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Sacramento, CA -- A week after the Justice Department issued a memorandum, providing guidance on the role of federal law enforcement with respect to state marijuana laws, California legislators introduced a bill today that would bring long awaited regulations to medical marijuana businesses across the state. In the non-binding memo released a week ago Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole claimed that as long as states implement "strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale, and possession of marijuana," the DOJ would defer to local and state law enforcement. In response, the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Control Act (MCRCA) was introduced today as AB 604 by Assembly Member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) and co-authored by Senators Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento) and Mark Leno (D-San Francisco).
"Not only are patients in California barraged by virtually daily closures of dispensaries due to aggressive attacks by the Justice Department, but the patchwork system of local bans and regulations in the state leaves hundreds of thousands of patients without safe access to medical marijuana," said Don Duncan, California Director of Americans for Safe Access, the country's leading medical marijuana advocacy group. "It's time for state legislators to roll up their sleeves and finish the job of implementing California's medical marijuana law." Although more than 50 localities have adopted dispensary regulations in California, more than 200 have banned the activity outright.
If adopted, the MCRCA would create a new division within the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC) to develop, implement, and enforce regulations for commercial medical marijuana activity throughout the state, including production, processing, distribution, transportation, and testing. The bill would also grandfather in the medical marijuana businesses already operating legally under city or county laws. Qualified patients and their primary caregivers would be exempt from registering if the law passes, and it would not deprive them of existing rights. The MCRCA would also not impose any new taxes at the local or state level.
While patient advocates, like ASA and its ally the United Food and Commercial Workers Union (UFCW), are squarely behind the adoption of statewide regulations, outstanding issues remain to be worked out with the legislature. Patient advocates believe that medical marijuana should be regulated by the Department of Public Health as opposed to ABC, but central to their concerns is the ability of local governments to continue to ban production, distribution and other commercial activity involving medical marijuana. Advocates argue that such regulations would continue to keep medical marijuana out of reach for hundreds of thousands of Californians.
Almost two years ago, in December 2011, California Attorney General Kamala Harris wrote to the state legislative leadership urging them to adopt statewide regulations. "Without a substantive change to existing law, these irreconcilable interpretations of the law, and the resulting uncertainty for law enforcement and seriously ill patients, will persist," wrote Attorney General Harris. Yet, despite this strongly worded endorsement from the state's top law enforcement official, the California Narcotic Officers Association and the California Police Chiefs' Association have lobbied strenuously against such regulations.
The legislature doesn't have much time to pass the MCRCA, with a looming deadline of September 13th, but patient advocates are hopeful that it can happen. ASA and the Sacramento chapter of NORML are holding a lobby day in Sacramento today to draw support for the legislation. If the legislation passes both houses in time, Governor Jerry Brown will have 12 days to sign it into law.
Medical Cannabis Regulation and Control Act: http://www.leginfo.ca.gov/pub/13-14/bill/asm/ab_0601-0650/ab_604_bill_20130906_amended_sen_v96.htm
December 2011 letter from Attorney General Kamala Harris to legislative leadership: http://americansforsafeaccess.org/downloads/CA_AG_Letter_Legislators.pdf