California's slow roll toward medical marijuana regulation — potentially paving the way for taxable, recreational weed — has gone up in smoke for a third year in a row.
The now-dead legislation aimed to bridge a long-standing feud between California cops and marijuana advocates — a compromise of sorts, establishing state-issued licenses for dispensaries and farmers. But fault lines between the interest groups resulted in a mangled bill that didn't make fiscal sense, according to Matt Kumin, an attorney familiar with cannabis law.
"The legislation is badly designed," he told VICE News. "It looked like it had the head of a pig, the center of a cow, and the tail of a dog."
The law, SB 1262, would have established a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Enforcement within the state Department of Consumer Affairs. Its funding was supposed to come from a state licensing fee of up to $8,000 — which given the number of dispensaries and grow operations, would come nowhere near funding the $20 million-plus required to administer the program, according to a recent analysis.
The vast majority of the cannabis industry groups represented in Sacramento, the state's capital, didn't support the bill either because it heavily restricted growing. But regulation remains a burning issue.
"The lack of statewide regulations is extremely frustrating," said Tim Blake of the Mendocino Cannabis Policy Council. "We're going to sit here with this chaotic state and deal with different county regulations, and law enforcement wreaking havoc on everyone."
Establishing statewide regulations is important to the industry because growing, selling, and using marijuana is policed by a motley patchwork of municipal laws that range from acceptance, to extremely restrictive of patients' rights.
As it stands, growers, dispensaries, and patients enjoy limited protection from marijuana prosecution — so long as they are part of a collective, and have a recommendation. Even then, some counties and cities make it difficult to grow, sell, and obtain weed.
"I liken it to being on an island in the middle of a shark-filled lagoon," Kumin said.
A staffer for State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco) — one of the bill's co-authors and a longtime medical marijuana supporter — explained that the assemblyman was disappointed with the bill's failure, but acknowledged that it wasn't a good bill.
"It would have destroyed the industry in certain areas, and thrown out those operators who are experienced, and non-problematic operators," staffer Carlos Alcala said.
Ammiano dropped his own legislation, which was not blessed by cops, in favor of supporting Senator Lou Correa's (D-Santa Ana) bill, SB 1262. This bill did receive law enforcement backing, in the hopes that the two sides would be able to compromise — which ultimately didn't happen.
When VICE News contacted the Police Chiefs Association about the legislation's failure, the organization reiterated in a prepared statement its support for a regulatory framework.
"The protection of both public safety and patients' rights is paramount and I am proud of the work we have accomplished in concert with Senator Correa [the original author of SB-1262] and our many partners," a spokeswoman wrote on behalf of PCA president, Chief Chistopher Boyd of the Citrus Heights Police Department.
Blake said that some in the California cannabis business also believe that this latest bill was nothing short of a blunt instrument from cops attempting to force their version of marijuana legislation into law — preempting a 2016 statewide ballot initiative that could legalize recreational weed.
Despite the changes in California's assembly in the fall — both authors of the medical marijuana bill aren't eligible to run again because of term limits — Kumin is optimistic on the chances for a new bill. "We already have legislators wanting to come forward, saying 'we want to work with the cannabis industry.'"
Follow Max Cherney on Twitter: @chernandburn
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