system in place that we could extend to adult [recreational] use," Gieringer told us. "Without that, the two have to be done at the same time."

Send feedback and tips to the author. Follow Dennis Romero on Twitter at @dennisjromero. Follow LA Weekly News on Twitter at @laweeklynews.