Politics, government and public life for Southern California

California Senate passes bill to clear up state laws on medical pot

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California’s Senate passed a bill Monday that would shield pot collectives and their employees from prosecution for possession or sale of medical marijuana.

"We want to create more certainty where little or none exists now," said Senate Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg (D-Sacramento), who wrote the bill.  Steinberg hoped it  would at least provide “a vehicle for some sort of understanding with the federal government.”

The federal government does not recognize state laws that allow the sale or possession of medical marijuana. The U.S. Justice Department periodically targets clinics, especially those it believes are operating as commercial businesses. 

Senate Bill 439 would put into statute a set of guidelines California’s Attorney General issued in 2008 that defines the kind of operations allowed under Prop 215 — California’s Compassionate Use Act.

While that won't prevent the federal government from prosecuting pot dispensaries, Steinberg thinks it might discourage them. Steinberg insisted that local governments would retain their authority to ban pot shops or regulate their operations — a right California’s Supreme Court reaffirmed just this month. 

Republican Jim Nielsen (R-Gerber) doubted that local jurisdictions will retain that authority. He said SB 439 would legalize for-profit sales of medical pot — not what Californians voted for when they voted to allow limited medical use in 1996.

Neilson blamed the proliferation of medical pot sales for “huge problems in our communities."

The California Narcotics Officers' Association and the California Police Chiefs Association opposed Steinberg’s bill. The American Civil Liberties Union and the Drug Policy Alliance supported it.

Senators voted 22-12 to pass Steinberg’s bill, mostly along party lines. 

The bill now heads to the Assembly.




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