Access Across State to Cannabis Could Still Be Limited Even if Legalized

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As the city of Berkeley works toward regulating and expanding the medical marijuana industry, a California state proposition that would legalize recreational cannabis could feed the city's growing marijuana community, though access may continue to be limited across the state.

If passed in the Nov. 2 elections, Measure T would license and tax six 30,000-square-foot growing facilities, allow a fourth dispensary in the city and reconstitute the city's Medical Cannabis Commission. Measure S would place a tax on cannabis - 2.5 percent for medical and 10 percent for recreational marijuana if voters pass Proposition 19, legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the state.

However, other cities across the state have not yet taken steps to prepare for the possible legalization of recreational marijuana and may never adopt laws to tax and regulate nonmedical cannabis, even if the proposition is passed.

The proposition, also known as the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, authorizes local jurisdictions to regulate and tax commercial production, distribution and sale of marijuana, but it does not establish statewide policies for licensing marijuana-related activity, posing a problem, some say, for medical and recreational marijuana users.

"It's a wonderful title, and that's about it," said George Mull, Sacramento attorney and president of the California Cannabis Association, which opposes the proposition.

He added that Prop 19 would leave most cities, which have been "very conservative" on medical marijuana issues, without access, noting Berkeley as a "rarity" across the state.

Currently, medical cannabis is regulated by local jurisdictions under Proposition 215, which legalized cultivation and possession in California for medical purposes in 1996. But, according to Mull, less than 40 of the 536 cities and counties in the state have adopted ordinances allowing dispensaries.

By legalizing nonmedical marijuana under the same conditions, Mull said the proposition could place an unnecessary burden on local jurisdictions.

"There are 88 jurisdictions in the county of Los Angeles," he said. "Eighty-seven cities plus the county ... all of which would have their own law ... it's just goofy."

Despite the difficulty in spreading access to cannabis throughout the state, Amanda Reiman, Berkeley commission member and research director for the Berkeley Patients Group, one of the city's three dispensaries, said legalization could lead to "a more realistic education program" on cannabis, similar to education on alcohol usage. She added that research in the industry could also expand and improve.

"There's a lot of places we can go with this legislation," Reiman said. "I don't think any policy that's come along like this (has) been perfect ... people can look at it not as a definitive but as a beginning."

The proposition could also deflate the price of cannabis if the supply significantly increases, said Kris Hermes, Berkeley commission member and spokesperson for Americans for Safe Access, which has taken a neutral position on the initiative.

Yet in the midst of discussions on whether to support the proposition, the U.S. Department of Justice has said it will prosecute marijuana laws in the state if the proposition is passed, signifying to some, including Mull, that Californians should go back to the drawing board and work toward implementing statewide regulations.

"(Prop 19) a big step backwards," Mull said. "This isn't the one."


Stephanie Baer is the lead city government reporter. Contact her at [email protected]

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