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An eye on AB 473

Assembly Bill 473 (Ammiano) is working its way through the committee process this year.  It would establish a Division of Medical Marijuana Regulation and Enforcement within the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.  The ABC would then regulate all aspects of medical marijuana sale: cultivation, manufacture, testing , transportation, distribution, and sale. Funding for the enforcement of such regulation is proposed to come from licensing fees. 

A recent legislative analysis of this bill was just posted; there are some interesting issues raised.  First, there is no guarantee that there will be sufficient applications for licenses to cover the expenses ABC would incur.  ABC is notoriously short-staffed.  The analysis assumes that this new division would need to be about one quarter the size of the existing department.  Thus, according to their numbers there would need to be 2,000 annual applications at $7,500 each to fund this properly.  Given the recent California Supreme Court decision that local governments may prohibit the establishment of medical marijuana outlets, it is unknown if such a proliferation of applications will materialize.

Still there is something to be said for finally establishing some level of systematic regulation of this industry.  The Compassionate Use Act of 1996 allows for patients and their caregivers to have and use marijuana according to the recommendations of a physician.  But the CUA is silent on how to obtain it.  Local governments have created a range of allowable models for sales establishment, while the Federal authorities have completely shut down sales in some areas (such as San Diego) while apparently leaving other areas free to continue.  In areas where retail outlets are shuttered, shadowy delivery services are sprouting.

There is scant research on what regulatory model will be most effective, but perhaps there is agreement that there are specific goals: (1) access available to patients, (2) diversion of marijuana to non-patients prevented, (3) consistency of medical marijuana products, and (4) sales practices that do not promote abuse and fit within community standards.  

Those of us on college campuses understand that our population is especially at risk for abusing marijuana. Thus, it behooves us to keep an eye on how regulation of the legal access to it is being shaped.  If regulation is drafted-- as this bill foresees-- being ready with suggested limitations would be helpful.  Here are a few to think about:

  1. No onsite use of medical marijuana within licensed outlets.  Why? Because the use of marijuana impairs ones ability to use a vehicle safely.  Thus, allowing for onsite use will substantially increase the likelihood of impaired driving.
  2. No single or small-quantity dose sales.  Why? Dispensaries that are selling single joints are likely catering to people who are not using the marijuana for a long-term serious medical condition.  Single dose sales are likely attractive to young people with little pocket money.  Note that this goes counter to typical restrictions that allows for only the possession of small amounts; but in a legal-sales environment it's typical to reverse the restriction.
  3. Restrictions on advertising. Why? Dispensaries are currently free to use street names for marijuana strains and sexualized images to promote their products. Medical marijuana is currently advertized in ways that would even make the alcohol industry blush. This is likely an effort to seek out patrons who are more interested in abusing marijuana as opposed to legitimate patients.  Limiting the advertizing will do no harm to patients' access.
  4. Warning labels.  All medical marijuana should be labeled with appropriate messages about avoiding impaired driving and contraindications.  Check any of your bottles of prescription medicines for a model for how that would look.
  5. Delivery from store front only licensees. Why? It is probable that delivery services are a significant benefit to patients who are seriously ill; banning those would probably be inappropriate.  However, to ensure the compliance with license requirements, having a storefront would be helpful. Recall that the ABC tends to have very few agents per licensee; assuming they can oversee mobile dispensaries is dubious.
  6. Minimum pricing and no price specials? Why? Currently dispensaries can offer free marijuana and some promote "Happy Hour Specials." Buying medicine is usually not consider an impulse purchase, so time-of-day specials are counter to responsible sales.  While price variations are natural, keeping the minimum price up will discourage diversion.

Send me your thoughts about these proposed regulations and any you think that should be added to the list.

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