California lawmakers approved a series of bills in the final hours of the 2015 legislative session that seek to establish statewide rules and oversight governing the distribution of medicinal cannabis. The three bills — Assembly Bill 266, Senate Bill 643, and Assembly Bill 243 — now await final approval from Democrat Gov. Jerry Brown.
Much of the measures’ finalized language was amended and approved by lawmakers at the close of the session and was not subject to public testimony or significant floor debate.
Specifically, the legislative package creates a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the Department of Consumer Affairs to develop rules and licensing procedures for authorized medical cannabis dispensaries. Dispensaries will be required to operate in accordance with local guidelines prior to receiving a state license. State-licensed dispensaries will be permitted to operate on a ‘for profit’ basis. However, the new regulations do not override municipal moratoriums that are already in place prohibiting such operations in various jurisdictions throughout the state, nor do they prohibit the collection of local sales taxes on marijuana purchases in communities that presently impose them.
Separate language in the bills seeks to regulate the licensed production of cannabis and imposes rules in regard to growing, testing, and labeling cannabis like other agricultural products. The bills also seek to provide additional oversight to physicians who recommend cannabis therapy. However, the measures do not limit physicians from recommending cannabis at their own discretion — activity which is codified under Proposition 215/the Compassionate Use Act.
Proposed language seeking to impose an excise tax on various cannabis products was not included in the final bill package.
If signed into law, the new regulations will take effect in 2017.
California voters initially approved Proposition 215 in 1996, which permits qualified patients to possess and/or grow marijuana for therapeutic purposes. However, the measure did not provide language explicitly providing for third-party providers outside of assigned caregivers, instead calling upon state lawmakers “to implement a plan of safe and affordable distribution of marijuana to all patients in medical need of marijuana.”
California NORML has additional information of the measures here and here.
Legislation to establish a system of medical dispensaries for the state’s nearly 14,000 medical marijuana patients has become law.
Governor David Ige signed the measure, stating, “I support the establishment of dispensaries to ensure that qualified patients can legally and safely access medical marijuana. We know that our challenge going forward will be to adopt rules that are fair, cost effective and easy to monitor. The bill sets a timeline. We will make a good faith effort to create a fair process that will help the people most in need.”
House Bill 321 permits the state “to issue eight dispensary licenses statewide; provided that three dispensary licenses shall be issued for the city and county of Honolulu, two dispensary licenses each shall be issued for the county of Hawaii and the county of Maui, and one dispensary license shall be issued for the county of Kauai. … Up to two production centers shall be allowed under each dispensary license, provided that each production center shall be limited to no more than three thousand marijuana plants. A dispensary licensee may establish up to two retail dispensing locations under the licensee’s dispensary license.”
The state Department of Health has until January 4, 2016 to finalize rules governing the dispensary program. Licensed dispensaries are anticipated to be operational by July 15, 2016. Once operational, qualified patients will be able to obtain up to four ounces of cannabis or cannabis-infused products, such as oils, tinctures, or lozenges, from a licensed provider every 15 days.
A separate provision included in HB 321 also adds post-traumatic stress as a qualifying condition under the state’s medical cannabis law.
Legislation initially enacted by the legislature in 2000 provides qualified patients the legal right to possess and cultivate cannabis for therapeutic purposes, but did not allow for its production and distribution via dispensaries.
The enactment of medicinal cannabis laws is not associated with any rise in statewide criminal activity and may even be related to reductions in incidences of violent crime, according to data published online in the journal PLoS ONE.
Researchers at the University of Texas at Dallas tracked crime rates across all 50 states between the years between 1990 and 2006, a time period during which 11 states legalized marijuana for medical use. Authors reviewed FBI data to determine whether there existed any association between the passage of medicinal cannabis laws and varying rates of statewide criminal activity, specifically reported crimes of homicide, rape, robbery, assault, burglary, larceny, and auto theft.
Investigators reported that the passage of medical marijuana laws was not associated with an increase in any of the seven crime types assessed, but that liberalized laws were associated with decreases in certain types of violent crime.
“The central finding gleaned from the present study was that MML (medical marijuana legalization) is not predictive of higher crime rates and may be related to reductions in rates of homicide and assault,” authors reported. “Interestingly, robbery and burglary rates were unaffected by medicinal marijuana legislation, which runs counter to the claim that dispensaries and grow houses lead to an increase in victimization due to the opportunity structures linked to the amount of drugs and cash that are present. Although, this is in line with prior research suggesting that medical marijuana dispensaries may actually reduce crime in the immediate vicinity.”
Researchers concluded: “Medical marijuana laws were not found to have a crime exacerbating effect on any of the seven crime types. On the contrary, our findings indicated that MML precedes a reduction in homicide and assault. … In sum, these findings run counter to arguments suggesting the legalization of marijuana for medical purposes poses a danger to public health in terms of exposure to violent crime and property crimes.”
Full text of the study, “The Effect of Medical Marijuana Laws on Crime: Evidence from State Panel Data, 1990-2006,” appears online here.
Hawaii voters overwhelmingly support legalizing and regulating the adult use of cannabis, according to just-released statewide survey data by QMark Research and commissioned by the Hawaii Drug Policy Action Group.
Sixty-six percent of respondents said they endorsed legalizing cannabis, an increase of nine points since pollsters last posed the question in 2012.
Seventy-seven percent of respondents separately said that jail time is an inappropriate sanction for those found to be in violation of the state’s existing marijuana possession laws. Under present law, possessing any amount of cannabis for non-medical purposes in Hawaii is a criminal misdemeanor, punishable by up to 30 days in jail and a $1,000 fine.
Eight-five percent of those polled also backed the establishment of licensed medical cannabis dispensaries. Hawaii lawmakers legalized the possession and cultivation of medicinal cannabis by state-qualified patients in 2000, but did not provide for dispensaries.
Arizona, Colorado, New Jersey, Maine, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington, DC now have licensed medical cannabis dispensaries up and running. (California dispensaries are not licensed by the state.) Similar dispensary outlets are in the process of opening in Connecticut, Illinois, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, and Oregon.
The QMark poll possesses a margin of error of +/- 4.9 percentage points.
For those keeping score, recent statewide polls in Arizona, California, Georgia, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, Oregon, and Texas all show majority support for legalizing the adult consumption of cannabis.
Federal officials are poised to unveil new regulations allowing for financial institutions to legally interact with licensed businesses that are engaged in cannabis commerce.
United States Attorney General Eric Holder announced the forthcoming guidelines yesterday in a speech at the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.
“You don’t want just huge amounts of cash in these place. They (retail facilities that dispense cannabis) want to be able to use the banking system,” Holder said. “And so we (the Obama administration) will be issuing some regulations I think very soon to deal with that issue.”
Presently, federal law discourages financial institutions from accepting deposits or providing banking services for facilities that engage in cannabis-related commerce because the plant remains illegal under the US Controlled Substances Act. While the Obama administration is unlikely to amend cannabis’ illegal status under federal law, the forthcoming rules are anticipated to provide clear guidelines for banks that wish to provide support for state-licensed cannabis facilities.
In Colorado, where retail stores began legally selling cannabis on January 1 to anyone age 21 and older, businesses were estimated to have engaged in over $5 million in marijuana sales in their first week of business.