The California Assembly quashed a bill Friday that would have created a state agency to tax and regulate the state's overgrown medical marijuana landscape.
Since California voters gave the green light to medical cannabis in 1996, the state has seen cities and municipalities deal with quasi-legal pot in a variety of ways, with critics saying that many dispensaries serve all comers under the pretense of helping the sick.
Assembly Bill 473 would have established a Division of Medical Marijuana Regulation and Enforcement, a regulatory agency housed in the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, aimed at taming the cannabis jungle and establishing some guidelines around the cultivation, sale and taxation of cannabis. It would have required dispensaries to register with the agency.
"The answer to many of the problems that many of our communities are having with medical marijuana is this bill, because without this regulation the bad actors will proliferate and the violence will proliferate," said the legislation's author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.
Lawmakers were not being asked to vote on the merits of medical marijuana, said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, noting that Proposition 215 is the law despite the fact that "some of us may not have agreed with the voters."
Regardless of where lawmakers stand on the wisdom of that law, Skinner said, it has been applied unevenly. Some cities are bereft of dispensaries while in other cities pot shops abound, and "law enforcement doesn't know how to relate to them," she added.
"It is necessary for us to have any kind of common-sense ability to deal with dispensaries in all our communities up and down the state," Skinner said.
Those arguments weren't enough to convince Assembly members, who rejected the bill on a 37-35 vote, with 41 needed for passage. Ammiano's office said the bill stalled due to a procedural issue that led to the vote being prematurely closed. In a news release, he vowed to continue pursuing the bill and focus on "getting this to the governor's desk for his signature this year."
Joining the opposition was the League of California Cities, which was satisfied that the bill wouldn't pre-empt local decision-making but wanted stronger safeguards against pot being readily available to most Californians.
"It seems because the bill was silent on that point, it was silent on enforcement, it would have just allowed that to continue," said the League's lobbyist, Tim Cromartie. "We were in agreement that it was important to get this right on the first attempt."
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Call Jeremy B. White, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5543. Follow him on Twitter @CapitolAlert.