California Assembly Votes On Medical Marijuana Reform

Assembly Vote

After nearly 20 years of neglect, the California State Assembly has finally taken steps to rein in the state’s medical marijuana system by voting 50-5 to approve a bill, AB 266, aimed at providing more structure to the loosely regulated program.

When California first legalized medical marijuana in 1996, the state was held up as a model of marijuana reform, but in the time since its passage, the legislation’s flaws have started to show. With little regulatory oversight, the market in California has become flooded with bad actors and bad business practices that threaten the legitimacy of the program and those that operate responsibly.

It is the hope of the legislature that AB 266 can solve some of those problems.

Under AB 266, an unnecessarily large number of marijuana regulatory bodies would be created within existing branches of government.

The Office of Marijuana Regulation would be placed within the Office of the Governor, the Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation within the State Board of Equalization, the Division of Medical Cannabis Manufacturing and Testing within the California Department of Public Health, and the Division of Medical Cannabis Cultivation within the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Presumably, each department would have some measurable amount of control over how medical marijuana is sold, produced and distributed; however, after reviewing the number of different agencies involved, one has to wonder how this would create a more harmonious system.

Regardless, the bill does represent years of hard work and compromise on behalf of legislators, industry members, and those against marijuana reform. For years the legislature has been trying to reform medical marijuana in the state, only to be defeated by foot dragging or gamesmanship.

Tired of failing year after year, the assembly buckled down and compromised by taking one bill supported by the industry and combining it with a bill supported by law enforcement, giving us AB 266 in its current form.

Not to be left out of regulatory reform, the Senate also passed its own version of the assembly bill last week. With AB 266 heading to the Senate, legislators now have the enviable task of reconciling both bills into something that will hopefully find its way to the governor’s desk.

While medical marijuana reform is sorely needed in California, one has to question the way in which the state is going about it. Yes, there needs to be a regulatory body overseeing medical marijuana, but how many agencies should be involved?

When it comes to politics and governance, nothing is ever simple. By putting marijuana regulation into the hands of four different agencies, the rule making process is bound to get bogged down in trivialities. Although California should be applauded for making an effort to reform its medical marijuana system, it is hard to shake the feeling that something worse just might rise to replace it.

William Sumner, a freelance writer and marijuana journalist, was a staff writer for MJINews from May 2014 through February 2018. You can follow him on Twitter @W_Sumner.

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