Historic pot bills passed

Sacramento >> State lawmakers approved three bills containing the first regulation of California’s medical cannabis industry in nearly 20 years on Friday night, just an hour shy of the Legislature’s midnight deadline.

Stripped of their original language, the bills were linked together as a package at the end of August and have been dubbed the “Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act,” according to North Coast state Sen. Mike McGuire, who authored Senate Bill 643.

“This was a heavy lift by all involved, but the top priority for the Senate and the Assembly and the staff of the administration was to put politics and personalities aside and advance good policy that will have a positive impact for the North Coast and the state of California,” McGuire (D-Healdsburg) said before the afternoon Senate session on Friday.

Assembly Bill 243 (authored by North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg) and Assembly Bill 266 (authored by Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland) comprised the remaining twothirds of the bill package, the result of two weeks’ worth of negotiations between state legislators, the governor’s office and stakeholders. An agreement was struck late Thursday evening as to which regulations made the cut.

Together, the bills would create a licensing and regulatory scheme for all aspects of the medical marijuana industry, including cultivation, distribution, transport, dispensary sales, laboratory testing, environmental protections, storage and even home deliveries.

The bills would create qualifications that must be met to secure such licenses. Medical marijuana industry hopefuls must obtain not only obtain a state license in order to operate, but also an accompanying license from their local jurisdiction, McGuire said. An applicant under the regulations cannot receive a state license without having obtained a license from its local jurisdiction first. Counties and cities would also have the ability to place industry excise taxes on the ballot.

With the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors set to discuss the county’s own regulations for large-scale medical cannabis cultivation on Tuesday, 2nd District County Supervisor and board Chairwoman Estelle Fennell said the proposed state regulations reflected issues of local concern including the ability for counties to issue their own business licenses.

“Both at the county level and the state level, there have been many, many people that have asked for this clarity for a long time,” she said on Friday afternoon. “We’ll see what it comes down to.”

The bills would create a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation under the Department of Consumer Affairs to track and oversee all aspects of the industry, with the Senate appointing a director of the office in 2016.

Fees and fines spelled out in the regulations would be placed into a fund, which would be used to fully fund the state regulatory system as well as a grant system that will provide funding to local law enforcement to enforce against illegal cultivation.

“No taxpayer funds are used,” McGuire said during the Senate’s evening session while presenting AB 266.

As originally intended, North Coast Assemblyman Jim Wood’s AB 243 retained its environmental regulations on cultivation such as regulations on pesticide use, water diversion. The bill also requires the state Department of Food and Agriculture to recognize medical cannabis as an agricultural crop. McGuire’s SB 643 also kept some its original regulations that would bar vertical integration in which a single company would have control over all aspects of its market such as cultivation, transportation, distribution and sale.

However, there are also changes to the bills. The biggest change occurred in AB 243, in which the bill’s proposed excise tax was removed. The estimated $60 million in revenue the tax would have generated would have been used to enforce against and mitigate the damage caused by illegal marijuana cultivation, according to Wood.

Wood was unavailable for comment on Friday due to the late legislative session, but had released a statement on the tax policy’s removal on Thursday evening.

“We desperately need the resources to manage this industry that has boomed on the North Coast and to protect our rivers and forests,” he said. “I am disappointed we were not able to reach an agreement that included those resources this year.”

Another change would prevent individuals who have been convicted of a violent or serious felony, or a felony relating to controlled substances such as methamphetamines, from obtaining state licenses. However, individuals convicted of felonies only relating to possession or cultivation of marijuana would still be able to obtain a state license.

This same allowance was discussed by the Humboldt County Board of Supervisors when it approved its dispensary ordinance in August. The board ultimately voted to bar all felons from operating dispensaries, though many arguments were presented calling for the board to allow marijuanarelated felons to be allowed the same privilege.

Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.

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