Medicinal Marijuana Bill Retooled

The Assembly Committee on Appropriations last week passed a bill to regulate the cultivation and distribution of medicinal marijuana. The bill is up for an Assembly floor vote this week.

AB 266 by Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) passed Appropriations on Friday (May 29) after it went through a transformation, combining AB 34 by Bonta and the original AB 266 authored by Assembly member Ken Cooley (D-Rancho Cordova). Bonta now is lead author of the current bill, and the co-authors are Cooley and Assembly member Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles).

The new version of AB 266 would create the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation under the Department of Consumer Affairs. That agency would be tasked with licensing and regulating dispensaries, as well as any cultivation or distribution of medicinal marijuana. The bill would allow counties to impose a tax on the cultivation and distribution of medicinal pot.

Even though marijuana use is legal in California for medicinal purposes, it could be harmful to patients, Bonta said.

“For those who need and use it, it’s important that it be high quality,” Bonta said. “Because of a lack of regulation, mold or pesticides and other harmful ingredients could be in it and that could threaten the health of patients.”

In addition, he said, there is the public health benefit of limiting illegal grows, which can divert water and damage watersheds, he said.

One of the sticking points in the original Bonta bill was enforcement power going to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, something strongly opposed by the California Police Chiefs Association, a sponsor of the previous version of AB 266. On Bonta’s side, he was adamant that stakeholders — including the PCA — not sponsor the bill, to emphasize its neutrality.

The new bill would set up a multi-agency regulation structure.

“The approach we’ve seen with this bill is much more of a unifying effort around one vehicle, with everyone coming together in a collective, collaborative effort,” Bonta said. “Now we have a bill not sponsored by any stakeholder.”

There is a ballot initiative effort under way to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California. That has nothing to do with this bill, Bonta said, though it might help to have a regulatory structure in place if voters do pass it, he said.

“We think our current bill is independent of whatever the state of California decides to do in 2016,” Bonta said. “We think if they do move toward recreational use, then we’ll have a strong regulatory framework and foundation for that.”

Appropriations passed the measure on a 12-0 vote.

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