California’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control is the wrong place for medicine

AB 1894, a bill by California Assembly Member Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), is designed to better regulate commercial medical cannabis activity in California. That is long overdue, and Assembly Member Ammiano is to be commended on his leadership on the issue. Unfortunately, the bill would make cannabis the only medicine with regulations written and enforced by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC), the same agency that enforces the state’s alcohol laws.

Americans for Safe Access (ASA), the nation’s leading medical cannabis patients’ advocacy organization, believes ABC is the wrong agency to entrust with decisions related to medical care and access. There are good reasons why ABC does not control the operation of pharmacies or the distribution of antibiotics. The enforcement-minded culture at ABC may lead to regulations that limit access to medical cannabis and do little or nothing to promote patient safety, quality control, clinical research, and patients’ rights. These health care issues are more typically addressed in other parts of the Department of Consumer Affairs or the Department of Public Health.  Furthermore, the deputized peace officers who enforce ABC’s regulations are in no way trained to address medical cannabis in the context of healthcare or inclined to respect patients’ needs; on the contrary, many may view it as controlling a vice.

  • ABC’s deputized peace officers enforce laws for alcohol, not medicine
  • ABC is an enforcement-minded organization that will approach medical cannabis in an inappropriate way
  • Other agencies are a better fit for medical cannabis regulation

We can look to Washington State to see the pitfalls of having alcohol regulators in charge of medical cannabis.  Voters in that state legalized medical cannabis in 1998 and approved I-502 legalizing non-medical cannabis in 2012. I-502 placed control of medical cannabis under the state’s Liquor Control Board (LCB). Unfortunately, the agency has altogether ignored the needs of patients. The LCB has moved to prevent personal cultivation, forbid providers from discussing medical benefits of cannabis, dramatically increased taxation, and more that creates barriers to patient wellbeing. These measures may or may not be useful in the regulation of non-medical cannabis, but they are counter-productive to regulating medicine. California must do better.

The WA Liquor Control Board…

  • Banned all personal patient cultivation of medical cannabis, though voters approved it
  • Drastically lowered the amount of cannabis patients may possess
  • Forced patients to register with the state and provided that information to the police

We call on Assembly Member Ammiano and all California legislators to find a more appropriate place for regulatory control. The appropriate agency, division, or department will be one committed to preserving the exiting rights of medical cannabis patients and their caregivers, promoting safety, encouraging research, and ensuring quality medicine. That is not ABC.

Download ASA's Fact Sheet: ASA Fact Sheet: Don’t Regulate Medical Marijuana Like Alcohol

Read a related blog by Kari Boiter with ASA's Health Before Happy Hour campaign in Washington State here.

Read more about medical cannabis bills in California here.