Legislature considering plans to regulate pot shops, growers

The Appeal Democrat (Syndicated)

By Patrick McGreevy/Los Angeles Times

SACRAMENTO — California lawmakers are wading into the politically sticky issue of regulating medical marijuana, laying groundwork for state control of the sale and cultivation of cannabis with the expectation that voters will legalize recreational use next year.

The Legislature is considering multiple — and conflicting — plans to impose the first major statewide restrictions on medical marijuana dispensaries and growers; the billion-dollar-a-year industry is now regulated largely by local governments.

The debate has pitted cities and law enforcement agencies against marijuana growers and sellers.

"The Legislature has an important (task) in getting a bill passed this year, especially as we stare down 2016 and the propositions that are going to be on the ballot" advocating general legalization, said Assemblyman Rob Bont, D-Alameda, author of one of the bills. "We need to have a strong regulatory structure in place before then."

Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska have legalized recr ational pot to varying degrees. In California, as many as four competing initiatives to do so are in the works for next year's fall ballot.

Although 53.5 percent of California voters rejected a general legalization measure in 2010, a Public Policy Institute of California survey last month found that 53 percent now support legalization.

California was the first state to legalize the sale of marijuana for medical use when voters approved the idea in 1996.

Since then, 22 other states have adopted similar laws.

A study last year by the Survey Research Group, an arm of the Oakland-based Public Health Institute, estimated that 1.4 million Californians have used marijuana for medical purposes since the law took effect.

More than 1,000 marijuana dispensaries are operating in California, estimates Don Duncan, California director of the group Americans for Safe Access, which advocates for medical marijuana rights.

State efforts to regulate the industry have stumbled over the years, in part because the U.S. government has maintained that sales of cannabis violate federal law.

The legal disparity has left cities and counties with their own hodgepodge of regulations. In 2013, for example, Los Angeles voters approved city regulation of marijuana dispensaries, including their proximity to schools and public parks.

But in much of the state, a lack of regulation has resulted in a "Wild West," said Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, author of one of the bills before the Legislature. His proposal, to have the state and cities license dispensaries and pot farms, was one of two that were advanced by an Assembly committee last week.

Assemblywoman Susan Bonilla D-Concord, who chairs the committee, said it would take months to forge a single regulatory scheme from the proposals now in process.

"It's about time that we did something up here in the state Capitol," Bonilla said, describing the process as a