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Assembly passes medical marijuana oversight bill

SAN FRANCISCO - A bill aimed at providing a framework for overseeing and regulating California's notoriously free-wheeling medical marijuana industry squeaked out of the state Assembly on Thursday despite opponents' claims that the measure would cause pot shops and farms to proliferate rather than face greater accountability.

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's AB2312 would for the first time require marijuana dispensaries, growers, delivery services and manufacturers of pot products to register with the state and be overseen by an appointed nine-member board. It also would compel cities and counties to authorize one dispensary for every 50,000 residents unless local officials or voters approve a ban on pot shops.

The measure was modeled after a ballot initiative that medical marijuana advocates crafted last winter after the four federal prosecutors based in California launched a coordinated crackdown on dispensaries and growers they maintained were operating as fronts for illegal drug trafficking. Caught up in the renewed offensive were several suppliers who had been lauded by state and local officials for their strict compliance with the state's 16-year-old medical marijuana law.

If approved by the Senate and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, the bill would represent the first major overhaul to that law in eight years.

"Today's vote was significant because it represents a considerable shift that the Legislature is now willing to take responsibility for the effective regulation of medical cannabis in California," Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat, said. "With the continuing federal crackdown, we simply cannot afford to continue keeping our heads in the sand and pretend that everything is fine."

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