By: Alec Laube
Senate Bill 643, otherwise known as the Medical Marijuana Public Safety and Environmental Protection Act, passed through the California Senate Business and Professions Committee on April 20, and will be voted on by the Senate and Governance and Finance Committee on Wednesday, April 29. Passing unanimously though one commission is a great sign for State Senator Mike McGuire’s medical marijuana reform legislation and gives a glimmer of hope for the passing of an initiative in 2016 that would allow for the recreational use of medical marijuana in California. Currently, 4 states have legalized the recreational use of marijuana. After being the first state to legalize marijuana for medicinal purposes in 1996, will California be the fifth state to join in on legalizing recreational use for the controversial drug?
First and foremost, it should be noted that the purpose of SB 643 is solely to regulate the use of medical marijuana and enforce current laws regarding medical marijuana. It also creates new enforcement laws to clarify the state of medicinal marijuana in California. For example, there have been cases in which police officers that find marijuana on someone’s person have trouble distinguishing whether or not that person is in illegal possession or is legally using it for medicinal purposes. The new law addresses current regulations on permits and law enforcement, and will tighten them up in order to avoid such issues in the future.
The bill also features a provision that explicitly allows cities and counties the authority to make and enforce, within their borders, “all local police, sanitary, and other ordinances and regulations not in conflict with the general laws.” This local police power includes broad authority to determine, for purposes of public health, safety, and welfare, the appropriate uses of land within the local jurisdiction’s borders. This means that each city and county will be able to determine whether or not a medical marijuana dispensary may operate within its borders. On top of that, cities and counties will be able to impose local taxes and enact zoning regulations and other restrictions on the cultivation, transportation, and distribution of medical marijuana based on local needs.
It should also be noted that passage of SB 643 would not do away with the issue of illegal transportation of marijuana through areas that vote to have medical marijuana legalized in their city. That is one of the major weaknesses of this legislation. The bill simply doesn’t address all of the issues that people have with marijuana and the ease of access to it illegally. And yet, while this bill doesn’t address some of the bigger problems that people have with marijuana, it is a good step in the right direction to give power to the lower levels of government and watch to see how individuals throughout the state react to new laws regarding medical use and recreational use of marijuana.
Obviously, the bill does give a lot of power to city and county governments within California. In the long term, this may prove to be harmful, but it nevertheless makes this bill an important one to watch during the current legislative session. Looking forward, if this bill becomes law with the provisions above, it will be important to watch how local governments vote with regard to dispensaries, transportation, or the cultivation of marijuana in their borders. If most areas in California are favorable toward marijuana, this indicates that a possible ballot initiative in 2016 to legalize the recreational use of marijuana will have a large possibility of passing. However, there are still no guarantees. SB 643 focuses on medicinal uses of marijuana, which is much different than recreational use in the minds of many voters.