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A Menu of Medical Marijuana Regulations Before California Leaders

It's a young legislative session in Sacramento, but at least one theme has already emerged: marijuana.
It's a young legislative session in Sacramento, but at least one theme has already emerged: marijuana. | Photo: Dank Depot/Flickr/Creative Commons

It's a young legislative session in Sacramento, but at least one theme has already emerged: marijuana. Though it's been nearly 20 years since Proposition 215 legalized medical marijuana in California, no framework, like that for regulating alcohol, exists. "Someone said that there's more oversight for lettuce you buy in a grocery store than medical marijuana," said Assemblymember Ken Cooley, an author of a new marijuana bill.

While none introduced so far seek to legalize marijuana for recreational use -- it's widely believed there will be a ballot measure in 2016 to address that -- the bills cover a range of topics, from cultivation to a little-known but surprising medical rule.

Here are brief descriptions of the regulations brewing in Sacramento:

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AB 266: The Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation
Author: Ken Cooley

This bill, already 40 pages in length, provides another framework for regulating pot. Assemblymember Ken Cooley's proposal would create a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation under the Department of Consumer Affairs, which would license dispensaries, growing sites, transporters, and manufacturers. Violations would incur $35,000 fines. The proposal also calls for creating an apprenticeship system and instating industry-specific standards enforceable by the state division of occupational safety and health. The proposal specifically mentions L.A.'s dispensary-limiting Measure D, making clear that the state law would not supersede local law.

"The state would issue a license and the local community would have the ability to finalize that, which courts have upheld," Cooley said.

Despite past failures to pass legislation of this kind, Cooley said he thinks lawmakers should be able to put the issue to bed. "I feel it is time for us in the legislature to find a reasonable center on this issue and not have medical marijuana come back year after year," he said.

AB 26: The Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement
Author: Reggie Jones-Sawyer

This bill would establish a new government entity to oversee marijuana regulation, the Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement. As an arm of the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control, the new division would require anyone who cultivates, manufactures, tests, transports, stores, distributes, or sells medical marijuana to register with the state.

"This regulates it from seed to retail," said Joey Hill, spokesman for Jones-Sawyer. Hill said that his office is working with that of Assemblyman Rob Bonta, whose placeholder bill, AB 34, is similar, and that the two proposals could get rolled into one.

"We want to help this industry become more legitimized so that the public will feel more assured the products are safe and they're not getting ripped off," Hill said. The more the process is regulated, he added, the fewer criminals can "participate in the process."

AB 258: Organ Transplants
Author: Marc Levine

Little-known medical fact: Marijuana users can be denied an organ transplant. Yes, cannabis use -- even in states where it is legal, and even if it is prescribed by a physician -- can prevent a patient from receiving a needed organ. The medical arguments are that marijuana can damage health and memory, making the patient less capable of following doctors' orders during recovery.

This bill would prohibit doctors from considering pot use in determining eligibility to receive an organ.

"Patients have died after being dropped from the list and many more are being dropped now," Assemblymember Marc Levine said. "If a person tests positive for cocaine and heroin and they have a drug problem, that's one thing. Cannabis alone cannot be a factor to exclude you from receiving an organ," Levine said.

AB 243: Regulating Farmers
Author: Jim Wood

The plants may be green, but growing them isn't always. Marijuana grows, both legal and illegal, have emerged as environmental offenders and water hogs. Enter AB 243, which would require adherence to state and local agricultural rules and best practices for such things as land conversion, grading, water use, pesticides, wetland protection, and even human waste. It would also require regional water boards, with help from law enforcement, to "address" waste discharge from pot-growing operations.

"The medical marijuana industry has been legal for over 20 years, but there have never been regulations put in place to ensure that marijuana farmers are held to the same standards as other farmers," said spokesman Paul Ramey. In effect, the bill would expand to the whole state a pilot program conducted on the North Coast last year.

SB 165: Fines for Environmental Damage
Author: William Monning

Another effort to prevent environmental degradation from pot-growing, SB 165 would add additional fines for diverting a stream, dumping pollutants, or violating other environmental codes. The bill was a direct outgrowth of damage caused by marijuana farming in Sen. William Monning's district, he said in a statement.

"Marijuana grow-sites found throughout California are often responsible for devastating environmental damage, and the cleanup and restoration of these habitats falls squarely on the taxpayers," Monning said. "I authored Senate Bill 165 to ensure that a monetary fine may be levied against anyone who commits devastating environmental crimes while cultivating a controlled substance."

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