Hotboxing the Capitol

This year, the state Legislature packed a full bowl of marijuana bills

The oft-maligned gridlock in the California Legislature may cut both ways for medical-marijuana patients this year.

Currently five bills under the rotunda deal with medical marijuana or adults using the plant for nonmedical purposes. Some bills have been praised as positive steps to protect patient rights and civil liberties. But some argue that proposed new laws might create a creepy state database of pot patients, or would jeopardize child- custody battles for cannabis users.

All the bills face long odds of ever becoming law. The big one is San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Assembly Bill 2312, which would regulate medical marijuana at the state level instead of letting each California city and county take differing approaches to interpreting the law.

Ammiano has argued that uniformity and certainty are both needed when it comes to the attorney general’s medical-cannabis guidelines. And also that regulations would prevent the “unlawful growing and diversion of marijuana to nonmedical use.”

California voters in 1996 approved medical defenses against prosecution for some marijuana crimes. In 2003, the Legislature enacted the Medical Marijuana Program, which extended medical-cannabis defenses to qualified patients who associate in order to grow and distribute the plant. Since then, about 60 California cities and counties have created medical-marijuana-access ordinances.

However, many other cities and counties—many of whom did not support Proposition 215—have banned medical-pot growers and distributors.

A.B. 2312 would also create a Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement within the California Department of Consumer Affairs. The board would approve or deny permits for growing, processing, testing, transporting, distributing and selling medical cannabis. The board could also suspend, fine, restrict or revoke registrations upon a violation of the act and develop zoning standards for unincorporated and otherwise nonzoned areas.

The bill is very similar to a failed ballot initiative called the Medical Marijuana Regulation Control and Taxation Initiative, except that it does not impose a state tax, and instead authorizes local taxes. Imposing a state tax requires a two-thirds majority in both houses, which would be nearly impossible to obtain.

Assembly Bill 2365 would require all medical-marijuana patients to get a state identification card and register the address where they are cultivating marijuana—provisions that activists fear could make it easier for federal agents and prosecutors to target people.

And Assembly Bill 2365 would amend state code to require that family courts consider a parent’s documented use of prescribed drugs, including medical marijuana, in child-custody proceedings.

In addition, Sen. Mark Leno has introduced a bill, Senate Bill 1506, that would make the crime of possessing concentrated cannabis—also known as hashish—a misdemeanor. Currently, hash possession can either be prosecuted as a misdemeanor or a felony, and a felony hash-possession conviction can result in a sentence of 16 months or two or three years behind bars.

Possessing 1 ounce or less of cannabis in California is an infraction punishable by a $100 ticket, but the state automatically revokes driver’s licenses as well. Assembly Bill 2600 would prohibit the Department of Motor Vehicles from revoking a person’s driving privileges for simple possession of 1 ounce or less when a motor vehicle is involved.

All the bills are now headed to committee, where a key thing to watch will be the support or opposition of the California District Attorneys Association, the California Narcotic Officers’ Association, and the California Police Chiefs Association. The CDAA, which has opposed previous attempts to lessen penalties for marijuana crimes, is particularly influential.

“It’s very difficult to succeed in authoring a bill of any sort [that is] criminal-justice related with the opposition of the California District Attorneys Association,” Leno said. “Many legislators are very sensitive to positions they take.”

As for the CNDA, it has issued a white paper stating “Marijuana is not medicine,” while the CPCA encourage the prohibition of all California dispensaries.