Why These California Groups Shifted on Medical Marijuana

With a change in public opinion at their back, associations representing the state's police chiefs and cities recently chose to support statewide regulation of medical marijuana, as it became clear that regulation would likely arrive with or without their backing.

Since 1996, medical marijuana has been legal in California—but regulatory efforts have remained limited and largely local, with some groups opposing statewide regulation for nearly two decades.

That’s led to a variety of approaches to regulation in different jurisdictions, creating inconsistencies among cities and counties and making it fairly easy for adults in the state to obtain medical marijuana.

For years, the League of California Cities (LCC)  and the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) expressed concern that any regulation of medical marijuana would validate the use of the drug in the eyes of the public. But last month, the groups softened their stance, seeing the way the wind was blowing, and offered to come to the table. More info below:

The opposition: As recently as last year, the associations stridently opposed state legislation that would regulate production and sale of pot for medical use, according to a Mother Jones report. “In 2013, our organizations joined forces to defeat no fewer than four bills in the California legislature that sought to regulate medical marijuana,” LCC Executive Director Chris McKenzie and CPCA President Kim Raney wrote in a recent letter to members [PDF]. “We opposed each of the bills over concerns they would have preempted local control, ignored significant public safety concerns, and failed to address important health and safety issues. While each measure was defeated, those victories were hard-won and achieved with increasingly slender margins.”

The change of heart: While the groups remain opposed to marijuana use in general, they’ve expressed concern that, with cultural changes going the other direction, they could miss out on an opportunity to influence future legislation. “Our two organizations independently came to realize that although we remain strongly opposed to marijuana use, it is increasingly likely that in the near future some statewide regulatory structure for medical marijuana could be enacted,” McKenzie and Raney wrote. “We also realized that without our proactive intervention it could take a form that was severely damaging to our interests.”

The industry’s position: Several marijuana advocacy groups welcomed the associations’ change in stance. Nate Bradley, executive director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, told Mother Jones that the move was “huge for us.” Although the bill that CPCA and LLC are backing has limitations, marijuana advocates say, they’re open to  dialogue. “Up until now, they’ve opposed everything,” Don Duncan, who leads the California arm of the medical marijuana advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, told The Sacramento Bee. “Now this is their proposal. It’s flawed. But I’m happy to see they’re coming to the table.”

But is it too late? In a commentary piece on the two organizations’ shift, the Los Angeles Times‘ Kerry Cavanaugh suggested that the two groups may have waited too long to enter the discussion, noting that the debate already may have moved on—to full-blown legalization of marijuana in California, following in the footsteps of Colorado and Washington state. “Over the weekend, the California Democratic Party made legalizing marijuana part of its platform,” Cavanaugh wrote in a March 10 piece. “By the time California develops the systems to regulate medicinal use, marijuana may be available to every adult.”

(photo by trawin/Flickr)

Ernie Smith

By Ernie Smith

Ernie Smith is a former senior editor for Associations Now. MORE

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