California Weed Wars: the Legal Lay of the Land.

As measures to reform marijuana policy make great strides across the rest of the nation, California continues to lag behind in establishing a statewide system of regulation that protects safe access to patients while addressing governmental interests that promote and enhance public safety.

The work of many drug policy organizations in conjunction with the cannabis industry in Sacramento has helped to force both the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) and the League of California Cities to face the fact that reform is inevitable. Even Chief Kim Raney, past president of the CPCA who has opposed all regulation for years finally conceded the need to address this issue in Sacramento this legislative session.

Unfortunately, however, the Chiefs’ willingness to consider change does not extend to engaging the many stakeholders, including patients, the industry, and reform organizations, who have worked to create successful regulatory models in other states in discussions about reform, nor does it extend to accepting legalization and regulation generally.

This is reflected in the minutes of the January Public Safety Committee meeting of the League of Cities (Section IX), which posits that better MMJ regulation “may take the impetus out of a drive toward legalization…” and counts that as a benefit.  Later on, the minutes show the influence of the Chiefs in the League voting to exclude working with patient advocacy organizations on this critical piece of legislation.

Despite this pressure, the battle in Sacramento has raged on as competing bills by Senator Correa (SB 1262) and Assemblyman Ammiano (AB 1894) were introduced this session. AB 1894 sought to create a Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement within the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (ABC). It proposed a system of statewide regulations that addressed the issues of cultivation, manufacturing, testing, transportation, storage and distribution while still allowing cities and counties to ban if they so chose. Although this bill would have provided the critical infrastructure to regulate both today and under future legalization schemes, it was defeated by the continued opposition of the Chiefs and the League of Cities in a 33 to 26 Assembly vote.

This bill was largely defeated not by “No” votes, but by the 20 “no votes recorded (NVR)” that included both Republicans and Democrats alike.  Capitol insiders shared with me that the NVR votes were based on a number of issues, including continued law enforcement lobbying, legislators engaged in active political campaigns who were reluctant to vote either way, and – best yet – those who supported the bill, but wanted to see the vote closer before they officially supported it.

Not one Orange County legislator voted for AB 1894. (Allen (R), Wagner (R), Daly (D) and Quirk-Silva (D) voted against, while Hagman (R), Harkey (R), and Mansoor (R) abstained.)

My question, which I hope you readers will ask your own Assemblymember, is why didn’t they support a piece of legislation that contains the necessary robust regulatory language mandated by the 2014 Department of Justice “Cole memo” that explained how states could abide by federal regulations regarding marijuana policy?

In January, Senator Correa (yes, THAT Senator Correa) introduced SB 1262 on behalf of the League of Cities and the Chiefs. The bill as introduced was opposed unless amended by many organizations, including the California Medical Association, because it contained language designed to restrict and punish medical providers who recommend medical marijuana. [See Vern Nelson,The Poison Pill in Lou’s Pot Bill.”]

Despite the push by the League of Cities and the Chiefs  to exclude patient advocates and other stakeholders from the political process, Senator Correa’s office has, in fact, worked with a number of organizations to amend the language of the bill.  But, although the Senator and his staff are to be commended for listening to advocates and presenting a version that is more palatable to the industry and to patients, there are still gaping holes because the bill fails to protect patients and responsible business owners  by not properly regulating manufacturing and transportation.  The bill currently also fails to address important issues such as consumer protection through product testing, safety or labeling; and leaves the industry still open to criminal penalties by providing no exemptions for licensees.

So I ask readers to look back on the history of Proposition 19, the failed 2010 initiative to legalize marijuana, to show how disingenuous the League and the Chiefs are as they now support patchwork regulation similar to that they warned against in 2010.  I still believe that this bill will only fix a few of the problems caused by a largely unregulated industry, and, unless amended to include a strong regulatory process that governs all aspects of a responsible industry, it will not protect California from future federal intervention.

As it stands, SB 1262 is being held in the Rules Committee for referral prior to being assigned to the Assembly Public Safety Committee as well as the Health Committee. My hope is that as it moves forward, SB 1262 will be amended to provide the centralized statewide infrastructure that is needed to support a responsible and maturing medical marijuana industry.


About Diane Goldstein

Diane Goldstein is a 21-year veteran of law enforcement who retired as the first female lieutenant for the Redondo Beach Police Department, (CA). She is a speaker and Executive Board Member for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) and a member of the Moms United To End The War on Drugs Steering Committee. She is a guest columnist for a variety of publications as well as appearing on television , and on radio as a political commentator.