Tuesday, April 22, 2014
When it comes to manufacture and distribution, California's medical marijuana law is notoriously open-ended. The state's medical marijuana dispensary system hinges almost entirely on a single Health and Safety Code provision that allows patients "collectively or cooperatively to cultivate marijuana for medical purposes."
California's courts have, for the most part, interpreted this provision to permit retail medical marijuana collectives (though the state's Supreme Court has not yet weighed in.) Though I think this interpretation is the right one, it has resulted in a system where retail medical marijuana sales are legal but--at the state level--almost entirely unregulated. One of the very few statewide rules that does exist provides that retail outlets may not operate for profit. But the law says nothing about what, exactly that means. (Nor is there any clear policy rational--or precedent that I can think of--for a system in which selling an item is a crime unless it is done by a not-for-profit enterprise.)
Though some legislators have tried to push for statewide regulation, so far none of the efforts have come close to becoming law. There may be hope this year, however, as a number of law enforcement groups that have previously opposed proposals to regulate marijuana are now backing their own legislation.
The law enforcement proposal is not without its flaws. But it is reasonable in many respects and it could provide the foundation for a very good piece of legislation. Most importantly, perhaps, it looks to have some early momentum in Sacramento as it made it out of a State Senate committee yesterday:
Medical marijuana dispensaries in California would have to get state Public Health Department licenses, and doctors who recommend pot would face new standards for examining patients under legislation supported Monday by a state Senate panel.
The measure, supported by members of the Senate Business, Professions and Economic Development Committee, also clarifies the authority of cities and counties to prohibit pot shops within their borders.
Today, a California Assembly committee will be considering a competing proposal by Tom Ammiano. If both proposals continue to move forward, it could set the stage for a compromise that might finally result in much-needed and long-overdue medical marijuana regulations in California.