By Sean Donahoe 12/29/15
This month Assemblymembers and Senators will return to the Capitol in Sacramento and the legislative process begins anew. In the “last minutes” of the previous legislative session, we saw the passage of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (AB-243/AB-266/SB-643) which was seen by many outside observers as a surprise, with bold language supposedly introduced in the last hours of session. Except that’s not really true, as most of the language had been public for two months and the general stances of stakeholders had been firming up over the previous two years. What I’m saying is, there’s no need to be perplexed or surprised by California’s legislative process, there’s a clear tempo, an order of things, a fairly elaborate cast of characters and certain rules of the game that all parties agree to be governed by. After such a big legislative year last year, and in anticipation already of a few “cleanup” bills that will seek to tweak certain elements, let’s do a bit of a legislative preview.
The situation in the Senate is pretty much the same as last year, as President pro tempore Kevin de León settles further into the leadership role, changing his staff up a bit, and driving hard on issues of environmental sustainability, matters of the working poor, education and health care issues. His district contains some of the smaller cities of southeast L.A. County, getting over towards Orange County, and is therefore not a hotbed for the cannabis industry. We’re going to be losing a cannabis champion when Senator Mark Leno from San Francisco is forced out at the end of the session due to term limits. Perhaps we can hope for a stellar cannabis policy reform bill if he wants to cross something off of his bucket list? Senator Mike McGuire is expected to continue to represent the interests of his Emerald Triangle district well and he is expected to preserve his leadership slot, moving bills along for the Democratic caucus.
Over on the Assembly side, there is much more going on already—beginning with an anticipated new Speaker, Anthony Rendon from Los Angeles. A Prius-driving PhD from hipster Silverlake, he will come into the Speakership with a long remaining term ahead of him, being able to potentially serve until 2024 under the new term limits rules. With a background as an environmental advocate and a nonprofit activist, but also a member of the Latino caucus, it will be exciting to see what sort of policy choices he chooses to pursue. Speaking of caucuses, the business-friendly “Mod Dems” faction has been gaining more and more strength, and they are widely expected to pick up a few seats in next November’s election.
We should also see last session’s bill authors Assemblymember Jones-Sawyer, Bonta, and Wood address “clean up” legislation. Some of the already announced bills will begin the process of creating a state-run bank for commercial cannabis businesses and would apply a minimal tax to dry flower, trim, and clones. Expect to see more specific legislation crafted to better address the particular concerns of delivery services and infused product manufacturers. The November 2016 legalization ballot measure will loom over the legislature as well, as new rules apply this year and ballot measure campaigns will face a joint legislative hearing after they gather the first 25 percent of necessary signatures. Let’s hope for constructive and helpful dialog but prepare for the worst, as legislators can be prone to grandstand during an election year. In closing, Sacramento is an interesting place and it is more important than ever for the cannabis movement to track the legislature and its attempts to (slowly) provide better access to commercially produced cannabis.