SACRAMENTO, APRIL 30. The State Senate Public Safety Committee approved Sen. Steinberg’s bill to regulate medical marijuana, SB 439. Steinberg said the bill was not yet in final form, but rather a “vehicle to engage stakeholders” in fashioning reasonable regulations and curbing abuses. He said he had been in contact with Assemblyman Ammiano (who has a companion bill, AB473, in the assembly) and that it could take as long as a year or two to finish the bill.

Steinberg argued that there was much of ambiguity and risk involved in current laws as well as a lot of sales that were not to people with serious illnesses. He stated that he didn’t favor legalization but wanted to use his office as President Pro Tem of the Senate to help fulfill the voters’ mandate with regard to medical marijuana.

Medical cannabis advocates, including Cal NORML, expressed unanimous support for the bill and thanked Sen. Steinberg for his initiative in working to address the mandate of Prop. 215.

Opposition was led by John Lovell for the CNOA and Police Chiefs, who denounced medical marijuana as a “sham.” Lovell argued that any medical marijuana reform had to begin by addressing the problems of fraudulent recommendations. Lovell was joined by anti-drug “Bishop” Ron Allen of the International Faith-Based Coalition. A colleague of Allen’s testified that he had gone to a medical marijuana clinic in Sacramento and obtained a recommendation from a Skype doctor in “42 seconds” without a physical exam and with no discussion of the possible medical risks or dangers of marijuana.

Chairwoman Hancock replied that this illustrated the need for Sen. Steinberg’s working group. Sen. Steinberg said that opponents were misinterpreting the intent of his bill and that he wanted to limit abuses associated with MMJ sales.

The bill passed on a party-line vote, with Republicans Anderson and Knight voting nay.

Also today, the Committee refused to pass Sen. Correa’s “zero-tolerance” drug DUI bill, SB 289, which would have criminalized driving with any amount of unprescribed controlled substances in the bloodstream, regardless of impairment. The committee was skeptical of the zero-tolerance concept, which would have criminalized countless unimpaired drivers as DUI, but left the door open for future amendments to make it more palatable.

Sen. Correa introduced the bill by saying he had received a call from former Sen. Vasconcellos, a medical cannabis user, who complained, “You’re trying to make me a criminal.” Sen. Correa disingenuously denied any such intent while failing utterly to address the truth of Sen. Vasconcellos’ remarks. Instead, he said the bill was intended to address the dangers of drugged driving. He went on to claim falsely, “You can’t drink and drive,” overlooking the fact that in fact it is entirely legal to drink alcohol and drive in California so long as one stays under the limit.

The Correa bill was co-sponsored by the CNOA, the Police Chiefs and State Sheriffs, with
strong support from other law enforcement groups from Riverside, Los Angeles, Alameda and Orange County. An Alameda Co. Sheriffs Deputy whose son had been killed in an accident testified that the culprit had been acquitted by a jury, even though he had used marijuana. He complained that some jurors seemed disinclined to convict drivers for marijuana DUIs. (However, he also testified that the evidence showed the driver had smoked six hours before the accident, which is longer than the impairment time reported in scientific studies of marijuana – a fact not mentioned at the hearings.)

Marijuana advocates turned out in force to oppose the bill, which generated over 2,000 opposing emails on NORML’s website. NORML National Legal Committee attorney Okorie Okorocha and DUI attorney Michael J. Kennedy testified to the scientific fallacy of the bill, noting that it would implicate countless innocent drivers with harmless amounts of substances in their blood.

Cal NORML Director Dale Gieringer challenged the myth that California has a drug DUI problem, noting that the state has an excellent highway safety record, and that traffic fatalities and DUI arrests have been declining to record lows. Read Cal NORML’s testimony on SB289.

At the end of the hearing, Chairwoman Hancock almost killed the bill, but instead offered to let Sen. Correa work with the committee to devise an ” improved,” non-zero-tolerance proposal for next year. It seems likely therefore that the legislature will hear further debate on this issue. While the prospects for another zero-tolerance bill seem dim, the bill could be amended to impose some other, non-zero limit for a marijuana DUI, such as the five nanograms per milliliter per se standard adopted in Washington state’s I-502 initiative.

NORML remains firmly opposed to any per se limits for marijuana DUI, zero or otherwise, on the grounds that they aren’t supported by science.

– CAL NORML Release by Dale Gieringer, Director (510) 540-1066

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