Lawmakers quashed a bill that would have created a state agency to tax and regulate California's overgrown medical marijuana landscape on Friday.
Since California voters gave the green light to medical cannabis in 1996, the state has seen cities and municipalities deal with quasi-legal pot in a variety of different ways, with critics saying many dispensaries serve all comers under the pretense of helping the sick.
Assembly Bill 473 would have established a Division of Medical Marijuana Regulation and Enforcement, a regulatory agency housed in the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, to tame the cannabis jungle and establish some guidelines around the cultivation, sale and taxation of cannabis. It would have required dispensaries to register with the agency.
"The answer to many of the problems that many of our communities are having with medical marijuana is this bill, because without this regulation the bad actors will proliferate and the violence will proliferate," said the legislation's author, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.
Lawmakers were not being asked to vote on the merits of medical marijuana, said Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, noting that Proposition 215 is the law despite the fact that "some of us may not have agreed with the voters."
Regardless of where lawmakers stand on the wisdom of that law, Skinner said, it has been applied unevenly: some cities are bereft of dispensaries while in other cities pot shops abound, and "law enforcement doesn't know how to relate to them."
"It is necessary for us to have any kind of common-sense ability to deal with dispensaries in all our communities up and down the state," Skinner said.
Those arguments weren't enough to convince Assembly members who rejected the bill on a 35-37 vote. Ammiano's office said the bill stalled due to a procedural issue that led to the vote being prematurely closed; in a press release, he vowed to continue pursuing the bill and focus on "getting this to the Governor's desk for his signature this year."
Joining the opposition was the League of California Cities, which was satisfied the bill wouldn't preempt local decision-making but wanted stronger safeguards against pot being readily available to most Californians.
"It seems because the bill was silent on that point, it was silent on enforcement it would have just allowed that to continue," said lobbyist Tim Cromartie. "We were in agreement that it was important to get this right on the first attempt."
PHOTO CREDIT: Mike Parker Lead horticulture Lab Team, left, teaches J.D. and Stefanie Lavan how to take care of marijuana plants at the Oaksterdam University in Oakland, Calif., March 20, 2012. Paul Kitagaki Jr./The Sacramento Bee.