Sen. Mike McGuire introduces sweeping marijuana bill
A North Coast state senator has introduced sweeping legislation aimed at establishing a comprehensive way for California to regulate nearly all aspects of medical marijuana, from licensing dispensaries to creating quality assurance testing for cannabis products.
State Sen. Mike McGuire’s Medical Marijuana Public Safety and Environmental Protection Act, Senate Bill 643, would essentially give the state’s medical marijuana laws specificity and teeth that have not been in place in the 18 years since California became the first in the nation to allow residents to use pot for medical purposes.
McGuire called California’s current medical cannabis regulations “impotent” and said that “the state has turned its head on this industry.”
“There are so many regulations governing agriculture in this state but one of our top crops has been left out and that’s marijuana,” said McGuire, whose district encompasses a western swath of Northern California from Marin County to the Oregon border.
The bill has earned support from a range of medical marijuana advocates, setting itself apart from a cluttered field of more than a dozen bills involving marijuana under consideration by Sacramento lawmakers. On Monday, AB 643 received unanimous approval from the Senate Business and Professions Committee. The bill heads to the Senate and Governance and Finance Committee next Wednesday.
“California has a multibillion-dollar medical cannabis industry and it needs to be regulated,” said Hezekiah Allen, chairman and executive director of the statewide trade group Emerald Growers Association.
Allen called McGuire’s bill “a step in the right direction” and said it would help bring some coherence to cannabis cultivation regulations.
The flurry of marijuana-related bills under consideration this year include ideas such as putting the state’s Alcoholic Beverage Control department in charge of medical cannabis activity, prohibiting medical marijuana users from receiving donated organs and increasing criminal sentences for illegally manufacturing concentrated cannabis, or hash oil, in the presence of children.
McGuire’s plan proposes the state establish a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the existing Department of Consumer Affairs. The bureau would license and regulate dispensaries, cultivation sites, transportation systems and manufacturers of all marijuana products.
The state would have jurisdiction over how doctors advertise medical marijuana recommendation services and quality assurance testing for edibles and other products.
Fees and penalties collected through the license program would go into a Medical Marijuana Regulation Fund that would support the program and its enforcement.
The bill altogether bans marijuana cultivation in residential areas and would require that all marijuana meet certified organic standards by Jan. 1, 2022.
The bill has no sponsors, and McGuire said that was intentional to allow him to craft a bill that would appeal to a wide range of sectors concerned with marijuana, from law enforcement to advocates.
“It’s the best bill that’s been proposed so far and we’re hopeful we’ll be working with his office,” said Dale Gieringer, California director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Gieringer said that NORML will suggest specific amendments. Among its reservations, Gieringer said the group wants to make sure the fee structure is not burdensome for small-scale marijuana farmers. It will also object to a provision that would disqualify people with prior marijuana-related convictions from obtaining business licenses.
“The current laws are ridiculously vague,” Gieringer said. “There are literally hundreds of lawsuits about the legality of dispensaries and whatnot throughout the state, rules vary drastically from county to city.”