Capitol Alert

Lawmakers announce deal on medical marijuana legislation

California Assemblymen, from left, Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, Rob Bonta, D-Oakland and Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, pose at the Capitol in Sacramento. They authored the pot bills.
California Assemblymen, from left, Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale, Reginald Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, Rob Bonta, D-Oakland and Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, pose at the Capitol in Sacramento. They authored the pot bills. AP

California lawmakers said late Thursday that they have reached a deal on legislation to regulate and license medical marijuana.

The regulatory framework to corral the billion-dollar medical cannabis industry will be contained in three bills that have received the blessings of the two chambers and Gov. Jerry Brown, said Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, one of the authors of the measures.

Bonta said his measure, which along with the others will be released Friday, would require state and local licenses for medical marijuana businesses. It would create a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to oversee the licensing and regulatory effort and involve the California Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health.

The new bureau would be housed in the Department of Consumer Affairs and led by a director confirmed by the state Senate.

Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, another author, said local cities and counties will be able to place taxes for cultivation and retail on the ballot in addition to the sales taxes on marijuana, and could designate fees to recoup regulation costs.

It has been nearly two decades since voters first approved medical marijuana. But the state has yet to enact a clear set of regulations. Internal squabbling from industry groups, law enforcement objections and resistance by fearful lawmakers has contributed to the delay. With a planned measure to legalize recreational marijuana aiming for next year’s ballot, Brown and legislators have been working on a compromise.

The apparent deal comes after complaints from some supporters that lawmakers were scrambling over who would take credit.

“By the legislature acting though this deliberative process, putting this framework together, the issues this bill addresses will not be superseded by a ballot initiative,” Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, said in an interview. “We will not let someone freelance in a state of nearly 40 million people these kinds of important public safety and public health policies. That is a colossal benefit. And it actually is historic.”

McGuire said his bill will track and trace all medical marijuana, and includes a provision to make cannabis an agricultural product. He said growers will be made to follow the same rules as other farmers for water use, discharge and pesticides. Under Senate Bill 643, localities also would be eligible for grants from a production and mitigation fund, with the money going to law enforcement and cleanup.

He said the agreement calls for mandatory testing, including for edible products, compounds and oils, as a requirement for patient safety.

Not everyone is entirely satisfied. Assemblymember Jim Wood, D- Healdsburg, who also is working on the issue, said that a proposed excise tax to raise tens of millions of dollars for environmental cleanup and public safety was dropped from the package.

“I am disappointed we were not able to reach an agreement that included those resources this year,” Wood said in a statement. “I think good progress has been made and I have educated a number of my colleagues which is a great place to be as I plan to pursue the tax next year."

The other authors of the package are Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, and Tom Lackey, R-Palmdale. Bonta said late Thursday that he’s optimistic the legislation will continue to be supported by labor unions, law enforcement and local governments.

“We worked very diligently through the stakeholder process to keep a very broad and diverse coaliton on board,” Bonta said. “And we don’t expect that to change.”

In an interview, McGuire said he and his colleagues have been working with fellow Democrats as well as Republicans to get their backing, including a presentation to the Senate Republican Caucus earlier this week.

Facing a midnight Friday deadline, he said the plan is for the Senate bill to be amended with the new language in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee before heading to the Assembly floor for a vote before returning to the Senate. The Assembly bills will be amended in the Senate Rules Committee before going to the Senate and Assembly.

Much of the delay in the deal stemmed from having to build the regulations from the “ground up,” McGuire said.

“Since Prop. 215 passed almost 20 ago, there have been very few rules and regulations,” he said. “We're making up for 20 years of inaction."

“It's essentially a blank slate.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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