SAN FRANCISCO — A California lawmaker has introduced legislation to regulate the state’s freewheeling medical marijuana industry — the farmers who grow the drug, the hundreds of storefront shops that sell it and especially the doctors who write recommendations allowing people to use it.
The state in 1996 was the first to authorize marijuana use for health purposes, but to this day no one knows how many dispensaries and patients California has or what conditions pot is being used to treat because the loosely worded law did not give government agencies a role in tracking the information.
The bill introduced by state Sen. Lou Correa marks a milestone not only because it would provide state oversight of the multi-billion dollar industry for the first time but because it is likely to get serious consideration in Sacramento after years of inaction.
SB1262 is the brainchild of the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities, two politically influential groups that have stood in the way of previous efforts to legitimize pot growers and dispensaries by subjecting them to state control and taxation.
“This legislation seems counterintuitive, but we polled our membership and over 90 percent of the chiefs felt that, regardless of how you felt about the marijuana issue itself, there needed to be a responsible public safety approach to this,” said Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, president of the chiefs association.
Medical marijuana advocates, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for a statewide regulatory scheme they hoped would make the industry less susceptible to federal raids and arrests, is taking a wait-and-see approach.
The bill co-sponsored by the league and the police chiefs’ association would require the California Department of Public Health to license dispensaries and cultivation sites but only if they first had secured operating permits from local jurisdictions.
The department also would develop “quality assurance” procedures for testing marijuana for bacteria, mold and nonorganic pesticides, which growers would be prohibited from using.
The legislation also imposes substantial new requirements on doctors. If passed, it would allow medical marijuana recommendations to be given only by either a patient’s primary care doctor or a licensed specialist to whom the doctor has referred the patient.
California Medical Association spokeswoman Molly Weedn said the organization has not had a chance to review Correa’s bill but would probably take a position on it in the coming months.