California bill to curb medical marijuana passes key hurdle

Wed Apr 23, 2014 12:05am EDT
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By Sharon Bernstein

SACRAMENTO, California (Reuters) - A measure to regulate California's chaotic medical marijuana industry passed a key legislative hurdle on Tuesday, in a move that could lay the groundwork to tax and control recreational use of the drug if it ultimately becomes legal.

U.S. states are increasingly moving to remove curbs on marijuana following landmark voter initiatives in Colorado and Washington state in 2012 that legalized the drug for recreational purposes. Many more states allow medicinal pot.

But the drug remains illegal under federal law, leaving states that have opted for medicinal legalization struggling to control a thriving trade in medical cannabis.

"The current state of chaos around medical marijuana has got to come to an end," said state Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, a San Francisco Democrat.

If passed, his proposal could "set a template" to regulate recreational use of marijuana by adults, Ammiano said, a move he has long favored.

The bill marks Ammiano's second run at regulating medical marijuana in California, where concern has grown over the lack of rules for the hundreds of street-corner pot dispensaries and delivery services that have sprung up since medical marijuana was legalized 15 years ago.

Besides the pot shops that authorities struggle to regulate, other problems include inappropriate prescribing by unethical doctors, and a violent, "wild West" culture of illegal cannabis farms in the state's forests, Ammiano said.

His bill would make it illegal for doctors to recommend medical marijuana for patients they have not examined, and bar prescriptions by doctors with a financial interest in a pot dispensary.   Continued...

A volunteer displays cannabis buds at the La Brea Collective medical marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles, California, March 18, 2014. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson