Historic Marijuana Dispensary Legislation Signed Into Law

Historic Marijuana Dispensary Legislation Signed Into Law
Timothy Norris/L.A. Weekly

Gov. Jerry Brown today signed a trio of bills that finally provides statewide rules for California's medical marijuana growers and sellers.

The governor today called the bills part of a "long-overdue comprehensive regulatory framework for the production, transportation, and sale of medical marijuana."

He said state agencies would begin working soon with stakeholders to establish "clear guidelines" so businesses, law enforcement and patients could "prepare and adopt to the new regulated system."

The core of the legislation, a bill known as AB 266, requires dispensaries to obtain both state and local permits to operate.

Pot shops in the city Los Angeles, which has more dispensaries than the entire state of Colorado (935, according to California tax authorities, versus 900 in Colorado, according to revenue officials there), would be legislated out of existence under this package, since L.A. has allowed only limited immunity for select collectives and doesn't issue pot-selling permits.

However, the laws don't take effect until 2018, and parties involved in crafting the language say an amendment that would solve the L.A. problem, allowing at least some shops to exist here, would be worked out in the following months.

The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act bills (also including SB 643 and AB 243) also provide stricter limits for traditional vertical integration of marijuana businesses, some of which have followed a seed-to-store model where weed is grown, transported and sold by the same collective.

The legislation will license growers and transporters, initiate testing for marijuana for pesticides and contaminants, establish new guidelines for doctors who want to recommend pot as medicine, and create a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation under the state's Department of Consumer Affairs.

Marijuana business operators would be subject to "in-depth investigation" by authorities, according to a fact sheet for AB 266.

Delivery of medical cannabis could continue to be outlawed in the city of L.A. under the bill. Delivery "can only be made by a dispensary and in a city, county, or city and county that does not explicitly prohibit it by local ordinance," its language says. City officials say delivery in L.A. can only be made by a primary caregiver such as a home nurse.

Some dispensaries are already griping about the rules, saying they'll lead to the demise of hundreds of California's medical marijuana dispensaries, estimated by longtime state activist Dave Hodges of the All American Cannabis Club in San Jose to number at nearly 2,500.

However, the legislation, long sought by many legit pot shops, was worked out by a broad coalition of interests, including the California Police Chiefs Association and pro-cannabis group Americans for Safe Access. The governor's office helped shape the final language.

AB 243 would regulate grows. Brown said it "sets California on a new path for responsible marijuana cultivation."

It's also believed that the legislative package will provide a framework for recreational marijuana sales should California voters approve pot for everyone 21 and older next year.

ADDED at 3:40 p.m., Friday, Oct. 9, 2015: Jim Araby, executive director of United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) Western States Council, which supported regulation, had this to say:

Today, the Wild West era of medical cannabis came to an end, and a new era of responsible regulation has begun. Voters are poised to decide on legalizing recreational cannabis in 2016, so it was vitally important that California establish a regulatory framework first. Voters are poised to decide on legalizing recreational cannabis in 2016, so it was vitally important that California establish a regulatory framework first. 

ADDED at 3:48 p.m., Friday, Oct. 9, 2015: Oakland Assemblyman Rob Bonta, lead author of AB 266, said:

Today ushers in a new era for California. Patients will have assurances that their products are safe. Law enforcement will have a foundation for identifying drugged drivers and increased funding to protect the public. The environment will be protected from neglect, destruction, and water diversion. And the medical marijuana industry itself will be able to come out of the shadows and receive the same protections under the law as other state-licensed businesses, creating jobs and contributing to the economy.

Assembly Speaker Toni G. Atkins:

It has been nearly 20 years since California legalized the use of medical marijuana in California. And the industry has been unregulated during that time. Too much is at stake to let the medical marijuana industry continue on without clear direction. That’s why from the very first day of the Legislative session, the Assembly sent a clear message: this is the year we will pass a smart and comprehensive framework to regulate the industry. The Act Governor Brown signed today is the final step in fulfilling that commitment.

Assemblyman Jim Wood, author of AB 243:

These guidelines will change the game. Finally, business owners, patients, and law enforcement have the clarity and security to move forward in a positive direction.

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, which supported the package, said:

This is a great day for California’s cannabis patients. The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act will ensure that safe and legal access to medical cannabis will be a permanent right for Californians and will help position California as a leader in this field once again. ASA has been laying the groundwork for this day for over a decade and now California will see that cannabis regulations that facilitate patient access, product safety and create fair rules for the industry is possible in California and across the nation.

Lauren Vazquez, deputy director of communications for the Marijuana Policy Project:

We applaud Gov. Brown and the legislature for adopting a much-needed regulatory framework for the cultivation and distribution of medical marijuana in California ... 

... We hope localities that have banned medical marijuana establishments will rethink their policies now that these establishments have clear and uniform rules to follow. Seriously ill patients in many of these areas are being forced to travel many miles to legally obtain medical marijuana. Communities should be working to make life easier for their most vulnerable citizens, not placing additional burdens on them.

Assemblyman Tom Lackey of Palmdale, who helped to write AB 266, said:

California has not had a statewide strategy for curbing drugged driving (DUID). Today that begins to change as the University of California will begin critical research on marijuana-impaired driving which will lead to better roadside tools for law enforcement. A recent report on Colorado showed nearly 1 out of 5 car crash deaths in 2014 were marijuana-related. With legalization initiatives looming, it’s vital we prepare for how to keep our roads safe for all Californians. I am thankful Governor Brown worked with us to address this public safety hazard head on.


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