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Sen. Darrell Steinberg
The California Senate approved SB 439 on Monday. The bill, which is co-authored by Senate President Pro-Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Senator Mark Leno (D-San Francisco) clarifies the scope of protections offered by the state’s medical cannabis laws and codifies guidelines published by the Attorney General in 2008. SB 439 will formally recognize the right of patients’ cooperatives and collectives to maintain storefront facilities (dispensaries) to provide medicine for members, an interpretation supported by Americans for Safe Access (ASA) since lawmakers adopted the Medical Marijuana Program Act (SB 420) in 2003. The bill also expands protections to employees of patients’ associations and recognizes that members buy their medicine from the associations.
ASA supports SB 439 because uncertainty about the scope of California’s medical cannabis laws has led to differing interpretations and inconsistency in law enforcement around the state. Some cities and counties regulate and tax storefront facilities, while others ban them outright or turn a blind eye to their operation. Lobbyists for law enforcement are promoting a narrow interpretation of the law, which leaves patients in some jurisdictions without safe, legal, and dignified access to medicine. Patients and lawmakers need more clarity about what is legal in California, and SB 439 is an important step in that direction.
At a hearing before the Senate Public Safety Committee, President Pro-Tem Steinberg told his colleagues that SB 439 was a starting point. We can expect substantial amendments as the bill moves through one of more committees in the Assembly and on to a final vote on the Assembly floor before September 13. Differences between the Senate and Assembly versions will be resolved in a concurrence committee made up of members of each house. The Governor will have thirty days to sign or veto the bill.
Advocates must be vigilant and practical in the effort to complete this bill. There are many voices in Sacramento this year trying to influence the outcome. Lobbyists for law enforcement, local government, community groups, and others will be pushing for changes we don’t like. We have to push back and ask for what we want with a unified voice. ASA will be calling on members and friends to be a part of that conversation for the rest of the legislative season. Be sure you are a part of that process by making your voice heard. Sign up for our mailing list to stay informed and find out how you can participate online and face-to-face with lawmakers.
ASA and our coalition allies at Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana (CRMM) have developed the Principles of Sensible Medical Cannabis Regulation to help lawmakers understand what we want to see in state regulations. We developed these principles after a year of conversations that started at the California Unity Conference in 2012 and are still ongoing. Constituents took these principles with them to visit dozens of legislative offices at our California Medical Cannabis Policy Summit and Lobby Day May 5-6. If you agree that principles like these make sense, please join ASA and CRMM in asking lawmakers to support them.
This is going to be a big year for medical cannabis in California. The legislature is determined to do something about the issue, so let’s work together to be sure they do the right thing!