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California lawmakers approve medical pot regulations plan

A warden with the California Department of Fish and Game hacks down marijuanan plants found growing in a deep ravine in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Kernville.

A warden with the California Department of Fish and Game hacks down marijuanan plants found growing in a deep ravine in the Sierra Nevada foothills near Kernville.

(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

The state Legislature late Friday approved a comprehensive plan to license and regulate the growth, shipping and sale of medical marijuana in California, with lawmakers hoping it will bring order to what has been a chaotic industry.

The action comes as activists have begun circulating petitions to qualify a ballot measure for next year to legalize recreational use of marijuana.

Five Assemblymen and one Senator are credited as co-authors of three bills that were worked out with the staff of Gov. Jerry Brown. Each bill has a portion of the regulatory plan.

Both the Senate and Assembly approved the bills, which would create a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (BMMR) within the Department of Consumer Affairs that would oversee a multiagency licensing and regulatory effort.

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Both the state and cities would license each dispensary and hold power to revoke permission to operate if they violate regulations.

“This is better than what we have, the status quo, which is the Wild West,” said Sen. Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg), one of the architects of the deal.

The new state bureau would rely on expertise from the Department of Public Health and the California Department of Food and Agriculture regarding the cultivation and quality control of marijuana, according to Assemblyman Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), an author of one of the bills.

“This unprecedented collaborative effort will finally, after 19 years, regulate the medical marijuana industry,” said Assemblyman Reginald Jones Sawyer (D-Los Angeles)

Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) said the compromise drops a proposed excise tax that would have brought in $60 million for policing and environmental protection. However, cities and counties could go to the ballot to tax growers and pot shops if they want.

McGuire has been particularly concerned about the cultivation of marijuana, which has been a largely illegal enterprise in his North Coast district.

“The impacts have been horrendous and the drought has had a devastating effect, especially on the North Coast,” McGuire said. “Entire rivers are running dry as rogue marijuana grows have expanded, diverting millions of gallons of water illegally, and the fourth year of this historic drought sets in.”

The legislation setting new standards for the environment was also endorsed by Kathryn Phillips, director of Sierra Club California.

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“This legislation is an important first step in cleaning up the mess created by free-for-all marijuana production in one of the most environmentally sensitive corners of California,” she said.


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