California Assembly panel passes medical marijuana regulation bill

04/18/2012 12:00 AM

04/17/2012 9:55 PM

An Assembly committee Tuesday passed a bill to create state oversight for pot businesses, as its chairman implored the Legislature to act to stave off federal raids on medical marijuana providers.

"The worst public policy choice for California is to sit idly by, doing nothing, and let this failed war on medical cannabis continue unchecked," said San Francisco Democrat Tom Ammiano as his Public Safety Committee voted 4-2 along party lines to create a state bureau to police the California medical cannabis industry.

Despite clearing his committee, Ammiano's Assembly Bill 2312 faces long odds of reaching the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown because of strong opposition from police.

John Lovell, a lobbyist for California narcotics officers and police chiefs, blasted the bill as failing to come close to stricter rules passed in Colorado. "This is not regulation," Lovell said. "This is open-ended permissiveness."

AB 2312 would charge fees to dispensaries and other medical cannabis businesses to create a policing agency – the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement – in the state Department of Consumer Affairs. The board would approve licenses for businesses selling, growing or transporting marijuana for use by people with physicians' recommendations.

The Ammiano bill doesn't include many of the rules in place in Colorado, such as requiring every pot industry worker to be state licensed, mandating video surveillance of marijuana stores and requiring state pre-approval of transportation of medical cannabis.

While some Colorado dispensaries have been targeted for operating near schools, that state hasn't been hit with a broad federal crackdown against cannabis outlets that's unfolding in California.

The Ammiano bill would require cities and counties to allow at least one marijuana dispensary for every 50,000 residents – unless local voters approve a ban or tighter restrictions. It would leave it up to a nine-member state board to set rules for the industry.

Don Duncan, California director for Americans for Safe Access, said the bill is a key step for allowing people permitted to use medical marijuana under California's 1996 Compassionate Use Act to obtain it at regulated dispensaries in their communities.

"There is strong support by voters in the state of California to finish this compassionate endeavor," Duncan said. "Confusion has led to bans and moratoriums against dispensaries, and that's bad for patients."

But Cory Salzillo, director of legislation for the California District Attorneys Association, said the bill would require local governments to "comply with activity that is still illegal under federal law."

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