Bills on crack cocaine, medicinal pot advance in California

Sen. Lou Correa
The state Senate passed legislation from Sen. Lou Correa, shown in 2012, to regulate the sale of medical marijuana in California.
(Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times)

State lawmakers Wednesday gave initial approval to proposals that would reduce penalties for selling crack cocaine, require medical marijuana dispensaries to get state licenses and allow people in the country illegally to get student loans for college.

Other bills fell short, including a measure that would have penalized high CEO salaries with higher corporate taxes and one to require a moratorium on fracking by oil companies in California.

Sen. Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) offered a bill approved by the Senate that addresses drug penalties. Under her measure, possession of crack cocaine for sale would incur a reduced penalty, equal to that imposed for powder cocaine — up to four years in prison — and make it easier to get probation for both.

Saying existing laws have led to “institutional racism,” Mitchell cited state statistics showing that African Americans were imprisoned for possession of crack cocaine for sale at a rate 43 times that for whites.


“The only practical solution to the racial disparity in cocaine sentencing, and to a failed but unending and costly drug war, is to lower the penalties … while investing in effective prevention and rehabilitation,” Mitchell told her colleagues in arguing for SB 1010.

The Senate also passed legislation to regulate the sale of medical marijuana in California, including a requirement that pot dispensaries get state licenses. Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana) said controls were needed on a business that has expanded significantly since voters approved medical marijuana in 1996.

“Although medical marijuana is legal in California, the industry is clearly poorly regulated,” Correa said, noting that his bill was requested by the League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Assn.

The measure would require that dispensaries get a license from the state and that cities sign off on any license. It also calls for guidelines to ensure that physicians recommend marijuana only after real examinations. SB 1262 also would bar physicians from having a financial interest in dispensaries.


The Senate also passed a bill to allow people in the country illegally to obtain student loans from the state to attend California universities. Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Bell Gardens) authored SB 1210, which would initially allocate $9.2 million in public funds for such loans.

All three measures now go to the Assembly, which on Wednesday approved a bill that would require colleges to notify local law enforcement of certain incidents, including alleged sexual assaults and hate crimes, that occur on campus. The bill, AB 1433, was introduced by Assemblyman Mike Gatto (D-Los Angeles).

The Assembly also passed a proposal that the state’s main welfare program include an $80-a-month stipend for diapers. AB 1516, by Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego), would apply to eligible families with children under age 2.

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