California state lawmakers pass act to regulate medical marijuana



A landmark legislative package that would regulate the medical marijuana industry passed both the California Senate and Assembly, and now awaits a signature from Gov. Jerry Brown.

The laws would create a much in-demand framework for regulation and oversight of the state’s sprawling medical marijuana industry. Many across the industry are also saying that the laws would function as a sort of dry run for managing outright legalization in California, which is thought to be coming closer and closer.

All three of the bills comprising the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act were passed on Sept. 11, the final day of the legislative session in Sacramento, after a flurry of last-minute amendments and deals between the array of stakeholders both pushing and opposing the bills.

The new laws would set up a process to issue licenses specific to the cultivation, testing, processing, distribution, and retail sale of medical marijuana. To prevent vertically integrated monopolies, one business may hold no more than two different licenses, unless they are grandfathered in or certain exceptions are made.

Each bill in the package—AB 266, AB 243, and SB 643—included language that stipulated one bill is only valid if all three are passed because they each make up a distinct part of the new legislation.

The act would set up a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation, or BMMR, under the California Department of Consumer Affairs.

The laws drew different votes from the two state lawmakers representing SLO County—state Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) voted in support of the legislation, and state Assemblymember Katcho Achadjian (R-San Luis Obispo) voted against the legislation.

In a statement to New Times, Achadjian said he opposed the bills because their last-minute approval meant they’d be shortsighted. He said he also believes the minimum distance between dispensaries and schools wasn’t large enough, and there could potentially be issues between state and federal laws.

Representatives of Monning didn’t respond to requests for comment.

A fundamental piece to the new laws has drawn much attention from local medical marijuana providers. In order to obtain a state license, a business must first have a permit or some sort of authorization (which could include a business license) from their locality. That could be a tricky endeavor, as every city in SLO County has banned brick-and-mortar dispensaries, and a handful have banned mobile dispensaries. SLO County has yet to approve a permit for a dispensary to operate in the unincorporated areas. The Board of Supervisors will be considering an appeal for a Nipomo dispensary permit at its Nov. 3 meeting.

Louis Koory, a San Luis Obispo-based defense attorney who has handled numerous medical marijuana cases, said that bringing this law down to the localities would be both a great opportunity and a complicated process.

“It really is going to be a situation where the local authorities in any county will be able to decide if they want to benefit from cultivation and brick-and-mortar dispensaries or if they want to prevent cultivation and brick-and-mortar dispensaries,” Koory said, referring in part to revenue that would be generated from fees and taxation.

Local officials contacted by New Times said that they were still digesting the bill’s language, and that it was too early to tell how the new regulations would land in SLO County.

-- Melody DeMeritt - former city council member, Morro Bay

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