California lawmakers were expected to vote Friday on a proposal to create the first regulatory framework for the state's thriving but unruly medical marijuana industry after lawmakers reached an 11th-hour compromise on a trio of marijuana bills.
The authors of legislation that had been stalled in the Senate and Assembly in the closing days of the legislative session announced a deal on a package that would establish a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation to oversee every aspect of the industry, from pot farms and medical clinics to product safety labs and retail distribution.
Both chambers said they plan to put the measures establishing underlying licensing and operating rules to a vote before the Legislature adjourns for the year Friday.
"These regulations are long overdue, and I'm thrilled that we were able to work together to find common ground on historic medical marijuana regulations for our state," Senator Mike McGuire, D-Healdsburg, whose 370-mile long district encompasses Northern California's prime pot-growing regions, said in a statement announcing the compromise.
The near-certainty that California voters will be asked to legalize recreational marijuana next year had put pressure on lawmakers to rein in the medical marijuana trade — a job they had deferred in the nearly two decades since the state became the first in the U.S. to authorize marijuana use for health purposes, leading the charge ahead of 22 other states and the District of Columbia.
But until Thursday, they had been unable to get an oversight scheme to the finish line despite unprecedented cooperation from law enforcement, local governments, pot growers, patient groups, dispensary operators and even the governor.
The bills preserve the rights of cities and counties to ban medical marijuana businesses and the ability of individuals with doctor's recommendations to use medical marijuana to grow limited amounts themselves.
They also seek to address the growing outrage over environmental damage caused by illegal marijuana cultivation by treating marijuana as an agricultural product subject to pesticide and water use restrictions.
“AB 266 is the result of an unprecedented stakeholder process in which my colleagues and I brought everyone to the table, from medical marijuana businesses to law enforcement and patient advocates, to create a comprehensive regulatory framework for the state’s billion dollar medical marijuana industry,” explained lead author Assemblymember Rob Bonta.
The office charged with overseeing the new standards will be housed within the California Department of Consumer Affairs. But the Department of Food and Agriculture and the Department of Public Health will have prominent roles in their implementation and enforcement, according to Assemblyman Ken Cooley, D-Rancho Cordova, a co-sponsor of the main assembly bill.
All three bills — McGuire's SB643, AB266 by Bonta, D-Oakland, and AB246 by Assemblyman Jim Wood, D-Healdsburg — must pass for any of them to reach Gov. Jerry Brown's desk.
The governor has expressed skepticism over the wisdom of legalizing recreational marijuana use, but his office has been involved in crafting a compromise he would be willing to sign since late August.