| SACRAMENTO, Calif. April 22
SACRAMENTO, Calif. April 22 A measure to
regulate California's chaotic medical marijuana industry passed
a key legislative hurdle on Tuesday, in a move that could lay
the groundwork to tax and control recreational use of the drug
if it ultimately becomes legal.
U.S. states are increasingly moving to remove curbs on
marijuana following landmark voter initiatives in Colorado and
Washington state in 2012 that legalized the drug for
recreational purposes. Many more states allow medicinal pot.
But the drug remains illegal under federal law, leaving
states that have opted for medicinal legalization struggling to
control a thriving trade in medical cannabis.
"The current state of chaos around medical marijuana has got
to come to an end," said state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San
If passed, his proposal could "set a template" to regulate
recreational use of marijuana by adults, Ammiano said, a move he
has long favored.
The bill marks Ammiano's second run at regulating medical
marijuana in California, where concern has grown over the lack
of rules for the hundreds of street-corner pot dispensaries and
delivery services that have sprung up since medical marijuana
was legalized 15 years ago.
Besides the pot shops that authorities struggle to regulate,
other problems include inappropriate prescribing by unethical
doctors, and a violent, "wild West" culture of illegal cannabis
farms in the state's forests, Ammiano said.
His bill would make it illegal for doctors to recommend
medical marijuana for patients they have not examined, and bar
prescriptions by doctors with a financial interest in a pot
It would also let the Department of Alcoholic Beverage
Control enforce laws regulating marijuana and develop plans to
tax it beyond the sales tax now levied, while ensuring it is
grown and processed safely and in ways safe for the environment.
Supporters, including the city of Oakland, said the bill
would bring order and clarity to the market.
But a law enforcement group criticized Ammiano's plan to
regulate medical cannabis through Alcoholic Beverage Control.
"There is no little irony in the department of Alcoholic
Beverage Control as the administering agency for the medical
marijuana trade," the California Narcotic Officers' Association,
which opposes legalization, wrote in its testimony.
"We know of no other area of law where an agency charged
with regulating recreational substances such as alcohol is also
given portfolio over matters alleged to be medical."
California voters rejected a ballot initiative to legalize
marijuana for recreational use in 2010, but a poll last fall by
the Public Policy Institute of California showed an increase in
support, with 60 percent of likely voters favoring legalization.
Ammiano's plan, which passed the assembly Public Safety
committee on Tuesday, is one of two marijuana regulation
proposals making their way through the legislature.
The senate version, which would regulate the drug via the
state health department instead of the Alcoholic Beverage
Control department, has won support from some law enforcement
agencies, signalling to many that industry regulations may be
coming soon, after years of inaction.
"I feel a lot of momentum behind these two bills," said Don
Duncan, California director for the medical marijuana advocacy
group Americans for Safe Access.
(Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Clarence Fernandez)