Research and experience show that sensible regulations are good for patients, providers, and communities

CA Capitol BuildingThe California State Legislature will return from summer recess on Monday, and three medical cannabis bills will be on the table that day. The Senate Appropriations committee will hear testimony on bills to license and regulate commercial medical cannabis activity and to toughen laws related to manufacturing concentrated cannabis. You can read more about AB 243 (Wood), AB 266 (Bonta), and AB 849 (Bonilla) on ASA’s email discussion list or our website.

While California has been slow to license and regulate commercial medical cannabis activity, other states have already moved successfully in that direction. Patients in Colorado, Arizona and Maine already get their medicine from fully functional and well-regulated medical cannabis programs.  ASA is committed to bringing the proven benefits of regulation to patients and other stakeholders in California. 

The political landscape in California is changing, and there has never been a more promising time to pursue regulations. Powerful interests like law enforcement, local governments, and organized labor are all talking to lawmakers about licensing and regulating medical cannabis right now. Lawmakers are feeling new urgency about adopting legislation as we get closer to an anticipated vote on legalizing cannabis for adult use in November of 2016.  Patients need to have a voice in this conversation, because what the legislature does (and does not do) this year will affect patients for years to come.

What are the benefits of commercial medical cannabis regulations for patients?  

  • Research conducted by ASA and years of experience with local and state laws show that regulations reduce crime and complaints around medical cannabis facilities. Furthermore, a report recently issued by the University of Colorado Denver School of Public Affairs about the impact of licensed medical cannabis dispensaries in Colorado similarly found that medical cannabis dispensing operations do not harm local communities.
  • Local regulations preserve patients’ access. Cities and counties with long-established regulations tend to have access points for patients that are more stable and consistent. Patients in well-regulated cities like San Francisco, Berkeley, Oakland, West Hollywood, Sebastopol, and others have been able to rely on storefront access for years. Patients should be able to count on the fact that their dispensary (and the cultivators who supply it) will be there tomorrow, and regulations make that more likely.
  • Regulations protect the health and safety of patients. Rules about security, hours of operation, background checks, and other standards are already protecting patients from harm. Evolving standards for cultivation, processing, distribution, and testing – like those published by the American Herbal Products Association – promise even greater consumer safety and confidence in the future.
  • Regulations diffuse opposition that can lead to police pressure or bad local ordinances. Sensible rules reassure neighbors that medical cannabis facilities are safe and accountable. We have consistently seen community opposition to medical cannabis cooperatives and collectives diminish after regulations have been adopted in places like Sacramento, Berkeley, West Hollywood, Los Angeles, and others.
  • Regulations provide clarity for what is legal for law enforcement. It is normal to see a higher degree of law enforcement activity in a jurisdiction before regulations are adopted than afterwards. This is because regulations make it clear what is legal, and that helps mitigate law enforcement encounters for patients and provides.
  • Statewide regulations are likely to encourage cities and counties to regulate medical cannabis cultivation and distribution, instead of ban it. Local lawmakers all over California have said that they do not know how far the protections of state law extend. Clarity may provide a safe space for local government to regulate, if they are inclined to do so for compassionate, political, or revenue-related reasons.
  • The US Department of Justice (DOJ) may be less likely to target medical cultivators and providers in states with effective regulations. In a memo published on August 29, 2013, Deputy AG James Cole indicated that stets with regulations that meet certain criteria would no longer be priorities for federal enforcement. While DOJ policies can change with the political winds, this is a big step towards reliable access for patients in some states.

Of course there will be trade-offs. Not everyone in the field of medical cannabis will be willing or able to comply with regulations; and there is a chance that regulations will increase costs in the short term. However, the emerging medical cannabis industry in California has learned to be flexible and resilient during the ups and downs of the last eighteen years. I am confident that California is ready for regulations and the benefits they bring to patients. I hope patients and advocates will stand together to support sensible regulations, be pragmatic about the process, and cooperate with other stakeholders in finding solutions that work for everyone.

Look for more on AB 266 (Bonta), a comprehensive bill to license and regulate medical cannabis activity, on this blog soon.