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Legislature splits on medical marijuana bills

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) -- The state Assembly on Thursday rejected a medical marijuana regulation bill, a day after competing legislation preferred by local governments and law enforcement sailed unanimously through the Senate.

The bill, AB1894, failed on a 26-31 vote following years of unsuccessful attempts to rein in the free-wheeling industry.

“The way things are now are not acceptable,” said Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, who has led regulation efforts. “There is chaos; there is no order. It allows for so many bad actors that the whole issue becomes besmirched.”

In 1996, California voters made the state the first to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Lawmakers said Thursday that a lack of regulations caused dispensaries to pop up near schools and proliferate to the extent that they are more numerous than coffee shops on some streets.

Ammiano's bill would have placed statewide regulations on marijuana, similar to the way alcohol is regulated.

A new entity through the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control would be in charge of ensuring compliance. That attracted opposition from the League of California Cities and law enforcement groups, which said they did not trust the agency's track record with shutting down problematic liquor stores.

The groups sought to maintain local control of dispensaries. The city association also opposed provisions that would allow the agency to regulate dispensary signs and the number of dispensaries in each jurisdiction.

The California Police Chiefs Association and the league instead supported SB1262 after blocking previous attempts to impose uniform, statewide regulations.

That bill, by Sen. Lou Correa, D-Anaheim, requires the state Department of Consumer Affairs to license only those dispensaries that receive permits from local governments. Ammiano's bill would have preserved local restrictions and bans, but not explicitly require permits.

Correa's bill also emphasized security measures in dispensaries and tighter controls on doctors prescribing marijuana, although marijuana activists pressured him to remove provisions requiring training. While marijuana activists are neutral on Correa's bill, they favor a more comprehensive regulation scheme similar to those in place in Colorado and Washington to avert federal raids.

“It needs to be more than on paper and enforceable and funded in order to stop federal interference,” said Glenn Backes, a consultant with California Cannabis Industry Association.

Ammiano's bill included provisions for regulating medical marijuana packaging and provided more money and personnel for enforcing rules, Backes said.

Correa's bill heads to the Assembly, where it likely will come before the Assembly Public Safety Committee, which is chaired by Ammiano. Carlos Alcala, a spokesman for Ammiano, says his office might try and work with Correa to amend his bill or pursue new legislation next year.

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