Pot law changes would change the face of medical marijuana in California | SierraSun.com

Pot law changes would change the face of medical marijuana in California

Nevada County Sheriff's Deputy Esteban Salinas counts plants in a county greenhouse during a compliance check for medical marijuana cultivation.
Liz Kellar / The Union |

GRASS VALLEY, Calif. — Business-as-usual for medicinal marijuana in California is about to go up in smoke.

Three bills passed last week by the state Legislature would create a regulatory system spanning multiple government agencies and change how people can get medical marijuana, a move that comes just over a year before voters potentially legalize the recreational use of pot.

The bills, not yet signed into law, would dispose of the current system of collectives, which for almost two decades have allowed people to grow medical marijuana for others and dispense it for free, according to Nevada County attorney Stephen Munkelt.

“No collectives will be allowed,” Munkelt added. “No private distribution between friends and family.”

That will greatly affect users of medical marijuana in Nevada County, which has collectives but no dispensaries.

Dispensaries licensed by local and state governments would be the only source for medical pot, said Patricia Smith, chairwoman of the Nevada County chapter of Americans for Safe Access.

Those dispensaries would pay for the added bureaucracy through licensing fees, Munkelt added.

“All of that’s going to be quite expensive,” he said.

Munkelt said he expects it’ll take at least two years to fully implement the changes, if Gov. Jerry Brown signs the bills into law.

A looming issue for Smith is the power each county Board of Supervisors would have over licensing dispensaries. According to Munkelt, prospective dispensaries must get local licensing before proceeding to the state. If a local government opts against providing those licenses, no dispensaries can locate in that county.

“It’s a little concerning,” said Smith.

According to Munkelt, the Nevada County Board of Supervisors could pass an ordinance forbidding the licensing of local dispensaries or put it to a vote of the people.

The Nevada County Board of Supervisors has held no recent meetings on the issue and has none planned, said Alison Lehman, assistant county executive officer.

Restricting the distribution of medical pot to dispensaries is just one aspect of the bills. Another piece of the legislation would require water permits for dispensaries.

Government officials would examine the property’s water discharge, runoff and use of chemicals, Smith said, adding she supports that move.

The bills, if they become law, also would allow for the creation of brands, Smith said.

“We could have Grass Valley ganja,” she quipped.

Smith said she didn’t want to criticize the bills, but instead focus on moving forward with the changes.

Both Smith and Munkelt say much remains unknown. The bills create new duties for state agencies, but list no specifics about fees or licensing.

Munkelt said he believes the legislation, which would take months to implement and refine, will provide an argument against the legalization of recreational pot.

“It’s not all clear what impact this package of bills will have on the legalization process,” he added. “It’s likely to make it more difficult to legalize recreational use in California.”

Alan Riquelmy is a staff writer for The Union newspaper, a sister paper of the Sierra Sun’s serving the Sierra Foothills.