SACRAMENTO, CA — The president of the California Senate and Chair of Assembly Public Safety introduced bills yesterday to crack down on illegal cultivation and distribution under guise of medical marijuana, and to create one of the most comprehensive regulatory structures in the country to allow bona fide patients to access medical marijuana, from state registered growers, transporters and dispensaries, and to reduce diversion to non-medical users.
SB 69 by Senate President Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and AB 604 by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), Chair of Assembly Public Safety Committee would be a timely response to the recent announcement by the Federal Department of Justice that the federal government would be disinclined to target marijuana cultivators and providers that are operating pursuant to state laws, as long as comprehensive regulation prevents problems, including diversion of marijuana to the illegal market.
“This is a much needed move toward comprehensive regulation,” said Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance. “California medical marijuana providers have been targeted by the Federal government. We have not seen the same thing happen in states with comprehensive, state-wide regulation and control of medical marijuana. This new policy will help prevent Federal interference, address environmental and law enforcement concerns, as well as protect access to safe medicine for patients.”
Previously, dispensaries in California have been targeted by US Attorneys, even when licensed by their localities. The DOJ has issued a memo telling US Attorneys to back off in states that are comprehensively and responsibility regulating. This new law addresses all the federal concerns set forth in the memo, and establishes a comprehensive program of regulation; therefore the US Attorneys should cease their attacks on medical marijuana organizations in California.
The twin bills create a new division within the Department of Alcohol & Beverage Control Board that will register all growers, and legal providers of medical marijuana. They will also be charged with establishing processes for environmental protection, cultivation, testing, labeling and distribution of medical marijuana.
The bills order the California Medical Board to prioritize prosecution of doctors who repeatedly recommend medical marijuana without prior examination or clear medical rationale, and say that a doctor cannot provide recommendations for medical marijuana, if he or she works with or profits in any way from the selling of medical marijuana.
These new regulations are coming on the heels of the announcement made last week by the Department of Justice that it would not interfere with the marijuana reform efforts in the states as long as states followed a set of guidelines, including preventing diversion and protecting public safety. The new system in California is designed with these guidelines in mind and will address, head on, the concerns outlined by the Department of Justice. Those wishing to cultivate, process, or sell marijuana as a commercial entity must register with the state, and carefully track all of their marijuana from seed to point of sale to a patient.
“This new law will benefit everyone: State law will be clarified for law enforcement, providers will be protected through registration with the state, patients will have access to safe medicine, localities will no longer be burdened with regulating, and the federal government’s concerns will be satisfied so that California can proceed without interference,” said Todd.
Drug Policy Alliance has worked on regulation of medical marijuana in several other states, and consulted on the drafting of the bills introduced today.
The bill respects the rights of local governments to set their own standards, even to ban dispensaries. It also allows local governments to set heightened regulatory standards and to collect fees from dispensaries.
“Twenty states, plus Washington DC now allow for the use of medical marijuana. Most of them have established state level programs for this purpose,” said Todd. “While California was the first to pass a medical marijuana law in 1996, the program and policy development has languished since that time. This is an opportunity to finally implement a program that not only protects patients, but also assists communities in the regulation of medical marijuana.”