California Assembly's Choice: Statewide Guidance for Medical Cannabis or Continued Costly Chaos (HuffPo)

 By Steph Sherer for the Huffington Post on 5-24-12
As a medical marijuana patient advocate, I see the world through the eyes of a patient. Patient advocacy means integrating the patient into every part of society. Achieving this for medical cannabis patients requires addressing legal issues, creating criminal and civil protections and creating safe distribution models and regulations -- all while ensuring safe and affordable medication and eliminating barriers to health care. 
Inconsistent and unclear interpretations of California's Prop 215, the Compassionate Use Act, and SB420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, are not only jeopardizing safe access for patients and interfering with efforts to create regulated access models, but also creating costly headaches for government agencies. For the past 10 years our organization, Americans for Safe Access (ASA), has spent millions of dollars helping patients and local officials navigate vague laws and ever-changing court interpretations. The impact on patients and their families means legal expenses, driving hundreds of miles to find safe access to medicine, and the fear of losing your job or home. For law enforcement, this has meant confusion and court cases, and for cities and counties, expensive frustration. 
Jurisdictions are banning medical cannabis dispensaries, depriving their citizens of needed medicine, for the sole reason that local officials don't know how to write legally defensible ordinances. Municipalities that are committed to allowing medical cannabis providers must spend thousands of staff hours creating unique regulatory schemes, and waste precious dollars defending lawsuits from would-be dispensaries or unhappy neighbors. State legislation is the only opportunity to solve these problems.
It has been over 16 years of experimenting and now the legislature must move us forward.
Last weekend hundreds of medical cannabis activists attended the California Unity Conference and Lobby Day hosted by ASA and a newly formed coalition, Californians to Regulate Medical Marijuana. We joined with the United Food and Commercial Workers, with medical cannabis businesses, and with policy reform advocates. We began exciting conversations with the California Medical Association and the American Herbal Products Association. And on Monday, we stormed the State Capitol in Sacramento with 300 citizen lobbyists who met with every legislative office with a united request: please create a sensible, statewide regulatory framework for medical cannabis by passing AB2312 -- the Medical Marijuana Regulate, Control and Tax Act.
AB2312's regulations provide the clear guidance that the State Supreme Court and Attorney General Kamala Harris have requested of the Legislature. This legislation is backed by a united medical cannabis community who are listening to the legitimate concerns of critics. AB 2312 would allow law enforcement resources to be concentrated on bad actors, offer an opt-out provision that respects the sovereignty of local voters and preserve municipal control over zoning. In addition, statewide oversight is extremely cost-effective. In Colorado, a state with 1/7th of California's population, over 2,000 applicants from dispensaries, manufacturers and growers were received by the state authority, bringing in $7.34 million in fees, more than covering program costs.
Patients Are Constituents
Our lobby day -- in which we visited all 120 legislative offices -- wasn't the result of paid lobbyists working overtime, as often happens. On Monday, state legislators heard from their constituents, most of whom are patients thrust into politics only because their medicine isn't available safely. This diverse community of dedicated activists came from every part of the state: from 70 of 80 Assembly districts and 36 of the 40 State Senate districts. We hope our voices were not in vain.
For the health and comfort of ill patients, for the sanity of local bureaucrats, and to reduce the costs of legal uncertainty to city and state government, California needs sensible, statewide regulation of medical marijuana. AB2312 would provide them.
If you are a California citizen, please contact your legislator today to urge an end to costly choas and start a new era of safe access for patients.