SAN FRANCISCO — California's medical marijuana industry and critics who contend it has become a cover for illegal drug dealing will have to wait at least another year for the state to set up a system for licensing and regulating pot shops and growers.
Assemblyman Tom Ammiano on Monday pulled his bill that would have established an appointed board to vet and oversee medical marijuana businesses. The delay will allow a Senate committee that deals with professional licenses to do research and hold a public hearing on the issue while preventing the measure from being killed.
AB2312 narrowly passed the Assembly last month, but Ammiano said it was unlikely the Senate Committee on Business, Professions and Economic Development would have endorsed it or that Gov. Jerry Brown would have signed the legislation if it made it out of the Legislature.
Instead, he and committee chairman Sen. Curren Price, D-Los Angrles, agreed to give senators time to evaluate and possibly amend Ammiano's proposal once the current legislative session ends. The San Francisco Democrat says he hopes to introduce a reworked version of the bill next year.
"I want the votes and I want the governor to sign this thing," he said. "It's still in play. We have some success under our belt and the best thing is the committee itself will now partner with me, they will help shepherd this."
The measure that Ammiano shelved 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 making huge profits selling pot to people who are not sick.
Ammiano and others, including state Attorney General Kamala Harris, had argued that the state's medical marijuana industry, which operates with virtually no oversight, would be less tempting a target if California could show it was doing its part to weed out pot shops that made no effort to comply with the state's liberal medical marijuana laws.
The framework Ammiano proposed would have required marijuana dispensaries, growers, delivery services and manufacturers of pot products to register with the state. It also would have compelled cities and counties to authorize one dispensary for every 50,000 residents unless officials secured voter approval to ban them.
To get the measure through the Assembly, where it squeaked by with the minimum 41 votes, the assemblyman agreed to amend it so city councils or boards of supervisors could implement bans on their own, as lawmakers in more than 170 California jurisdictions already have done. He also agreed to lift a cap on the taxes local governments could charge medical marijuana businesses.
The changes cost the bill support with medical marijuana advocates, who now are just as glad to have the statewide regulatory scheme put on hold, Americans for Safe Access spokesman Kris Hermes said Tuesday.
"In a sense, a lot of progress has been made, but we are also happy to go back to the drawing board to make sure we are all on the same page in terms of who this bill is supposed to help," Hermes said.