Rules for med­i­cal pot, fi­nally?

Los Angeles Times - - OPINION -

Cal­i­for­nia law­mak­ers are, again, get­ting close to adopt­ing the state’s first sys­tem to reg­u­late med­i­cal mar­i­juana. Even if they’re 20 years late and it’s dif­fi­cult to craft laws for a largely law­less in­dus­try, leg­is­la­tors must not let another ses­sion end with­out pass­ing a com­pre­hen­sive bill to li­cense and con­trol med­i­cal mar­i­juana.

The state Se­nate and Assem­bly each ap­proved leg­is­la­tion to es­tab­lish a frame­work for reg­u­lat­ing med­i­cal cannabis from seed to sale, though the ver­sions dif­fer in who will han­dle the li­cens­ing and en­force­ment of the new laws. The Se­nate bill, SB 643, would cre­ate a new Of­fice of Med­i­cal Mar­i­juana Reg­u­la­tion that would es­tab­lish rules for the in­dus­try and is­sue li­censes to peo­ple who grow, trans­port and sell cannabis. The Assem­bly bill, AB 266, would cre­ate the Gover­nor’s Of­fice of Mar­i­juana Reg­u­la­tion to over­see the new reg­u­la­tory sys­tem, but the work of li­cens­ing and en­force­ment would be done by sev­eral state de­part­ments with ex­per­tise in agri­cul­ture, med­i­cal prod­ucts and tax­a­tion.

Which­ever model the leg­is­la­tors set­tle on, Cal­i­for­nia needs a sen­si­ble, work­able and en­force­able reg­u­la­tory sys­tem. The Com­pas­sion­ate Use Act of 1996 en­cour­aged state of­fi­cials to im­ple­ment a plan to reg­u­late safe and af­ford­able dis­tri­bu­tion of mar­i­juana to pa­tients. When law­mak­ers failed to act, cities and coun­ties de­vel­oped a patch­work of lo­cal rules, mostly gov­ern­ing dis­pen­saries. But there are vir­tu­ally no reg­u­la­tions on how mar­i­juana is grown or pro­cessed, and no con­sumer pro­tec­tions for a prod­uct that, os­ten­si­bly, is for sick peo­ple. The U.S. Depart­ment of Jus­tice has said that Cal­i­for­nia needs to prop­erly reg­u­late med­i­cal mar­i­juana or the fed­eral gov­ern­ment will con­tinue to raid and pros­e­cute cannabis oper­a­tions.

There is still a lot of work to be done. Law­mak­ers need to merge the best as­pects of the two bills into one piece of leg­is­la­tion. They’ll have to de­cide whether med­i­cal mar­i­juana should be or­ganic by 2022, as one bill would re­quire, and whether in­di­vid­u­als with felony drug traf­fick­ing con­vic­tions should be barred from work­ing in the in­dus­try, as the other bill pro­poses. Other is­sues that re­main open are whether to re­strict where mar­i­juana can be grown com­mer­cially, whether to al­low ver­ti­cally in­te­grated cannabis com­pa­nies and how to find the right bal­ance be­tween statewide reg­u­la­tion and lo­cal con­trol over in­di­vid­ual oper­a­tions.

Gov. Jerry Brown has stayed on the side­lines in the past, but that can­not con­tinue. He and his ap­pointees will ul­ti­mately be re­spon­si­ble for man­ag­ing and over­see­ing the im­ple­men­ta­tion of these reg­u­la­tions. Brown should be in­volved in leg­is­la­tion, and he should em­power state agen­cies to weigh in now and help craft the smartest, most func­tional sys­tem pos­si­ble.

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