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California Set to Regulate Medical Marijuana — Finally

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Nineteen years after voters made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana, lawmakers in the Golden State appear poised to finally pass legislation regulating the industry.

Until now, the state’s medical cannabis providers have operated in somewhat of a legal gray area. Many dispensaries are licensed by municipalities, but none have been officially blessed with a state license.

That could change if a series of backroom negotiations between legislative leaders and the office of Governor Jerry Brown come to fruition by 2015’s legislative deadline of midnight on Friday.

Details remain scarce, but reports indicate that the high-level discussions have resulted in a package of bills that would create a new Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation within the state’s Department of Consumer Affairs. The new agency would issue licenses to and regulate the medical cannabis industry in partnership with the state’s Departments of Public Health and Food and Agriculture.

California voters first legalized medical marijuana in 1996. In 2o04, state legislation gave patients the ability to band together to form cooperatives to grow and provide medical marijuana to members, but the law didn’t provide any mechanism for these entities to be individually approved or licensed by the state. In 2008, Brown, who was then the state’s attorney general, published guidelines for the collectives, but they remained unlicensed, leaving many industry operators in an uncertain and confusing legal position.

Although the language of the new legislation has not yet been revealed publicly, advocates are cautiously optimistic about nearly two decades of regulatory uncertainty finally coming to an end. “We are very excited that the Legislature made it a main priority this year to get it done,” Nate Bradley of the California Cannabis Industry Association told the Los Angeles Times.

According to a report in the Sacramento Bee, the new system will “track and trace all medical marijuana, and includes a provision to make cannabis an agricultural product.” Cannabis growers “will be made to follow the same rules as other farmers for water use, discharge and pesticides,” according to the paper.

There will also be mandatory testing of cannabis products to ensure consumer safety.

Separately, California voters are expected to consider a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for all adults in November 2016.

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