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Once again rejecting a measure to broadly regulate medicinal pot, the California Assembly on Thursday stalled a bill that would create a state-level entity to oversee and license California's medical marijuana industry.

No lawmakers rose to explicitly denounce Assembly Bill 1894, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco. Some with concerns about preserving local control said they had been persuaded that cities and counties could still pass and enforce their own rules around medicinal cannabis.

"We have medical marijuana dispensaries popping up next to schools, we have them popping up all over town," said Assemblywoman Cheryl Brown, D-San Bernardino. "It's not a pretty sight in my community," she added, "so please, sign on to this bill."

But a large bloc of lawmakers from both parties withheld votes, ensuring that the measure would go no further. The final vote was 27-30, with 22 not voting.

California set the national tone for cutting-edge cannabis policies by legalizing medical marijuana in 1996, advocates say, but has since relinquished its lead. While Colorado and Washington have legalized personal pot, California has failed to enact strong statewide regulation.

As a result, Ammiano argued, the state has become overgrown with a garden of legitimate and illegitimate operations. Local governments and law enforcement are frustrated by what they see as a proliferation of bad actors. The oversight falls short of the "strong and effective regulatory enforcement systems" the federal government has said it needs to back off enforcing a federal prohibition that has led to raids on dispensaries.

"There is a general acknowledgment and recognition that the way things are now are not acceptable," Ammiano said. "There's chaos, there's no order, it allows for so many bad actors that the whole issue gets besmirched."

Seeking to equip California with better enforcement tools, Assembly Bill 1894 has as its centerpiece establishing a new statewide cannabis controlling agency within the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control. The new entity would set minimum standards for cultivation and sales, require registration and fees, and and slap penalties on wayward pot shops.

Local governments could still pass their own ordinances or shut down shops. Lawmakers concerned about local control said they were persuaded the bill would let cities blaze their own marijuana policy trails. Assemblyman Adrin Nazarian, D-Burbank, decried the inescapable "waft of marijuana" along a thoroughfare in his district but said Ammiano's measure would preserve a Los Angeles measure capping the number of dispensaries.

"I would have very great concern about any type of legislation we do here impacting the ability of that measure's full implementation," Nazarian said, but he had been reassured the rule could remain in place.

In past years the Legislature has proven reluctant to regulate medical marijuana, in part due to law enforcement opposition. Ammiano's previous attempts to create a statewide regulatory body burned out. Law enforcement groups like the California Police Chiefs Association oppose AB 1894.

On Wednesday the Senate easily passed the bill cops prefer. Senate Bill 1262 would tighten rules around pot-prescribing doctors and compel the Department of Consumer Affairs to license growers and dispensaries.

PHOTO: Members of the El Dorado County Sheriff's Department dismantle a marijuana garden in a remote area of El Dorado county on Thursday, August 20, 2009. The Sacramento Bee/Randall Benton.



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