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Police back controls on Calif. medical marijuana industry

Bill seeks licenses, data from doctors

SAN FRANCISCO — Law and order may soon be coming to the Wild West of weed.

A California lawmaker has introduced legislation to regulate the state’s free-wheeling medical marijuana industry — the farmers that grow the drug, the hundreds of storefront shops that sell it, and especially the doctors who write recommendations allowing people to use it.

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The state in 1996 was the first to authorize marijuana use for health purposes — there are now 20. But to this day no one knows how many dispensaries and patients California has or what conditions marijuana is being used to treat because the loosely worded law did not give government agencies a role in tracking the information.

The bill introduced by state Senator Lou Correa marks a milestone not only because it would provide significant state oversight of the multibillion-dollar industry, but because it is likely to get serious consideration after years of inaction.

The legislation is the idea of the California Police Chiefs Association and the League of California Cities, two influential groups that have hindered previous efforts to legitimize marijuana growers and dispensaries by subjecting them to state control and taxation.

‘‘This legislation seems counterintuitive, but we polled our membership and over 90 percent of the chiefs felt that, regardless of how you felt about the marijuana issue itself, there needed to be a responsible public safety approach to this,’’ said Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, president of the chiefs’ group.

Medical marijuana advocates, who have lobbied unsuccessfully for a statewide regulatory scheme they hoped would make the industry less susceptible to federal raids and arrests, is taking a wait-and-see approach on Correa’s legislation.

They prefer a bill held over from last year that calls for regulating and taxing medical marijuana like alcohol and places fewer restrictions on doctors than Correa’s measure does, but are prepared to hammer out a compromise, said Lynne Lyman, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

‘‘We are very encouraged by law enforcement coming to the table with their proposals and we think we can all work together and come up with some model legislation in the state, finally, 18 years later,’’ Lyman said.

The bill cosponsored by the league and the police chiefs association would require the state Department of Public Health to license dispensaries and cultivation sites but only if they had secured operating permits from local jurisdictions.

The bill would allow marijuana recommendations to be given only by a patient’s primary care doctor or a licensed specialist to whom the doctor has referred the patient.

Certified doctors also would have to keep detailed records and to report how many recommendations they give and why to a state board, which would audit those issuing more than 100 in a year. The mandates represent a significant departure from the status quo. Doctors currently can recommend marijuana to treat any ailment and do not have to report to the state any detailed information.

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