California map with cannabis leaf. Image: Cooljuno411 via Wikimedia Commons

California is Finally Ready to Rein in Medical Pot

Nisa Donnelly ~ WeedWorthy ~
SACRAMENTO, CA -- In a late-night move and after a more than 20-year wait, California’s legislature is finally poised to regulate the state’s multi-billion-dollar medical marijuana industry.
A deal was struck late Thursday night to push the hard-fought legislation out for a vote, before the 2015 session closes on Friday.
In an unusual move, Governor Jerry Brown had his office step in to rework the legislative language of three bills that will require state and local licenses for medical marijuana businesses, under a soon-to-be-created Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation.
“After two decades of no regulation, I am pleased to report an agreement has been reached on one of the most comprehensive medical marijuana bills in the nation,” said California State Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), who authored one of the three bills in the package.
California was the first state in the nation to approve medical marijuana use through a citizens’ initiative, Prop 215. But California’s massive medical cannabis industry remained largely unregulated;  to the point that it is impossible to state with any certainty how many Californians hold mmj recommendations or how many medical marijuana businesses exist. That will begin to change with the new legislation, although the roll-out will ultimately be years in the making.
Hezekiah Allen is a third-generation cannabis cultivator from Humboldt County. He also runs the Emerald Growers Association, which has lobbied hard for this legislation, and is elated at the progress made.
“The Governor’s Office really became hands-on with these three bills,” Allen told WeedWorthy. “The goal was to get streamlined legislation that will create a foundation for developing regulations.”
Allen believes that bringing in stakeholders from diverse communities throughout California helped flip the issue, which has been raised repeatedly in past legislative sessions.
“The California Medical Association, for example, has been at the table from the beginning,” he said. “So this year it wasn’t just activists from within the cannabis community. We were working with labor, law enforcement, the medical community and agriculture. The major landmarks in the policy conversation and the progress made has been tremendous.”
State Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D – Oakland), who was lead author on one of the bills, said the agreement was the result  “of an unprecedented stakeholder process in which my colleagues and I brought everyone to the table, from medical marijuana businesses to law enforcement to patient advocates, to create a comprehensive regulatory framework for the state’s billion-dollar medical marijuana industry.”
Robert Raich, a high-profile medical cannabis attorney based in Oakland, said the new regulations would provide a regulatory structure that has been badly lacking.
Raich, who has twice appeared before the U.S. Supreme Court for medical cannabis cases, said he’d seen more motivation among California lawmakers this year than in past sessions. And as an attorney who represents medical marijuana businesses, he welcomes the change.
 “The way medical marijuana businesses have to be structured really doesn’t fit into any prevailing business model,” he told WeedWorthy. “The current system is convoluted, wracked with a myriad of interpretations, and difficult for businesses to navigate.”
The legislation, which is expected to pass, contains a series of provisions for licenses throughout the industry, with an eye towards protecting small cultivators and entrepreneurs.