Bill to Eliminate March 1 Deadline on Medical Marijuana Reaches Governor’s Desk

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Legislation that would eliminate the March 1, 2016, deadline for cities and counties to pass cultivation ordinances or face state pre-emption passed unanimously in the Assembly (66-0) on Thursday, as an urgency measure that would immediately take effect upon the governor’s signature.

It now sits on the governor’s desk, awaiting an expected signature.

Assemblymember Jim Wood was the original author of the legislation who said he inadvertently set a very short date of March 1 as a deadline by which local government officials had to act in order to maintain the authority to develop their own rules and regulations for cultivating medical cannabis indefinitely.

Assemblymember Wood said, “I am not advocating for or against a particular position on medical cannabis. I am advocating for local elected officials to take the time to engage in a process that results good public policy, not knee jerk reactions.”

“Despite the people who said it couldn’t be done, this fix took the Legislature less than a month. As a result the burdensome March 1st deadline will be repealed nearly a month before it would have gone into effect,” said Assemblymember Wood.

He added, “Unfortunately cities were advised to act as fast as possible to ban activities of this industry because it was the easiest thing to do. I have already spoken to the executive director of the League of California Cities, expressing my hope that they will join me in encouraging locals to develop thoughtful, reasonable regulations moving forward. I hope they will work as vigorously to stop and undo placeholder bans as they did to roll them out.”

At their January 12 meeting, the Davis City Council enacted a temporary ordinance that bans outdoor cultivation, but allows indoor cultivation with limitations on the square footage of that cultivation.

Councilmember Brett Lee summed up the position of council by stating, “I think it’s essential that we maintain local control.” He noted that people were asking the council to take no action, but the state is “proposing a one-size-fits-all across California. Our city – as all cities are – is unique.”

He added, “It was mentioned that Davis is a liberal community – I think we’ll be thankful down the line when we have full control over how we move forward with the rules governing marijuana cultivation, distribution, etc. I think it’s essential to have something on the books, so that we maintain our ability to control this issue.”

Councilmember Lee pointed out that this would be a stopgap measure that could be modified later, but it would preserve the ability for the council to maintain control.

Mayor Pro Tem Robb Davis suggested that, if the voters do not pass the initiative (and right now it is widely believed it will pass), “if marijuana is not legalized, then I think we should come back in the context of our goal setting and ask where doing something with this ordinance that we may pass tonight, where we want to take it.”

One of the questions that he suggested the city reconsider is whether we want to allow dispensaries, that are currently banned by city ordinance. “That’s in the case where recreational marijuana doesn’t pass because we still have the issue of medical marijuana,” he said. “If the voters pass recreational marijuana, then we’re going to be in a different world on a lot of levels… That’s going to be a very different discussion.”

He wanted to wait on the broader discussion until we see the direction the voters go at the state level.

As City Attorney Harriet Steiner pointed out, Davis made the decision to ban the dispensaries a long time ago and has never reconsidered it. It should be noted that when Proposition 215 first passed in 1996, the federal government fought its implementation and the Justice Department conducted frequent raids on dispensaries – a practice that began under the Clinton administration and was only ended under the Obama administration in 2009.

Councilmember Rochelle Swanson clarified with City Attorney Steiner that this particular ordinance only deals with cultivation, not mobile delivery. However, she too eventually favors a more wholistic approach.

“It’s medical,” she added. “Arguably the decision that we make here in our community either supports or interferes or has some impact on the relationship between patients and their medical treatment and what their prescribing physician has decided is best for them.”

Councilmember Frerichs said that the local control issue is important to him as well as his colleagues, and he too favors a temporary ordinance. He said, “I do think when we re-visit it, I’m in favor of the potential changing of not only an expansion of this current ordinance but also the possible change in the prohibition of dispensaries. Society has changed, society has evolved, I think this community also would be generally very supportive of that. It would still be regulated certainly, but I’m willing to have that conversation.”

He noted that if marijuana is legalized, he wants the city look into ways to get revenue from it.

The council, in a series of motions, voted to allow indoor cultivation with limitations on the square footage of that cultivation. They then voted to prohibit all outdoor cultivation in all zoning districts in the city. Third, they voted to prohibit all commercial cultivation in all zoning districts in the city.

Councilmember Frerichs said, “I’ll support this (the commercial ban) for the purpose of the temporary ordinance.” But added, “I do think there needs to be a larger discussion certainly also about outdoor cultivation but also commercial cultivation.”

Robb Davis clarified that if they “are most conservative now, we won’t be taking anything away (later).”

Brett Lee moved that they not require registration, Rochelle Swanson seconded it and it passed unanimously.

Rochelle Swanson moved that this temporary ordinance expire in 18 months. Brett Lee suggested the issue be revisited after the November vote. She then modified the motion to have staff return in December 2016, after the vote.

Now the city will have more time to explore the best course of action on medical marijuana, ahead of a ballot measure this November that could legalize recreational marijuana.

In the meantime, Assemblymember Jim Wood was able to very quickly put together an urgency measure with the strong backing of the League of California Cities, the California Police Chiefs Association, patient advocates, industry and other stakeholders

A statement from League of California Cities Director Chris McKenzie acknowledged Assembly Member Wood’s leadership on quickly addressing this pressing issue, stating, “As a former city council member, Dr. Wood truly understands how state action affects local government, and that is why his commitment to pursue a legislative fix on this provision was so strong. The League commends him for his outstanding leadership and diligence in securing prompt legislative action as he promised last year when the mistaken deadline was discovered in the medical marijuana legislation. The full Legislature should be commended as well for acting promptly to preserve this essential element of local control in the state’s medical marijuana legislative program.”

The League notes that AB 21 will now allow ample time for cities and counties to engage in thoughtful research, deliberation and debate on the local regulations that best reflect the priorities and needs of their respective communities in this area, without the pressure of the need to act hastily to preserve their local regulatory authority.

AB 21 also provides cities that have already adopted medical marijuana ordinances the time to consider the advisability of any possible refinements or amendments to those local laws now that the unfortunate pre-emption deadline has been removed from state law.

AB 21 is now on Governor Brown’s desk for signature. The governor has publicly indicated he would sign a legislative fix to the March 1 deadline. Upon receiving the governor’s signature the legislation will take effect immediately.

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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