The state of California has had a very difficult time getting legislation passed with regard to regulating its medical marijuana industry. The major forces behind the killing of related past bills has been law enforcement associations and the League of California Cities. The League is an association of California city officials who share information and combine resources in order to influence policy decisions that affect cities. Law enforcement associations are comprised of deputy sheriffs, peace officers, police protective leagues and the like. In an almost instantaneous turnabout, after seventeen years of repeatedly opposing regulatory bills, California law enforcement and the League have both reversed their stances on the matter.
Their reversal has taken form in Senate Bill 1262. According to the League’s website, SB1262 is legislation that will finally implement Proposition 215 with an approach that is health-based but also accounts for public safety. Proposition 215 was passed seventeen years ago, in 1996, and states that patients and their designated primary caregivers are allowed, provided that they have a valid recommendation from a doctor, to cultivate and possess a certain amount of marijuana for personal medical use. SB 1262 was authored by Lou Correa of Santa Ana, a Democratic Senator with a long track record of working with law enforcement organizations.
The change has been a pleasant surprise for cannabis advocates. Don Duncan, California’s director for Americans for Safe Access, is “happy to see they’re coming to the table” because prior to now the two groups have opposed every bill that came down the pike. However, most cannabis advocates favor Assembly Bill 604, which is an iteration of medical marijuana regulatory legislation that San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano-D has been trying to push through for years. AB 604, vows Ammiano, will be pressed in 2014. In a statement, Ammiano noted that SB 1262’s sponsors are “finally waking up to the reality of medical marijuana,” but, as a result of “hiding their heads in the sand for years,” their first attempt at regulation has been flawed.
The medical marijuana industry in California has, for all intents and purposes, been unregulated for seventeen years. This situation has prompted many to assess it as a free-for-all. The East Coast, in particular, sees California as a reverse example, as the path to intentionally stay away from. Diane Goldstein, a retired lieutenant commander who spent more than 20 years with the Redondo Beach Police Department says that “in California, it’s been the wild, wild west.” Goldstein cites the vagueness of state laws as a loophole by which “both the bad apples in the [medical marijuana] industry and the law enforcement officers” can take advantage of. Goldstein is now a spokesperson for LEAP, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a policy reform group.
Some say that the near two decades of medical marijuana regulatory stalemate has been rooted in money. Matt Kumin, an attorney who specializes in medical marijuana cases in San Francisco, says that funding for police budgets has come to rely on the gray areas of the existing marijuana laws. Advocates of cannabis claim that the financial incentives of drug enforcement grants along with the seizure of houses, cars, and other valuable property have been behind law enforcement’s vehement opposition to marijuana regulation all along. Kumin also notes that authorities resent marijuana legalization as they have been conditioned to believe that marijuana is an “evil weed” and “people who were their enemies are going to be part of the community.”
Chris McKenzie and Kim Raney, respectively the League’s executive director and Covina Police Chief, stated in a recent joint letter that the organizations came to realize independently that although they remain strongly opposed to marijuana use, “it is highly likely that in the near future…regulatory structure for marijuana could be enacted.” The letter further stated that if the organizations did not take part in joining regulatory debate, its final iteration might “take a form that was severely damaging to our interests.” The author of SB 1262, Senator Correa, stated it a bit more bluntly: “It is time for us to recognize that this industry is exploding as we speak and that we as a society need to have a handle on it.” Whether it is AB 604, SB1262, or some compromise between the two, California is and has been heading resolutely towards a sanctioned cannabis industry.
By Donna Westlund
The Fresno Bee
The Fresno Bee