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Marijuana Dispensary.jpgThe California Senate passed a bill today that would shield pot shops following state guidelines for dispensing medical marijuana from prosecution for marijuana possession or sale.

Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg said the goal of his Senate Bill 439 is to keep criminals out of the medical marijuana business and clarify confusion between state and federal law. Federal authorities have gone after some dispensaries in California because while they are legal under California's Proposition 215, they are forbidden under federal law.

The Legislature can't change federal law, but Steinberg said his bill would make clear that marijuana collectives, dispensaries and other business entities may pay employees and provide benefits as long as they comply with guidelines the Attorney General wrote in 2008.

"We want to create more certainty where little or none exists now," the Sacramento Democrat said as he introduced the bill on the Senate floor today.

Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, argued against the bill, saying medical marijuana causes "huge problems in our communities."

"The public thought it was for seriously ill or terminally ill individuals," he said. "And now it's almost carte blanche for everybody."

Steinberg said that's one of the problems his bill seeks to address.

"There are also a lot of concerns expressed out in our communities about there not being a fine enough line about the sale of medicinal cannabis and the sale of cannabis period. This bill seeks to tighten it up," he said. "We are, arguably, not tightened up now."

An analysis of SB 439 says it is supported by the American Civil Liberties Union, Drug Policy Alliance and Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, among others. It's opposed by the California Narcotics Officers' Association, California Police Chiefs Association and the International Faith Based Coalition.

The bill passed the Senate on a 22-12 vote and now moves to the Assembly.

PHOTO CREDIT: Rosy Solis, left, and Nicole Denis help fill medical marijuana prescriptions at the Venice Beach Care Center medical marijuana dispensary on May 14. Associated Press/Damian Dovarganes



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