Medical Marijuana Bills By the Score in Sacramento

UPDATE: The Assembly Appropriations Committee approved a compromise medical marijuana bill combining the features of both AB 266 (Cooley) and AB 34 (Bonta and Jones-Sawyer). The bill would create a new Governor’s Office of MMJ Regulation to oversee and coordinate three new MMJ regulatory divisions in: (1) the Dept of Food and Agriculture for cultivation, (2) Public Health for product safety and labeling, and (3) the Board of Equalization for licensing (ABC has been dropped from the bill). The bill retains provisional licensing measures from AB 34 along with local licensing language from AB 266. Full details will not be available for public release until next Tuesday (Jun 2), with a floor vote expected Wed. or Thurs.
The compromise bill is numbered AB 266, but with Bonta instead of Cooley listed as lead author. On June 4, AB 266 passed the Assembly and is on its way to Senate committees.


May 2015 – In a flurry of action before the looming 2016 election, lawmakers are considering some twenty bills dealing with marijuana this session.

The most pressing and complex issue is regulating California’s existing medical marijuana industry, laws governing which are notoriously vague and confusing. Prop. 215 advocates, including Cal NORML, agree a state licensing system is needed to satisfy the Department of Justice Cole memo, which requires a “robust” system of state regulation to avoid federal interference. Legislative leaders argue that it’s urgent to regulate medical marijuana this year, before the 2016 initiative tries to open the door to general adult use.

AB 34, by Assembly members Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) and Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-S. LA), would establish a comprehensive state licensing system for cultivation, manufacture, testing, transportation, and sales of medical cannabis under multiple agencies. A new division in the Alcoholic Beverages Commission would be in charge of medical cannabis regulation and enforcement, with the Dept. of Food & Agriculture overseeing cultivation and the Dept. of Public Health in charge of product testing, safety, and labeling. The bill would begin by establishing a provisional licensing system in early 2016, under which existing industry operators could qualify if they conformed with local regulations.

A competing bill, AB 266 by Asm. Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova), is sponsored by law enforcement and the CA League of Cities. The bill would give a single state agency, the Dept. of Consumer Affairs, licensing authority, while giving co-equal enforcement powers to local governments, who would have to separately permit or license every facility. The bill lacks the provisional licensing system and other attractive features of AB 34.

A third regulation bill, SB 643 by Sen. Mike McGuire (D-N. Coast) is being heard in the State Senate. The bill began as a slimmed down version of the Assembly bills, with DCA as the chief regulatory agency. Further amendments are expected, as the Senate Business and Professions Committee approved it on the condition that DCA be removed as the lead agency. SB 643 has passed the Senate and has been amended.

Industry and patient advocates, including Cal NORML, generally prefer the Bonta bill because it incorporates several attractive features, among them: provisional licensing for existing operators; a strong role for the Dept. of Agriculture; a flexible, tiered licensing regime that distinguishes small, medium, and large-scale businesses; and explicit allowance for out-of-state patients. On the other hand, law enforcement and the League of Cities are staunchly opposed to AB 34’s prominent role for the ABC, which they view as too weak. This leaves the legislature in a quandary, since the Senate leadership has flatly ruled out DCA, and establishing a new agency would be problematic given the substantial start-up costs of funding it.

As of this writing, Cal NORML has objections to certain provisions in all of the bills, including a ban on licensing persons with prior drug convictions, plus excessively burdensome regulations that could discourage compliance. It remains to be seen whether a satisfactory bill will be hammered out among the various parties this year. If not, it will be up to the 2016 initiative to propose a comprehensive state regulation system for both medical and non-medical marijuana.

Yet another bill, AB 243 by Asm. Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa), would apply environmental and water control standards to medical marijuana cultivation. Individuals and caregivers with no more than five patients would be exempt. The bill would require that all cultivation sites be permitted by the sheriff, police, or other agency designated by local governments; or, if local governments do nothing, by a state agency to be named by the Governor. Medical cannabis advocates are concerned that the bill would put too much power in the hands of local sheriffs, who have been inordinately hostile to medical marijuana. AB 243 has passed the Assembly and is headed to the Senate.

