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California Governor Jerry Brown Signs Bills Regulating Medical Marijuana Industry

California Governor Jerry Brown on Friday signed into law the state’s first comprehensive regulations of medical marijuana, two decades after legalization fueled a wild west of disparate local rules, a gray market in cultivation and concerns about the ease of obtaining the drug.

Governor Brown put his signature to Senate Bill 643 and its companion measures, Assembly Bills 243 and 266, implementing an extensive set of regulations aimed at ensuring that all pot growers are licensed and all medical marijuana prescribers play by the rules.  “This new structure will make sure patients have access to medical marijuana, while ensuring a robust tracking system,” said Brown. “This sends a clear and certain signal to our federal counterparts that California is implementing robust controls not only on paper, but in practice.” Although Prop. 215, which voters passed in 1996, legalized cannabis for patients in the state, federal laws do not recognize medical marijuana laws in individual states. Next year’s state ballot will also likely see at least one measure to legalize recreational use.

“From seed to sale, for the first time in our state’s history, medical marijuana will now be regulated across the state of California,” Senator Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg) who authored SB 643 said. “Voters passed Proposition 215 nearly twenty years ago and the promised rules and regulations from the legislature were never advanced and our communities and environment have been paying the price ever since. This is a historic day for our state and generations of Californians will benefit from these sweeping rules and regulations that will protect our neighborhoods, our environment and the safety of patients.”

The package of three laws, viewed by some as a possible framework for the eventual legalization of recreational marijuana in the most populous U.S. state, would establish a Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation and oversee such activities as cultivation and dispensary licensing.  The proposal’s enactment comes as multiple groups try to qualify voter initiatives for the November 2016 ballot that would legalize recreational marijuana in California.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, who unlike Brown has endorsed the idea of allowing adults to use marijuana for fun, said getting the state’s free-wheeling medical marijuana industry under control would ease the transition to a system that also addresses recreational use.

“Given the history and complexity of California’s market, achieving the people’s will and responsibly regulating marijuana will be a process that unfolds over many years, requiring sustained attention to implementation,” Newsom, who is also a candidate for governor in 2018, said after the legislative vote.

The bills, which take effect in 2018, “establish a long-overdue comprehensive regulatory framework for the production, transportation and sale of medical marijuana,” Brown, a Democrat, said in a signing statement on Friday.

The legislation regulates the cultivation of marijuana, which now frequently takes place on hidden gray market farms that strip water from the state’s forests. The laws also require state tax and agriculture officials to develop a way to track the sale and development of marijuana products, which remain illegal under federal law.

Medical marijuana advocates, who said some cities had cracked down too hard on local dispensaries in the absence of strong state regulations welcomed the laws.

Organizations favoring legalization of recreational marijuana for adults are re-working proposed California ballot initiatives to accommodate the new laws, said Lauren Vazquez, a spokeswoman for the Marijuana Policy Project which works to legalize the drug.

But opponents said the laws would codify a business they still see as promoting potentially dangerous drug use.

“People do not want marijuana stores in their communities,” said Kevin Sabet, co-founder of the group Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which opposes legalizing recreational cannabis.

Sabet is skeptical of the state’s current free-for-all medical marijuana environment, in which it is easy to get a doctor’s recommendation and medical pot is often smoked, the method preferred by recreational users.

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