*See end of post for an update on the state of Ammiano's proposed legislation.
Original Post, Sept. 12, 11:29 a.m.: Last week, the Obama Administration announced it had no right to interfere in states with well-regulated medical or recreational pot industries, leaving the door open for Colorado and Washington States to proceed with plans to legalize recreational weed smoking without fear of federal retaliation.
Here in California, it's too late to prevent the feds from interfering: the Justice Dept. and DEA has been cracking down on dispensaries for almost two years now, and many cities have banned cannabis collectives completely. But a proposed state law, AB604, may provide new protection to pot growers and distributors, by requiring them to be regulated by the state Alcohol Beverage Commission, something that not all medical marijuana activists seem to celebrate.
Whereas previous medical marijuana laws such as Prop. 215 only stated that local authorities should work with medical marijuana activists to allow sick residents to smoke cannabis, AB604, which was introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, (D-San Francisco) would actually mandate a “safe and affordable” statewide distribution system.
To ensure the feds aren't tempted to crack down again, the system, similar to what's being envisioned in Colorado and Washington states, would have to ensure that the pot in question is regulated from “seed to shelf.” This would not only ensure the marijuana is harvested and prepared according to state environmental regulations, for example, but also that criminal interests aren't allowed to participate. Presumably, any grow operation that isn't registered with the state would be open to raids and criminal prosecution.
Despite the law's backing from major pot legalization groups such as NORML, not all medical marijuana activists are happy about the idea of regulating weed like booze. “This bill does NOT prevent a city or county from adopting local ordinances that ban the location, operation, or establishment of a cannabis dispensary,” one activist complained in an online forum. “Why would the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control (A.B.C.) be in charge of medicine? I could understand Adult use being regulated by A.B.C. but most people expect Medicine and Medical services to be regulated by the California Department of Public Health.”
That last question may answer itself. Translation: the bad news is that medical marijuana as we know it may be heading for history's ashbin. The good news: as long as it's legal, who cares?
Update, Sept. 13, 12 p.m.: Critics of the bill need not worry: the California Legislature failed to pass AB604 today, meaning that any such bill is off the table until sometime next year.
Here's a brief comment from Dale Gierenger of NORML:
Last-minute efforts to pass a medical marijuana regulation bill fell short as the California legislature wound up its session yesterday. A bill proposed by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (AB 604) and Sen. Darrell Steinberg ran into opposition from local governments and law enforcement. Similar legislation can be expected to be re-introduced next year. In the meantime, California will remain vulnerable to federal raids and prosecutions under the new DOJ policy, which requires that states enact “strong and effective” regulation of marijuana.
Award-winning investigative journalist Nick Schou is managing editor of OC Weekly. He is the author of Kill the Messenger: How the CIA’s Crack Cocaine Controversy Destroyed Journalist Gary Webb (Nation Books 2006), which provided the basis for the 2014 Focus Features release starring Jeremy Renner and the L.A. Times-bestseller Orange Sunshine: The Brotherhood of Eternal Love’s Quest to bring Peace, Love and Acid to the World, (Thomas Dunne 2009). He is also the author of The Weed Runners (2013) and Spooked: How the CIA Manipulates the Media and Hoodwinks Hollywood (2016).