What the new year brings

Medical cannabis backers propose a statewide regulatory body -- that'll make the feds happy, right?

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caitlin@sfbg.com

HERBWISE 2011 was a harsh year for medical marijuana. During its first half, the number of California dispensaries burgeoned. But a federal crackdown in September has left much of the industry shaking in its buds. By bombarding landlords with cease-and-desist letters threatening 40 years of jail time if they continue to let marijuana be sold on their property, the Department of Justice has effectively closed down walk-up operations for many smaller dispensaries.

But as we head into the year of the Mayan overhaul, one thing seems certain: advocates for safe and available access to medical cannabis aren't going anywhere. How can they? Since Proposition 215 made it legal in 1996, 200,000 Californians have gotten physician recommendations to alleviate health concerns with marijuana. People use it for chronic pain, to make it through chemotherapy, for multiple sclerosis, severe anxiety.

"We can't wait for the federal government to do the right thing in California," said the state director of Americans for Safe Access Don Duncan. "As the state of California gets its marijuana house in order there will be less incentive for the feds to come in."

Duncan and his organization were co-authors of the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act — a unified voter initiative that was turned in to the California Secretary of State's office last Wednesday, Dec. 21. Other contributors include NORML, the California Cannabis Association, the Humboldt Growers Associations, and the United Food and Commercial Workers — the union that now represents workers across the state, including Oaksterdam University employees.

"We're hoping that this policy will reassure people that we can have a rational system," continued Duncan in a phone interview with the Guardian. Duncan is convinced that the recent aggression by the Obama administration can be traced to people's discomfort with the industry's wild growth, and that a good faith effort to institute a comprehensive regulation system will assuage people's confusion and fears about marijuana.

His initiative calls for the establishment of a centralized bureau of medical marijuana enforcement, to be comprised of 21 members from various state government offices, patients, advocates, a physician, a nurse, individuals from the marijuana research and policy fields and six people with experience in dispensary operations.

The bureau would be in charge of cannabis registration, industry regulations, and the use of funds that are generated by administrative fees. The initiative also calls for a sales tax of 2.5 percent on medical marijuana retail sales and states that cities — unless voters approve other guidelines — must follow a minimum zoning restriction of a dispensary for every 50,000 people.

In January, a campaign supporting the initiative will begin to drum up awareness. Backers are hoping that by instituting stricter and more consistent controls of dispensaries and growing operations, 2012 will look a lot brighter for the 200,000 Californians that have relied on their marijuana prescription to live their lives.

"I think this is really going to resonate with voters," said Duncan. "We just need for officials to be able to step outside the controversy of it all." It's a hopeful stance. Let's see how it holds up in the roiling of the upcoming election year.

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