Joint Legislative Committee Hearings on Adult Use of Marijuana Act

Watch the hearing.

SACRAMENTO May 24th - The California legislature heard testimony from supporters and opponents of AUMA at a joint legislative hearing of the Assembly Business and Professions Committee, Health Committee, Revenue and Taxation Committee, and Senate Business, Professions and Economic Commttee. The hearing was held under a new law requiring that ballot initiatives be heard by the legislature before going to the ballot.

The hearings began with a non-partisan summary by Aaron Edwards of the Legislative Analyst's Office, who accurately summarized the major provisions in AUMA and estimated it would result in enforcement savings of $100 million and several hundred million to one billion dollars in tax revenues.

Asm. Sebastian Ridley-Thomas of Los Angeles said that he would have preferred that the measure go through the legislative process instead of an initiative, and was particularly concerned that marijuana stores would become a pervasive public nuisance like liquor stores in his district.

Asm. Jim Wood, a co-author of MMRSA who represents the North Coast, said he was concerned about differences between the regulatory structure of AUMA and MMRSA, and asked whether local business permits would still be required under AUMA. Edwards erroneously said no, but was corrected later in testimony by attorney Richard Miadick of Olsen, Hagel and Fishburn, who drafted the initiative.

Miadick explained that proponents had engaged hundreds of stakeholders in writing the initiative, including law enforcement, local government, medical and public health experts, industry representatives, the NAACP, and DPA. He was joined on a panel by other proponents who explained the rationale for the initiative.

Alice Huffman of the NAACP said AUMA would help put an end to "Jim Crow justice" against African Americans, and praised the proponents for addressing every single one of the concerns she had had with their original draft.

Glenn Backes of DPA said it was a myth that no one goes to jail for marijuana, noting that over 13,000 felony arrests were recorded annually in California. Most of these would be eliminated or reduced to misdemeanors under AUMA. Sen. Patricia Bates (Laguna Niguel) asked whether these arrests included DUIs, and might these not increase after legalization? DUIs aren't counted in the 13,000 felonies, and the state had no statistics on marijuana DUI arrests.

Nate Bradley of the California Cannabis Industries Associaton testified that the initiative would protect workers and small businesses.

Diane Goldstein of LEAP testified that from her experience as a narcotics enforcement officer, marijuana prohibition did not work.

Janus Norman of the California Medical Association praised AUMA for being comprehensive, well crafted, and allowing for future research. He called it the "beginning of the end of marijuana prohibition in California," but added that it was "just a first step," federal law still being an obstacle.

Asm Wood wondered whether it made sense to wait until more DUI research was done before proceeding to legalization. Sen. Jerry Hill (San Mateo) wondered why the initiative allocated money for future research on legalization, rather than wait for the research to be completed before legalizing. Hill also worried that the the legal marijuana industry might come to exert the same kind of undue lobbying pressure in Sacramento as the alcohol and tobacco industries. Ridley-Thomas worried about the difficulty of changing state regulations if something goes wrong at the local level. Supporters pointed out that AUMA gives local governments complete authority to ban cannabis businesses - something they do not enjoy in the case of alcohol.

A panel of initiative opponents were then invited to present their objections.

Shaun Rundle of the Californai Police Officers Association warned about increased costs of marijuana enforcement, claiming there had been four marijuana-related homicides in Sacramento County last year, and that code enforcement was costing millions. He falsely claimed that Colorado had seen increased crime and violence under legalization, a point on which he was corrected by Asm. Bill Quirk (Hayward).

Lauren Michaels of the California Police Chiefs Association complained that AUMA had provisions which conflicted with MMRSA, which her organization had supported. In particular, she complained that AUMA prohibits bans on indoor cultivation; that it does not require written documentation of local licensing, eliminates MMRSA's 4-acre cap on cultivation permits, and eliminates MMRSA's firewall between licensees for distributors and transporters and other licenses.

Veteran CNOA lobbyist John Lovell, who is leading the anti-AUMA campaign, took aim at a provision barring regulators from forbidding licenses on the sole grounds of a prior controlled substances conviction, arguing that it paved the way for mandatory licensing of heroin, cocaine and methamphetamine kingipns. By way of rebuttal, Miadick argued that the agency had broad authority to deny licenses on whatever grounds it chose other the mere fact of a past conviction - for example, any other related evidence of illegal drug trafficking. Asm Tom Lackey (Lancaster) wondered why AUMA hadn't excused only marijuana convictions, instead of all controlled substance offenses.

Lovell further complained that AUMA narrowed the conditions under which felony penalties apply to employing minors in trafficking, as they would apply only if the minors were dealing to other minors, not to adults as under present law.

Lovell noted that the California Highway Patrol was opposing AUMA out of concern over drugged driving, arguing that the number of marijuana-related driving fatalities has increased in Colorado and Washington [without noting that "marijuana-related" can mean passengers in the car and drivers not at fault with as little as 1 ng/ml are included in that measure, and that drivers might have used marijuana a week before any accidents. Also that the overall number of traffic fatalities in CO and WA did not increase after legalization. -EK]

Finally, Lovell complained that the initiative had a clause directing the agency to avoid "impracticable" regulations, arguing that this would open the door to lawsuits against the agency. Miadick replied that the purpose was to avoid regulations that would make compliance impracticable and thereby promote the black market.

Connie Delgado of the California Hospital Association opposed the initiative on the grounds that it might increase marijuana-related emergency room visits, as was reported in Colorado. She also worried about an increase in marijuana-exposed infants.

Self-appointed "Bishop" Ron Allen of the International Faith Based Colaition chimed in with his usual anti-pot rant. "How can our youth say no when the dopes are telling them to say Yes?" Asm. Bill Quirk countered that he favored the intiative precisely because it would get marijuana out of the hands of kids.

Finally, Carla Lowe of Citizens Against Legaling Marijuana warned that AUMA would create a thriving illegal home grow market, since (she claimed) six marijuana plants can yield $25,000 in pot.

The hearings concluded with public comments. I asked for clarification regarding some ambiguities and contradictions in the initiative, in particular whether it prevents local governments from banning delivery to medical marijuana patients (it doesn't), whether the limit on possession of concentrated cannabis is 4 grams or 8 grams (the initiative is contradictory on this), and whether drivers could still be arrested under Vehicle Code 23222 for possession of legal marijuana in their car (probably not, but possibly). CGA President Hezekiah Allen said that after extensive deliberation among growers, "No consensus exists" on AUMA and decried the "loss of good faith" in the legislative process that had successfully produced MMRSA.

Asm. Rudy Salas (Bakersfield) chaired the hearings discreetly and without comments of his own. Asm. Quirk stated his "strong support" for the initiative. Asm. Kenneth Gipson (LA) said, "I think this is going to be the law of the land" and urged his colleagues to plan how to implement it. Ridley-Thomas said it was time for Los Angeles to take action to improve local control of the industry. Asm. Tom Lackey ( Lancaster) jokingly thanked the "joint" committee, but offered no opinions. Surprisingly, no legislator stated outright opposition to the initiative.

Other legislators who attended the hearings without comment included Asm. Susan Eggman (Stockton), Reggie Jones-Sawyer (LA), Rocky Chavez (Oceanside), Brian Dahle (N.E. state), Autumn Burke (Inglewood), Freddie Rodriguez (Pomona), Richard Bloom (Santa Monica) and Sen. Bob Wieckowski (Fremont). Asm Nora Campos stuck her head in the room just long enough to be counted as present.

- Dale Gieringer, Director Cal NORML