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California cities rush to ban pot shops as state deadline looms

A mistake in drafting new state regulations for medical marijuana in California has cities and counties scrambling to ban or restrict dispensaries before a March 1 deadline, after which, they fear, more lax state rules may apply.

Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), an author of legislation setting new rules for the industry, said the deadline was inserted in the bill in error and he plans emergency legislation next month to remove it from the law.

So far, medical cannabis dispensaries have been banned in recent weeks in 19 cities, including Antioch, Artesia, La Cañada Flintridge, Newport Beach, Palm Desert and Pasadena. Dozens of the other 463 cities in the state are considering new bans or restrictions, creating panic among those who support medical marijuana.

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“During the scramble at the end of the legislative session this year, an inadvertent drafting error placed a deadline on local jurisdictions,” Wood wrote to the state’s cities and counties. “My intent to remove the deadline has bipartisan and stakeholder support."

Deborah Hoffman, a spokeswoman for Gov. Jerry Brown, confirmed Friday that he was on board.

"We support a legislative fix," she said. "The governor supports allowing local municipalities a reasonable amount of time to come up with regulations that work for their communities."

The promise of an emergency fix was welcomed by Dale Gieringer, executive director of California NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which supports the legalization of marijuana.

“This letter should help cool down local officials who have been stampeding to restrict cultivation without adequate consideration,” Gieringer said Friday.

California voters approved a ballot measure nearly 20 years ago that legalized the sale of medical marijuana to patients in the state, but it was not until Oct. 9 of this year that Brown signed legislation creating state regulations for the growth, transport and sale of cannabis.

The state law says that local cities and counties can adopt their own rules, and voters in Los Angeles did so in 2013, approving a measure that calls for a sharply reduced number of pot shops as well as taxes on those operating legally.

Wood said his hope was to have the emergency legislation signed and take effect before March 1. If action takes place afterward, he said he believes there is solid legal ground for cities continuing to have local control once the law is approved.

Industry officials say cities should be given more time to consider the pros and cons of various regulatory schemes.

“When localities rush to ban cannabis activity they not only deny their patient residents access to compassionate care, they also lose critical tax revenues and open the door for dangerous illicit activity to take root in their communities,” said Keith McCarty, chief executive of Eaze Solutions, a technology firm that helps medical marijuana patients access pot.

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