Dale Gieringer: It’s Time to Revamp California’s Medical Marijuana Laws

, Dale Gieringer: It’s Time to Revamp California’s Medical Marijuana Laws
By Dale Gieringer

California’s medical marijuana laws are in eminent need of reform. The lack of clear laws governing the sale, production and delivery of medical marijuana has led to hundreds of raids, arrests and lawsuits by state and federal authorities.

In particular, the Department of Justice’s current assault against MMJ providers is motivated largely by the perception that California’s medical marijuana industry is out of control (unlike the impression in Colorado, where sales and production are regulated).

While Proposition 215 clearly legalized possession and cultivation by individual patients and caregivers, it did not establish a legal distribution system. Instead, it encouraged the state and federal governments “to implement a plan to provide for the safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need.”

Lawmakers have sadly neglected this mandate.

On the federal side, the government has stubbornly continued to insist that all marijuana use is illegal. On the state side, the best the legislature could do was enact SB 420, which gave vague and ambiguous protections to “collective or cooperative” cultivation projects. Unfortunately, the protections in SB 420 are open to conflicting  interpretations and do not explicitly provide for storefront dispensaries, delivery services, edibles manufacture, etc.

While some jurisdictions have interpreted SB 420 liberally to allow for regulated dispensaries, others have resisted, misled by prohibitionist law enforcement officers who maintain that all sales are illegal. As a result, hundreds of dispensaries are currently operating around California in a state of contested legality.

All of this has presented an opportunity for the DOJ to intrude. In the 2009 “Ogden memo,” the DOJ declared that it would not waste resources on medical marijuana offenders who were in “clear and unambiguous” compliance with state laws. The problem, of course, is that California’s laws are in no way clear or unambiguous, leaving plenty of room for federal meddling.  In contrast, federal interference has been relatively light in Colorado, which has enacted a tight regulation system for medical marijuana.

The time has come for California to establish clear statewide rules for the distribution and sales of medical marijuana.

An initiative to accomplish this – called the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control and Taxation Act (MMRCTA) – has been filed for the November ballot.

Organized by a broad coalition including Americans for Safe Access, Californians for Cannabis Policy Reform, California NORML, the California Cannabis Association and the Emerald Growers Association, the measure would establish a new statewide agency in the Department of Consumer Affairs to regulate medical marijuana. The bureau would have broad power to develop regulations for the medical cannabis industry, pre-empting all local regulations except for those tied to the zoning of dispensaries. It would also require towns and cities to permit at least one dispensary for every 50,000 residents unless limited by a local initiative.

MMRCTA imposes an additional 2.5% state sales tax on medical marijuana, with proceeds to fund the regulatory system as well as research efforts, emergency medical services and patient assistance programs. The initiative explicitly protects and expands all existing rights of individual patients and caregivers under Prop 215. Commercial producers and traffickers would be required to register with the bureau by July, 2013.

As of this writing, MMRCTA is seeking to raise $2 million in order to qualify for the 2012 ballot (click here for more information).

At the same time, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced a bill, AB 2312, which parallels the major features of MMRCTA. The major differences are that it does not propose a statewide tax (which requires a super-majority in the legislature) and lacks certain other consumer-friendly provisions that would be difficult to pass in Sacramento.

While it remains to be seen whether AB 2312 or MMRCTA will be enacted this year, the pressure for reform is growing. In  a letter to legislative leaders, Attorney General Kamala Harris declared “state law itself needs to be reformed, simplified and improved to better explain to law enforcement and patients alike how, when and where individuals may cultivate and obtain physician-recommended marijuana.”

A recent poll of likely voters found that 77% of Californians support uniform state rules for regulating, controlling and taxing medical marijuana (in contrast, 52% support full-scale legalization).

The time is at hand for California’s medical marijuana community to unite in pushing for legislation like MMRCTA or AB 2312. Only then will the state finally realize Prop 215’s mandate for “safe and affordable access” to medicine.

Dale Gieringer is director of California NORML, a non-profit membership organization dedicated to reforming the state’s marijuana laws

3 comments on “Dale Gieringer: It’s Time to Revamp California’s Medical Marijuana Laws
  1. Dolores Marconi on

    It seems that when a State government opts to allow use of cannabis (a controlled substance) for medical purposes the Federal Government cannot step in to regulate that law. What Feds usually do is to look at laws other than State Law, go for arrests, and that is legal. If those people are violating State or local law the feds can and do work to make arrests. If a patient or worker of a co-operative follows State and local law there are no problems. When laws change you must change with them. That is what small and big business is all about. There is no free ride.

  2. Bruce Cain on

    I’m never going to endorse any initiative that doesn’t allow adult self cultivation with NO tax, regulation or government control. And besides, the real problem lies at the federal level. I find it so odd that NORML is not seriously addressing this and frankly it is why I am so circumspect of all state initiatives now.

    The recent censoring of my posts at “Save Cannabis” also does not engender a whole lot of trust. “Save Cannabis” is a private group consisting of many of the top activist in California and I feel they are simply using this group to gain support for yet another Prop19: tax, regulate and control. I will be checking to see that this post is not also censored.


    Bruce W. Cain

    New Candidate for 2012 Presidency wants a “Green Economy” Based on Marijuana

  3. Patrick Duff on

    Thank god this initiative folded. This would have been terrible for citizens rights as patients. It would have made it so every grower would have to be registered with the state. That would be like creating a bust app for the cops to take out anybody at anytime.

    It also would have taken patients rights alway to collectively cultivate and be reimbursed for costs without being registered and paying taxes. Taking rights away from patients is not something that ASA and NORML should be supporting. As a stock holder in cannabis’ future I must agree with Mickey Martin and fire you folks as supposed leaders of this movement. Your intentions are ill and for the gain of profits, not progress.

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