Calif. marijuana laws a muddled issue

June 17, 2011 at 7:39 PM
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SACRAMENTO, June 17 (UPI) -- California lawmakers say they face the challenge of just how to regulate what has become a billion-dollar medical marijuana industry.

Dispensaries have bloomed in the Golden State since California voters legalized medical marijuana in 1996.

Since then, there has been a virtual festival of do-we-or-don't-we regulation debates concerning the industry.

Sacramento has given authority to local governments to close down those operators they deem problematic. But state lawmakers have also rejected measures to reduce penalties for illegal marijuana cultivation and to protect medical marijuana patients from workplace discrimination, the Los Angeles Times reported Friday.

All this legislative handwringing creates an uncertain regulatory climate, depletes state funds and strains law enforcement resources for an issue many Californians consider mainstream, the Times said.

"As usual, legislators feel like they've gotta get tough," said Dale Gieringer, state coordinator for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "If there's a problem, we have to pass more laws for people to break. It's classic legislative syndrome."

San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano proposed a bill that would've allowed district attorneys to prosecute marijuana cultivation cases as misdemeanors instead of felonies. It was shot down despite receiving support from both Democrats and Republicans.

"The public is way ahead of us on this," said Republican Assemblyman Chris Norby. "It should be our issue as freedom-loving conservatives. What bigger nanny state can there be than one that sends a person to prison for three years for growing a plant?"

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