Regulations in California will have to wait, again What about next year?
August 24, 2014 | Don Duncan
The California Assembly Appropriations Committee held SB 1262 (Correa/Ammiano) in committee on August 15, meaning the bill will not proceed to the floor for a vote or be adopted this year. The controversial bill would have regulated doctors who recommend medical cannabis and commercial medical cannabis activity. Because both co-authors are serving their final term in the state legislature this year, it will be back to the drawing board for statewide medical cannabis regulations in 2015. This is the third time that the legislature has failed to adopt regulations for the state's seventeen year-old medical cannabis industry.
SB 1262 was one of more than forty bills held in the Appropriation Committee on August 15. The committee staff report estimated annual costs for the bill at $20 million dollars, but suggested that revenue generated from licensing fees was uncertain. The price tag was clearly on committee members’ minds on the last day to approve bills and send them to the floor.
The Los Angeles Times reports:
“We have done our best to cut that down quite a bit,” [Committee Chairman] Gatto said of the cost. “Not every idea can be funded by the taxpayer.”
The proposal to require medical marijuana dispensaries and growers to get state licenses and abide by new regulations was shelved for the year amid opposition from the industry and questions about how to pay for a new state agency to oversee it.
The measure by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) would have created a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the state Department of Consumer Affairs to issue licenses for fees of up to $8,000 each, which the industry said was too costly.
Legislative analysts said it was unclear whether fees would be enough to cover the $20-million cost of setting up the new bureau.
The new price tag for SB 1262 was surprising. The committee staff report estimates the annual costs for SB 1262 to be $20 million, but a majority of the provisions in the bill were adapted from another medical cannabis regulation bill, AB 1894 (Ammiano). The staff report for AB 1894, which was defeated in the Assembly in May, estimated costs at just $15 million.
While the bill was imperfect, the delay is unfortunate. Research conducted by Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s leading medical cannabis patients’ advocacy association, and our experience with local regulations since 2002 show that sensible regulations preserve safe and dignified access to medicine for patients, while reducing crime and complaints in neighborhoods. Patients and other stakeholders will have to wait at least one more year for the proven benefits of regulation.
There is another reason the delay is unfortunate: statewide licensing may be the only immediate path forward to establishing legal access in some of the states vast “access deserts” – areas with no practical access to storefront cooperatives and collectives. Some city councils and county boards of supervisors banned medical cannabis facilities over the last decade because the status of these associations under sate law was ambiguous. Some will welcome regulations as a green light for local permitting, whether local lawmakers see cooperatives and collectives as compassionate enterprises or an easy way to fill local coffers.
The California Supreme Court held in City of Riverside v. Inland Empire Patients Health and Wellness Center last year that cities and counties can ban storefront medical cannabis cooperatives and collectives – even if they are not illegal under state law. More than two hundred jurisdictions have done so already. We do not have the votes to overturn the Riverside decision in the state legislature right now. Not one lawmaker, no matter how pro-medical cannabis he or she might be, is willing to take up that cause. We can not expect to overturn the authority of cities and counties to enact bans using state legislation right now, but that does not mean we cannot make some progress on expanding access to those legal patients and caregivers for whom the promise of Proposition 215 is still largely hypothetical. SB 1262 might have done that.
The entire process of SB 1262 was controversial, and that must have played a role it its ultimate demise. The bill was introduced by a moderate Democrat from Orange County and sponsored by two traditional opponents of medical cannabis regulations – The League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association. The fact that both of the influential sponsors abandoned their across-the-board opposition to medical cannabis and worked with medical cannabis allies and industry lobbyists is a historic milestone in California. Advocates seeking a viable legislative vehicle moving forward should not overlook that fact.
ASA joined as a supporter when the author and sponsors agreed to remove onerous language aimed at intimidating doctors who write medical cannabis recommendations. We stayed on as supporters after the majority of Assembly Member Tom Ammiano’s (D-San Francisco) defeated AB 1894 were added to the bill in the Assembly Public Safety Committee (which was Chaired by Assembly Member Amminao). That strategy worked. We scored more than a dozen amendments to protect patients and industry. I am proud to say ASA left SB 1262 as a much better bill than we found it.
Read more about the benefits of regulation, how SB 1262 would have affected patients, ASA’s strategy for and success in improving the bill, and import last-minute amendments we helped to secure in previous blogs.
The debate about what to do regarding statewide regulations for medical cannabis in 2015 is already underway. Lobbyists and advocates are floating proposals for any number of bills that might fill the place left by AB 1894 and SB 1262. If this year is any indication, not all of those proposals will come from the medical cannabis community. Don’t be surprised to see law enforcement, local government, and other new voices at the table. We cannot sit this one out, hoping that a proposed legalization initiative will solve our problems in 2016. If we do not get in front of the process, someone else will.
Medical cannabis advocates did a lot of things well this year, but as the debate around medical cannabis regulations in 2015 heats up, we would do well to reflect on some things we can do better. Otherwise we may find ourselves stymied by some of the same old roadblocks.
The medical cannabis community must be realistic about what is possible in the state legislature. We cannot expect to overturn the Riverside decision in 2015. Even our champions in the state legislature are not willing to risk alienating local lawmakers in their Districts or the powerful League of California Cities by supporting a bill to preempt local authority to ban and regulate medical cannabis cooperatives and collectives. We will have to find a way to incentivize local regulation in state legislation or to work around that unfortunate ruling. There may be other issues where we have to concede that we have lost a battle, but can still win the war. Pragmatism will get us further than intransigence in Sacramento.
The medical cannabis community must be ready to compromise when necessary and strategic. Not every battle is worth fighting when arguing about legislation. Details in SB 1262 regarding labeling, how medical cannabis is transported, etc., were blown out of proportion by both sides this year. There is certainly no practical need to have a legal disclaimer printed on medical cannabis recommendations or to have two people escort medical cannabis from one place to another. On the other hand, pushing back on non-critical provisions of a bill wastes time, political capital, and goodwill. Let’s be smarter next year in picking battles.
The medical cannabis community should present a unified front. Our opponents do a better job of standing in solidarity with one another than we do. That is not to say they never disagree. They just do it privately. Posting messages that air the movement’s dirty laundry on public list serves or social media sites helps our opposition and fragments our movement. We should have as robust a debate as necessary about legislation in 2015. That is healthy. But let’s don’t broadcast disagreements for everyone (including lawmakers and staff) to read online. All of our voices will be more credible if we can agree to that.
The medical cannabis community must learn to assume best intentions. People have differing opinions, priorities, and strategies. That is normal, and in a healthy debate, even beneficial. It is OK if allies don’t walk in lockstep with each other all the time. We must resist the urge to assume that anyone whose opinion, priority, or strategy differs from our own has some nefarious intention. Until they prove you wrong, assume the best intentions of any one on your team. That will facilitate a more civil and credible debate among those who share our goals.
It will not be long before lawmakers come back to Sacramento for the 2015 session. Now is the time for a vigorous debate about regulations and what we can achieve next year. Let’s get that debate underway in local chapter and affiliate meetings, and bring it to a serious of conference calls, regional meetings, and Google Hangouts ASA will convene this fall.