Is it too late for California to regulate medical marijuana?

Former Los Angeles City Councilman Bill Rosendahl gives a thumbs up to supporters of Proposition D outside Los Angeles City Hall.
(Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times)

Monday morning, Los Angeles City Attorney Mike Feuer and Police Chief Charlie Beck will announce an effort to help property owners and real estate agents comply with Proposition D, which banned all but about 100 medical marijuana dispensaries that opened before 2007.

Proposition D was essentially a compromise between medical marijuana advocates and City Hall to impose some regulation on pot shops in the city after previous attempts to control the industry were blocked in court.

L.A.’s convoluted attempts to control medical marijuana are by no means unique. When voters passed the Compassionate Use Act in 1996, there was little guidance on how the state should facilitate patients’ use of marijuana as a treatment. In the absence of state regulations, the availability of medical marijuana has essentially led to legalized recreational use.

Now the League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Assn. have proposed a bill, introduced by Sen. Lou Correa (D-Santa Ana), that would create a system to license growers and dispensaries, as well as track doctors’ recommendations. The goal is to clamp down on the recreational use by trying to regulate marijuana as a medicine.


But are cities and the police chiefs too late? Their legislation would develop a comprehensive regulatory system, which would take a while to get up and running. In the meantime, California voters may consider legalizing marijuana for recreational use in November or -- more likely -- in 2016. Over the weekend, the California Democratic Party made legalizing marijuana part of its platform. By the time California develops the systems to regulate medicinal use, marijuana may be available to every adult.

Is that a reason to give up trying to regulate medical marijuana? No, not necessarily. But it’s a reminder that a comprehensive regulatory system would have been a lot more effective 10 or 15 years ago. And any attempt to legalize marijuana going forward should learn from that mistake.

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