Despite its pioneering role in the legalization of marijuana, California has become a laggard in the world of cannabis regulation.
Medical marijuana was legalized in 1996, and 2004's Senate Bill 420 outlined how much weed patients can legally possess.
But after nearly two decades, California never figured out a way to license the dispensaries that actually sell medical marijuana. The result has sometimes been bureaucratic chaos. Some cities have shut out pot shops entirely, while others, like Los Angeles, have endured a whack-a-mole game involving quasi-legal stores and storefronts that come and go.
It's gotten so bad that many medical marijuana supporters have been asking for lawmakers to step in and regulate dispensaries, even if the influential, anti-pot police lobby in Sacramento has a say.
That, it appears, has happened. Overnight a small group of lawmakers announced that they have agreed on legislative language that would create a state Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.
According to a statement from the office of Bay Area Assemblyman Rob Bonta:
This is the first time in the history of California that a medical marijuana regulatory framework has been agreed to by the California State Assembly, the California State Senate and the Governor’s Office.
The deal includes general agreement on Assembly Bills 266 and 243. AB 243 is focused on North Coast marijuana cultivation. AB 266 will create "a comprehensive regulatory framework for the medical marijuana industry," Bonda's office says.
The bill would require dispensaries in California to obtain both state and local licenses. It still needs to go to a policy committee, but lawmakers described the legislation as practically a done deal as the legislative session was expected to end today.
The state bureau created as a result of the bill would oversee "multiagency licensing and regulatory effort, relying on expertise from the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health," according to Bonda's statement.
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When we spoke to NORML state coordinator Dale Gieringer earlier this week, he seemed upbeat about negotiations between legislators and the office of Gov. Jerry Brown.
He told us that the legislation was being shaped so that regulation might also apply to recreational marijuana sales should the so-called ReformCA initiative achieve voter approval next year.
ReformCA organizers, who want to tax and regulate pot alcohol-style, are waiting for this legislation to pass so that their circulation language, which will be used to ask voters for their signatures, is consistent with the new regulations.
"In 1996, California became the first state in the nation to allow the use of medical marijuana after voters approved Proposition 215," said AB 266 co-author Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer, an L.A.-area assemblyman. "This unprecedented collaborative effort will finally, after 19 years, regulate the medical marijuana industry. AB 266 creates a regulatory system that respects the interests of local government while still providing a consistent statewide structure."