Medical marijuana regulations advance in state Legislature

California lawmakers advance two proposals for regulating medical marijuana

Competing proposals to regulate the state's medical marijuana industry advanced in the Legislature on Thursday, capping a week of bustling legislative activity before state budget talks take priority for awhile in the Capitol.

Lawmakers also voted on proposals to give workers more benefits. The state Senate backed an expansion of unpaid family leave, while the Assembly rejected a proposal to require businesses to pay employees double for working on Thanksgiving.

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FOR THE RECORD:

Double pay: An article in the June 5 California section about action in the state Legislature incorrectly stated that a bill to require businesses to pay employees double for working on Thanksgiving, AB 67, was listed as a "job killer" by the California Chamber of Commerce. The chamber opposed the bill but did not list it as a job killer. —
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Each house weighed in on medical marijuana, which has been legal in California since 1996 but has not been subject to statewide regulation.

The Senate measure would create a new Office of Medical Marijuana Regulation to regulate how cannabis is grown and sold and to set fees and license businesses. Cities and counties would enforce the regulations and could choose to create their own marijuana sales taxes.

Voters legalized medical marijuana "nearly 20 years ago, and the promised rules and regulations from the Legislature were never implemented," said the measure's author, Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg). "And our communities and environment are now paying the price."

The vote on his bill, SB 643, was 25 to 12.

The Assembly approved a proposal for establishing an agency to oversee new licensing regulations, which would be enforced by several state departments. Local governments would still issue licenses to grow and sell medical marijuana.

The bill, AB 266, is a combination of two rival proposals, one backed by the cannabis industry, the other by cities and law enforcement. The authors are Democratic Assemblymen Rob Bonta of Oakland, Ken Cooley of Rancho Cordova and Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles.

With some Republican support, the measure passed 50 to 5.

Also on Thursday, the Senate approved legislation that would allow employees of midsize companies to take unpaid leave to care for family members, including grandparents and grandchildren.

Sen. Hannah-Beth Jackson (D-Santa Barbara) said her bill would extend protection to employees of companies with 25 to 49 workers after a previous law took effect for firms with 50 or more.

"It assures you that you will have your job back when you return," Jackson told her colleagues.

Her bill, SB 406, passed with a bare majority, 21 to 16. Republicans objected that it would subject businesses to lawsuits and difficulty in staffing. The California Chamber of Commerce opposes the bill as a "job killer."

Sen. Jeff Stone (R-Murrieta) described the proposal as "overly burdensome." He operates pharmacies and said it would be a hardship to find a qualified replacement if a worker left for 12 weeks.

The double-pay proposal fared worse.

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FOR THE RECORD

June 5, 11:05 a.m.: An earlier version of this article said the proposal for double pay for working Thanksgiving was included on the Chamber of Commerce's "job killer" list. It was not.

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Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), the bill's author, attempted to sweeten its appeal by delivering pumpkin pies to more than 50 legislators' offices Thursday morning.

Gonzalez noted that the measure had been scaled back to apply only to Thanksgiving and to exempt small business and emergency services workers.

But the Chamber's Jennifer Barrera said the bill, AB 67, "still needed a lot more work." It failed in the Assembly on a 29-to-28 vote.

Some high-profile measures were shelved until next year. They included one bill to require that retailers give employees two weeks' notice of their work schedules and a proposal to regulate short-term vacation rental platforms such as Airbnb.

melanie.mason@latimes.com
Twitter: @melmason

patrick.mcgreevy@latimes.com
Twitter: @mcgreevy99

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