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The California State Legislature will adjourn for their summer recess tomorrow, following a flurry of activity surrounding medical cannabis. Legislative policy committees have approved at least eight bills that touch on almost every aspect of the issue. These bills are both good and bad for patients, providers, and others. However, they all share one common trait: they are moving easily through the process. After failing to adopt a significant medical cannabis bill since the Medical Marijuana Program Act in 2003 (SB 420), lawmakers are determined to pass bills this year. Most of bills have passed easily through committee votes so far – some with no opposition at all.
Lawmakers will have three weeks to get bills through the Appropriations Committees and to a final floor vote when they get back to Sacramento on August 17. Not every bill will make it. The Appropriations Committees are tasked with determining which policy decisions the state can afford. Many bills never make it out of these powerful committees. Bills that make it through Appropriations are likely to be adopted in a final floor vote before September 11. Governor Jerry Brown will then have until October 11 to sign or veto each bill. Things will move quickly between now and the end of the session. Patient advocates must stay alert and active to make a difference in the home stretch.
Staying in the Game
Engagement is the key to achieving the best outcomes for medical cannabis stakeholders. After years of opposing medical cannabis regulation, the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities came to the table last year to join the regulatory effort. Their motives differ from ours, but the participation of these two influential lobbying groups changed the political landscape in California. Patients, industry, and concerned citizens cannot afford to be idle in the debate about medical cannabis legislation. If we do not talk to lawmakers about what we want to see in legislation (not just what we do not want), others will.
ASA believes that good policy is created when those who are most affected are at the table. ASA has always been committed to demystifying political systems and providing advocates the tools they need to participate in the processes in a meaningful way. You may have already seen our free Medical Cannabis Advocate's Training Center or participated in one of our live Google Hangouts. The next interactive online event on July 28 is entitled “The Truth About Medical Cannabis: California Regulations.”
ASA tries very hard to keep our base informed and active in the process. We host California’s biggest citizen lobby day each year. You can get up-to-date information about California legislation on our webpage at http://www.safeaccessnow.org/2015_legislation You can also talk with other advocates using our low-volume email discussion list. Visit http://www.safeaccessnow.org/asa_ccsa_email_discussion_list to join the group.
Most importantly, you must speak up to lawmakers. Your Assembly Member and Senator need to know that medical cannabis advocates in their home district support sensible regulations. This is the key to being influential in the ongoing debate about what medical cannabis will look like in California going forward, whether or not voters legalize adult use of cannabis next year.
Three bills seek to regulate broad commercial medical cannabis activity in California – AB 243 (Wood), AB 266 (Bonta), and SB 643 (McGuirte). ASA strongly supports statewide regulation and licensing, and we are committed to making each of the proposals as beneficial as possible for medical cannabis patients and other stakeholders. Our research and experience with regulation in California and other states show that sensible regulations preserve safe and legal access for patients, while reducing crime and complaints in neighborhoods. That is a win-win scenario for everyone.
AB 243 (Wood) – This bill would create the Division of Medical Cannabis Cultivation in the Department of Food and Agriculture to license and regulate commercial medical cannabis activity. AB 243 also (1) requires medical cannabis cultivators to obtain a Conditional Use Permit from the city or county in which the grow, (2) creates a process to tagging and tracking individual plants, (3) assesses a $50 per plant tax on medical cannabis, and (4) requires cultivators to uphold best practices and legal agricultural standards. While ASA appreciates the motives behind AB 243, we oppose the bill at this time. The licensing and tracking mechanism is not practical, and the taxation method will be a burden for indoor cultivators who grow a larger number of smaller plants. ASA already persuaded the Author to exempt individual patients and caregivers from the bill. We are now asking leeway in the local permitting requirement and a taxation scheme based on yield instead of plant numbers. Overall, ASA believes it would be best to put this bill on hold until the legislature decides on more comprehensive legislation, which might make AB 243 unnecessary.
AB 266 (Bonta) - This bill will establish the Governor's Office of Marijuana Regulation to coordinate various agencies and oversee licensing for commercial medical cannabis activity. The bill will also (1) create the Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation inside the Board of Equalization to act in concert with other state agencies to write and enforce state regulations for commercial medical cannabis enforcement and to issue provisional licenses for medical cannabis organizations, which are contingent on local licensing approval; (2) authorize the Department of Food and Agriculture to regulate cultivation; (3) make enforcement against doctors who are accused of writing inappropriate medical cannabis recommendations a higher priority; (4) create an apprenticeship program for the medical cannabis industry; (5) authorize additional local taxation; and more.
Like any piece of legislation built on collaboration and compromise, AB 266 is imperfect. ASA is supporting this bill because it is our best chance of getting commercial medical cannabis licensing and regulation adopted this year. Patients and other stakeholders have already waited too long for the proven benefits of regulation. We cannot be sure if or how an anticipated voter initiative to legalize adult use of cannabis will affect patients and the existing medical cannabis industry. ASA has already scored important victories related to changes in oversight, safety, personal cultivation, personal possession, and more. We are still talking to the Authors about simplifying the licensing structure and loosening rules that require a city or county permit for operation.
SB 643 (McGuire) – This bill from the Senate would establish within the Bureau Business, Consumer Services, and Housing Agency the Office of Medical Marijuana Regulation, under the supervision and control of the Chief of the Office of Medical Marijuana Regulation. Beginning no later than July 1, 2018, the bill would require the bureau to license and regulate dispensing facilities, cultivation sites, transporters, and manufacturers of medical cannabis and medical cannabis products, subject to local ordinances. The bill would make conditional licenses subject to the restrictions of the local jurisdiction in which the facility operates or proposes to operate. The bill would authorize a facility or entity that is operating in conformance with local zoning ordinances and other state and local requirements on January 1, 2016, to continue its operations until its application for conditional licensure is approved or denied. SB 643 has other provisions, including some related to the conduct of doctors who recommend medical cannabis.
ASA strongly supports the goals of SB 643, and we are talking with the Author about how best to harmonize this proposal with AB 266 and AB 243. We believe that a single, comprehensive piece of legislation regulating commercial medical cannabis activity is the best strategy for California.
There are other medical cannabis issues for lawmakers to consider before this year’s session wraps up:
- AB 849 (Bonilla) and SB 212 (Mendoza) would create new penalties and enhance existing penalties for manufacturing concentrates of cannabis using volatile solvents (i.e. butane) under certain circumstances. ASA opposes SB 212, as we do not believe enhanced penalties will deter those engaged in risky behavior. We prefer a comprehensive, science-based approach to regulations for concentrated cannabis.
- SB 165 (Monning) will increase civil penalties for cultivation offenses. ASA opposes the bill because we do not believe that cultivators who are causing environmental harm will be deterred by this piecemeal approach. However, legal patients and caregivers acting in good faith may inadvertently be affected.
- SB 303 (Hueso) will relax the rules for retaining cannabis and cannabis plants seized as evidence. Some legal patients may have a harder time getting their medicine back if the bill passes.
- SB 443 (Mitchell) – This bill will reform California’s unreasonable asset forfeiture laws by requiring that defendants (including medical cannabis defendants) be convicted of a crime before prosecutors can seek to recover costs. ASA supports this bill as part of a nationwide effort to curtail abuses in the asset forfeiture laws. These laws were designed to target cartel and large-scale drug traffickers, but are routinely used against minor drug offenders.