California governor OKs medical marijuana regulations

A trio of bills aimed at bringing order and oversight to California’s medical marijuana industry nearly 20 years after the state became the first to legalize pot for medical use won Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature, his office said Friday.

The Democratic governor’s endorsement of the 70-page Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act hammered out by lawmakers in the closing hours of the legislative session was expected because his office crafted many of the exhaustive details.

The bills create the first statewide licensing and operating rules for pot growers, manufacturers of cannabis-infused products and retail weed outlets since California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996.

The proposal’s enactment comes as multiple groups try to qualify voter initiatives for the November 2016 ballot that would legalize recreational marijuana in California.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who unlike Brown has endorsed the idea of allowing adults to use marijuana for fun, said getting the state’s free-wheeling medical marijuana industry under control would ease the transition to a system that also addresses recreational use.

“Given the history and complexity of California’s market, achieving the people’s will and responsibly regulating marijuana will be a process that unfolds over many years, requiring sustained attention to implementation,” Newsom, who is also a candidate for governor in 2018, said after the legislative vote.

The package seeks to manage medical marijuana by requiring individuals or companies engaged in any aspect of the industry to obtain at least one of 17 different licenses. It restricts the number of licenses one company could have.

The legislation includes separate licenses for indoor and outdoor cultivation, transportation, product testing, distribution and dispensaries of different sizes. It also charges various state agencies to develop guidelines for packaging, potency, pesticide use and advertising.

In addition, the bills preserve the right of individuals to grow small amounts of medical marijuana for personal use and allows local governments to ban or tax marijuana-related businesses.

“It was well-written. It was well thought-out. It flows,” Steven Lubell, a former Los Angeles Superior Court commissioner who represents medical marijuana dispensaries as a lawyer. “The industry, I think, wants this. They want to do what they have to do to run it like any other business.”

The American Medical Marijuana Association, an advocacy group for medical marijuana patients, has said it plans to sue to overturn the legislation.

The group says that several parts of the bill, including a provision limiting the space in which someone can grow their own pot to 10-feet by 10-feet, illegally amends the 1996 voter initiative that legalized it.

The state is expected to start issuing licenses to medical marijuana suppliers and distributors in 2018.

The legislation includes: AB266 by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, which sets up a medical marijuana bureau; AB243 by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg, which allows the state to issue licenses to pay for oversight; and SB643 by Sen. Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, which cracks down on clinics that specialize in issuing medical marijuana licenses for people without valid health needs.

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