.Upfront: No cannabis do

Drug Policy Alliance opposes new medical cannabis act

by Tom Gogola

The Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act of 2015 was hashed out of three separate and distinct medical cannabis bills that came before the California legislature this session; late last week a final bill emerged that’s expected to get the Jerry Brown signature.

While a sense of relief settles over the state’s medical cannabis community—a statewide set of uniform medical cannabis policies is generally seen as a good thing—the emergent bill remains opposed by the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which supports decriminalization efforts and has been a great go-to resource for proponents of sane drug policies, both here and nationally.

The state has struggled to get its medical cannabis house in order since passing its landmark 1996 bill that provided access to patients in need, and this year was seen as the year that it finally would come up with a bill that could pass muster in the legislature.

The pressure’s on: A statewide medical cannabis regime is widely considered a necessary prerequisite for any full-on legalization push, and that’s expected to unfold via a 2016 referendum now in the works.

If the medical cannabis act is a forerunner for what’s to come as advocates roll out legal-weed plans for 2016, it’s plain to see that the forces of law and order are going to have a big place at the legalization table.

One of the sticky wickets in the proposed legalization rollout is: What happens to people who have been cultivating cannabis in the shadows and got caught and charged with a felony? If the medical cannabis language adopted by the legislature last week is any indication, old-line “mom and pop” growers from places like Mendocino and Humboldt counties are screwed.

Therefore: “We’re not as happy as you might think,” says Lynne Lyman, the San Francisco-based California State Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, and for two reasons: The act would exclude individuals with cannabis-related felony offenses from participating in the new, legalized cannabis economy by denying them the licenses everyone now needs to get in order to grow and distribute medical cannabis.

Lyman adds that the economic impact of this move would be felt disproportionately among members of minority communities who want to get in on the legal-weed economy, too: Blacks, whites and Latinos use drugs at roughly the same rates, says Lyman, but blacks and Latinos are far more likely than whites to wind up locked up over it. “We tend to apply our drug laws disproportionately,” Lyman says.

So who’s responsible for the felony-charge language? Well, that language has been a dogged demand from The Man, and you can sniff the hard-ass section of the act in question right back to input from the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA), which had yielded a steady and heavy hand of law enforcement on recent efforts to cue up a statewide medical cannabis bill. Indeed, it was a CPCA-initiated flurry of late-in-the-game, tough-on-crime amendments to last year’s attempt at a medical cannabis omnibus that tanked the bill.

Lyman says that the DPA opposed the act and the tough-on-crime bills that fed into it, but hoped that there would have been amendments offered up late in the game that would let those with felony convictions get the new state license. By all indications, as of our press deadline, that was not happening.

Lyman also cited a part of the act that allows localities to set their own rules around cannabis as a further driver of their opposition.

This piece of the act appears to be a legislative nod to the pressure put on cannabis bill-writers by the League of California Cities: Thanks to that lobbying group’s efforts on behalf of localities, whatever the state medical cannabis law says, localities will still be able to ban patient access by banning cultivation and dispensaries in their fuddy-duddy midst. Patients in declared no-cannabis towns and counties would have to drive elsewhere to get their medicine, and Lyman says that’s a bad move, especially for disabled patients who might not have the means to access it.

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