A provision of a new law that would attempt to finally regulate California's medical marijuana industry could put popular marijuana concentrates, including wax, honey oil and other so-called "dabs," out of business.
It's no secret that law enforcement doesn't like concentrates: The volatile, butane-based extraction of powerful THC products has lead to residential explosions and injuries reminiscent of meth labs.
The bill, state Sen. Lou Correa's SB 1262, is sponsored by the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities. Keep in mind that ...
... in California "sponsored by" often means, almost literally, "written by."
Language in the proposed law says, "Under no circumstances shall a physician and surgeon recommend butane hash oil." The Police Chiefs Association offered this interpretation in a letter to Correa: " ... Physicians may not recommend high concentrate derivatives such as Butane Hash Oil (a chemical derivative of marijuana that can contain 80% THC) to anyone."
John Lovell, government relations manager for the police group, told us the language was intended to put concentrates out of business:
There's no medicinal value to a high-THC concentrates like butane hash oil, and we don't believe it's part of the array of legitimate medical marijuana. It didn't even exist as a product in 1996, and it's not appropriate to be included in what voters thought they were voting on with Proposition 215 in 1996.
Concentrates, as we noted recently, can now account for as much as 40 percent of a California dispensary's sales. The products, particularly waxes and oils, can be used with the ultra-popular pen vaporizers that look like typical e-cigarettes.
League of California Cities lobbyist Tim Cromartie told us, "The intent was to restrict access to concentrates because they tend to have a much higher THC quantity. That was a provision added at the express request of the police chiefs."
Kris Hermes, a spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, noted that there are other methods of obtaining THC concentrates besides butane, and that those might remain legal under this law. He mentioned C02 extraction as an example.
"Certainly there are other methods," Hermes told us:
Whether or not the right procedure is trying to restrict physicians from recommending or prohibiting butane extract is the question. We are certainly concerned for patient safety and we don't want them using methods that are potentially harmful. But we want to make sure concentrated cannabis is still available to patients.
But if there's a loophole in the bill's language, Lovell says the police chiefs association would ask that it be closed. "As the bill moves forward our intent is to bring in language that captures those [other concentrates] as well," he told us.
The group California NORML is opposed to the legislation ("unless amended") as a letter from director Dale Gieringer to Sen. Ted Lieu, chair of the Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development, demonstrates:
... There currently exist no accepted medical guidelines for determining the best dosage, delivery method, or cannabinoid content of marijuana. In the absence of further studies, it is therefore unwarranted to require physicians to address these issues in their recommendations.
NORML is against restricting recommendations to primary care physicians and limiting children to "nonsmoking delivery" of medical cannabis.
"This bill is something that the cops have wanted to do for a long time," Gieringer told us. "They want to crack down on medical marijuana. This is their vehicle for doing it."
Americans for Safe Access is not opposed to the legislation, but it also has reservations about restricting what kind of doctors can issue recommendations and limiting what kind of marijuana they can recommend.
The ASA is also opposed to how the bill would set in stone the idea that cities can ban dispensaries if they want to do so, a concept that has been upheld by California courts. The group's Hermes says:
It comes with strings attached and, if it's not obvious, the very strict restrictions have the police association's fingerprints all over it. We're encouraging them to come up with incentives for local governments to opt in [to becoming legal pot-shop towns].
Indeed, before this bill, police organizations in California were notoriously against dispensary regulation (and, thus, tacit recognition of their legality).
Still, both NORML and ASA seem to recognize that this bill could help them build bridges with one of the state powers most resistant to medical marijuana - cops.
Both groups say they're for regulating dispensaries, especially considering that past attempts have been unsuccessful. California's pioneering medical marijuana industry is said to have been an example of how not to do things when Colorado enacted its own recreational cannabis law.
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And, because there's no state licensing for weed sellers (which would change under this law), it seems that California shops would not be eligible to use banks even though the federal government recently issued guidelines that will allow quasi-legit dispensary banking elsewhere.
This law could change that.
"We are generally supportive of the intent to regulate the industry," says Gieringer of NORML. "But this really constitutes an unjustifiable limitation on patients' access to medicine."