State Legislature Ends Busy Session

Excerpted from Cal NORML's October 2016 newsletter. Join Cal NORML today and receive all the news and analysis by mail or email.

UPDATED 8:46 AM 9/29/16

SACRAMENTO, Sept. 29 - This year’s legislative session saw a record number of marijuana bills, both good and bad, in Sacramento. Happily the worst ones were all defeated, and a few good ones survived to reach the Governor’s desk.

The Governor signed into law:

• AB 2516 by Asm. Jim Wood to authorize a new “specialty “cottage” license for home growers with no more than 2,500 square feet of outdoors space.

• A bill by Asm. Cooley and Bonta (AB 2679) to protect concentrates manufacturers from prosecution provided they follow state rules and avoid flammable or toxic solvents such as butane.

• SB 443 by Sen. Holly Mitchell reforms state forfeiture laws to prohibit law enforcement from transferring seized property to federal authorities or share in the proceeds of forfeited assets unless a conviction is obtained. It would also raise the burden of proof for forfeiture of cash in excess of $25,000 to beyond a reasonable doubt.

• AB 821 by Asm Mike Gipson (Carson) to eliminate penalties for cash tax payments by state licensed dispensaries, who are presently unable to pay by other means.

The Governor vetoed:

• A bill by Asm. Jones-Sawyer (AB 2385), which would have made the medical marijuana dispensaries grandfathered under Los Angeles Measure D eligible for state licensing without requiring the city’s voters to first amend or repeal Measure D.

• Another Gipson bill, AB 567, which would have provided a tax penalty amnesty to applicants who pay their back taxes.

Among the bills defeated in the legislature this year were:

• A “per se” DUI bill (AB 2740) by Asm. Evan Low (D-Campbell) and Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale) that would have set an arbitrary 5-nanogram limit on the amount of THC legally allowed in drivers’ blood. For the fourth year in a row, California NORML successfully staved off a bill to impose arbitrary per se DUI limits by citing scientific studies showing that impairment can’t be measured by levels of THC in blood or other bodily fluids.

• Two different bills, AB 2243 and SB 987 by MMRSA sponsors Asm. Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) and Sen. McGuire (D-Healdsburg), would have instituted hefty state taxes on medical marijuana in the event the voters reject legalization. Cal NORML opposed the bills for being unduly burdensome to needy patients, encouraging cheaper, unregulated black-market suppliers, and being untimely in light of the pending vote on Prop 64. Asm. Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) parted company from tax-hungry Democrats to help kill the bill.

• AB 2300, also by Asm. Wood, would have made it a finable offense for tenants to smoke medical marijuana where forbidden to do so by their landlords; however, landlords already have the right to evict such tenants who violate anti-smoking rules. It was held back thanks to misgivings by Sen. Hannah Beth Jackson (Santa Barbara) and retiring Sen. Mark Leno (S.F.), who were concerned about the impact on patients.

• AB 1575 by Asm. Bonta, a comprehensive package of technical revisions to the MMRSA bill enacted last year, was rejected by the Governor’s office as untimely despite broad support from industry stakeholders.

The legislature broke a longstanding impasse last year by finally approving a bill to legally recognize and license the medical marijuana industry. The final act – a bundle of three bills (AB 266, AB 243 and SB 643) known as MMRSA (Medical Marijuana Regulation Safety Act) – was spearheaded by Asm. Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), along with Asm. Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-L.A.), Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), and Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg). MMRSA was by necessity a political compromise, involving agreement from law enforcement, local governments, and medical, industry and environmental groups, as well as patients advocates. While the final package was inevitably imperfect, California NORML was able to help improve the bill and joined a broad coalition of cannabis advocates in support of its passage.

In recent legislative action this year, the name of the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation was changed to Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation in a package of budget amendments approved by the Governor earlier this year.

Also see: Drug Policy Form of California California State Scorecard for 2015/16.