California Dreaming

Is the Golden State's example proof that a lack of regulation can work?

Almost two dozen California lawmakers stood by silently as yet another chance to regulate medical marijuana in the state died silently in the state assembly, but California's Senate passed a bill that would do some of the same things, albeit with much more stringent restrictions. It's indicative of what's happening around the nation.

Assembly Bill 1894 ( would have created a Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation under the state's Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control in California. The sweeping bill was a new version of one that San Francisco Rep. Tom Ammiano (D) has introduced before.

As with many medical marijuana laws across the nation, law enforcement opposed the bill, helping ensure its demise. It died because 22 assemblymen chose not to vote, killing it before it had a chance to get to the Senate.

In the Senate, Bill 1262 would instruct the state Department of Consumer Affairs to create a largely unspecified system of regulations. This bill, interestingly, originally instructed the Department of Public Health to create the rules. An amended version puts that in the hands of the Department of Consumer Affairs.

It's ironic that the state that started the rising tide of medical marijuana laws in 1996 still can't get it right. Unlike some states that are more politically homogenous, California has a complex mix of Republican and Democratic history. Former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, a Republican, has said it's time to talk about legalization, but current Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democratic stalwart in California since the 1970s, isn't so sure they need anything more than the medical system they have.

As it stands now, California is a microcosm of the nation. The state, which alone is the 8th largest economy in the world, has a very weak system of state regulation. It's a bit of a free-for-all with doctors deciding who gets medical marijuana cards and the state doing nothing beyond issuing them. There is virtually no regulation — of patients, doctors or dispensaries — which is why the federal government has stepped in to bust or threaten to bust hundreds of dispensaries all across the state. Hundreds of them closed in recent years.

In California, local governments hold the reins. Some have banned or restricted grows or dispensaries, creating a confusing tangle of laws that patients must maneuver. But don't be so quick to rush to judgment about a lack of regulation. There are reasons that's a good thing.

Gov. Brown has said that he thinks the system California has is almost as open as the recreational systems in Washington and Colorado. California should wait and see what happens there before moving ahead, he has said. Ok, but maybe we should reverse that picture. Maybe we should all take a look at California, and see what we think.

Yes, California's medical marijuana system is kind of a joke. It's medical in name only. There are hundreds of thousands of recreational users getting cannabis from dispensaries, and what has happened?


There don't really seem to be many cogent arguments against marijuana legalization anymore, especially medical marijuana and even in California where the medical system is kind of a joke. The governor of the largest medical marijuana state by far has said their system is basically recreational ... and nothing happened. No crime sprees. No spike in kids smoking cannabis. No meltdown of any kind.

The 8th largest economy in the world has been living with a mostly unregulated medical cannabis system for almost 20 years, and nothing happened beyond possibly a few more people smoking cannabis. So maybe it's a good thing that a bill that would regulate medical marijuana failed. Maybe California is a good example of how to handle cannabis.

If the largest medical marijuana state in the nation can survive for 20 years without regulation — and without disaster — maybe we all can.


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