Asm. Rob Bonta: Regulatory Structure Needed before Calf. Voters Legalize Pot

New measures aimed at improving the safety and legitimacy of medical marijuana might be hitting California in the future as state lawmakers consider a bill that would provide a regulatory structure for the state’s medical marijuana industry.

“We want to ensure that patients who need medical marijuana treatment not only have access, but are receiving quality medical marijuana that is safe for consumption,” said State Assemblymember Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), the author of AB 34, in an interview for IVN.

According to Bonta, AB 34 works to regulate the whole life cycle of medical cannabis, from cultivation to retail, while also providing patient protection and public safety measures.

“California currently does not have proper safeguards for patients receiving treatment,” Bonta explained. “Like with all other treatment and medicine we provide to our patients, we must ensure medical marijuana is properly cured and tested. For medical marijuana, this includes the need to eliminate potential contamination such as mold or pesticides from the product.”

With a vote expected no later than early May, the bill currently faces scrutiny from many groups, most significantly from law enforcement entities. With concerns over the product’s involvement in the black market and issues relating to zoning and licensing, enforcement is turning into the largest point of contention on the bill.

“The difficulty in passing such an expansive bill like AB 34 is getting the different levels of government to work together,” Bonta remarked. “There are disagreements over which state agency would oversee medical marijuana, what role the state plays versus cities versus counties, and who is responsible for enforcing different portions of the law. Many of these concerns are shared by law enforcement at various levels, but even they have a wide range of opinions based on their own unique circumstances.”

Nevertheless, Bonta views the debate as an opportunity to address the concerns of all possible stakeholders to the bill, increasing its effectiveness and passability. He wants a more collaborative and open approach to passing the bill.

“I don’t think there is a single silver bullet on enforcement,” Bonta said, “but I do believe that we need to work with the industry to embrace the good actors—those businesses who want to play by the rules and embrace legitimacy—so we can focus on the bad actors tied to the underground market and cartel operations.”

The circumstances—in the state of California and nationally—make this the right time to refocus and recommit to fixing medical marijuana.
Asm. Rob Bonta, California State Assembly
In 2014, two separate efforts to regulate medical marijuana by Assemblymember Tom Ammiano and State Senator Lou Correa failed when AB 1894 was voted down by the Legislature and SB 1262 was held in the Senate Appropriations Committee. Yet Bonta thinks the current political climate will greatly increase the chances of his new bill passing.

“With AB 34, we are embracing the strengths of both bills and working to craft a better solution,” he remarked.

He also thinks it’s likely Californians will vote on marijuana legalization in 2016. Recent reforms have made it easier for measures to make it onto the general election ballot, including SB 1253, which gives voters an extra month to gather signatures for a proposed measure. Additionally, the number of signatures needed to place a measure on the ballot has been reduced.

The prospect of voters passing full legalization in 2016 has applied pressure on state lawmakers to act on the issue. Bonta believes that such pressure is a “critical factor” in the future success of AB 34.

However, he also understands that getting policymakers behind any law that may ease restrictions on access to marijuana remains a tough sell, even within his own party.

“AB 34 is still early on in the process, but the division historically on this issue has been within the Democratic Party as opposed to between Democrats and Republicans,” he explained. “Plenty of Democrats opposed AB 1894, and even more refused to cast a vote either way, while one Republican did vote in favor.”

With a March 2014 PPIC poll reporting that 53 percent of likely California voters think that marijuana should be legal, the chances of a measure passing in 2016 are high. Bonta believes that before allowing full adult usage, however, California must properly regulate and manage the medical marijuana industry, describing current regulations as “woefully insufficient.”

“The circumstances—in the state of California and nationally—make this the right time to refocus and recommit to fixing medical marijuana,” he said. “With the success of full adult use of marijuana at the ballot box, first in Colorado and Washington, and now in Oregon, Alaska, and Washington, D.C., marijuana policy is moving to the forefront for policymakers and the public.”

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