Patient advocates are strongly supporting a bill by Asm. Marc Levine (D- San Rafael), AB 258, which would end organ transplant denials for medical marijuana patients. Cal NORML has heard from too many Prop 215 patients who have been denied organ transplants on the indefensible grounds that they use medical marijuana. AB 258 was signed by the Governor and becomes law on January 1.

Cal NORML is pushing back against a proposed e-cigarette bill, SB 140 by Sen. Mark Leno (D-SF), that would wrongly classify smokeless medical cannabis vaporizers as “tobacco products” and ban their use everywhere tobacco smoking is prohibited. Cal NORML sponsored pioneering studies showing that cannabis vaporizers are an effective harm reduction technology that can eliminate the health hazards of smoking. Similar studies of nicotine e-cigs have found that they effectively limit the second-hand exposure hazards of smoking, which are the rationale for California’s current anti-tobacco laws. Cal NORML supports the right of patients to vaporize their medicine in designated indoor venues where smoking isn’t permitted, and is concerned that SB 140 would force many patients to go outside to medicate. We are pleased to note that SB 140 has been amended so as not to override local ordinances that authorize consumption of medical marijuana, and to include only devices that vaporize liquid extracts, as opposed to herb. SB 140 has passed the Senate and is headed to the Assembly.

Cal NORML opposed a bill to require random drug testing of ride-sharing drivers, AB 24 by Asm. Adrin Nazarian (D-Sherman Oaks). Since urine tests detect marijuana for weeks after last use, the bill would have effectively precluded California’s 1+ million medical marijuana users from being Uber drivers. Cal NORML argued the costs of the bill are unjustified, as not a single scientific study has ever shown drug testing to be effective in improving roadway safety. The Assembly Appropriations committee killed the bill.

Asm. Tom Lackey held a demonstration of an oral swab technology for DUI on the Capitol Steps on 4/20. After an obviously unimpaired volunteer recruited by Cal NORML took the test and came up positive, Lackey’s bill to authorize use of swab tests in DUI stops was shelved for the year.

A few other miscellaneous bills would impact marijuana policy.
AB 730 by Bill Quirk (D-Hayward) would redefine transportation of marijuana to mean transportation for sale. This would help protect users from automatic felony charges for having over one ounce in the car. Signed into law July 13
• Four bills are addressed to the problem of butane hash oil explosions:
AB 849 by Susan Bonilla (D-Concord) would make it a misdemeanor to make solvent extracts that cause an explosion; Vetoed by the Governor on humanitarian, logical grounds.
SB 305 by Sen. Patricia Bates (R-San Juan Capistrano) would enhance felony prison sentences for persons manufacturing concentrated cannabis in the presence of children; (Cal NORML wrote to the Senate Public Safety opposing this bill; it was blocked in favor of 849.)
SB 212 by Tony Mendoza would “specifically authorize” the sentencing court to consider the use of a volatile solvent to chemically extract concentrated cannabis occurring within 300 feet of an occupied residence as a factor in “aggravation” (a longer sentence; up to 7 years). It has passed unanimously in the Senate and was signed by the Governor on August 7.
AB 772 by Catharine Baker would make it a misdemeanor to purchase more than 400 ml of butane monthly; subsequent violations would result in a jail sentence of up to one year, and a $100K fine, or both. Reporting requirements for sellers are included. A hearing in the Assembly Public Safety committee on AB 772 was cancelled at the request of the author in April.

SB 303 by Sen. Ben Hueso (D-Imperial) would authorize law enforcement to destroy seized marijuana plants that are in excess of two pounds, instead of ten pounds as presently. It was signed by the Governor on October 9.
• Asm. Mike Gipson (D-Compton) has proposed a bill (AB 821) that would exempt terminally ill medical marijuana patients from sales tax. Patients would apply for an exemption certificate from the Board of Equalization. This bill did not get a hearing, and did not advance.
SB 165 by Bill Monning (D-Santa Cruz) would establish enhanced civil fines for violations of environmental regulations in connection with trespass grows on public or private lands. Signed by the Governor on August 7.
AB 1351 by Susan Eggman (D-Stockton) would change terms for deferred entry of judgment so that defendants would not have to plead guilty before entering a drug diversion program for offenses such as marijuana cultivation. Vetoed by the Governor on October 8.

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