Marking the end of one era and the start of a new one, Sacramento lawmakers sent legislation to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk that would revolutionize California’s approach to legal medical marijuana.

Together, Assembly Bills 266 and 243, along with Senate Bill 643, were dubbed the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act — the culmination of an unprecedented effort to “draft regulations for an industry entirely from scratch,” as Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, D-Los Angeles, put it, according to the influential Smell the Truth blog.

“Patients will still need a doctor’s recommendation to use cannabis, and can have caregivers. But the state will do away with collectives and cooperatives in favor of licensed, background checked, commercial growers, distributors and sellers. The laws call for 12 types of state industry licenses, and dual local and state licensing. City and counties can ban medical cannabis activity, or tax it.”

Brown was widely expected to sign the bills. According to Courthouse News Service, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, observed that his administration was “highly involved in shaping” the legislation. “We take that as a very good sign,” he said.

Winners and losers

Despite liberalizing the state’s marijuana regime, the new rules would bar felons convicted of drug crimes from starting pot businesses. That measure, which law enforcement groups required for their support of the bills, has raised fresh concerns among some pro-legalization groups. “With few prospects of other employment and a potential ban from the legal pot market,” the San Francisco Chronicle noted, “felons may choose to sell it illegally, activists say.”

According to the relevant bill’s key language, the state’s new “licensing authority may deny the application for licensure or renewal of a state license” should an applicant already possess a “felony conviction for the illegal possession for sale, manufacture, transportation, or cultivation of a controlled substance.”

Last year, the Chronicle noted, “felony marijuana arrestees in California were 31 percent white, 39.5 percent Hispanic, 18.5 percent African American and 11 percent of some other demographic, according to the ACLU.” This July, meanwhile, latinos passed whites as the largest ethnic group in California — 14.99 million to 14.92 million,according to the Los Angeles Times.

A divided community

Some activists have found a much different sort of reason to file a lawsuit against the legislation: its constitutionality. “The American Medical Marijuana Association has announced that it is filing a lawsuit over the violation of Prop. 215 by the California Legislature and Governor Brown,” as The Weed Blog reported. “The recent adoption of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act attempts to modify a voter initiative, Prop. 215, something specifically forbidden by the California constitution.”

But, in general, Golden State pot advocates appeared heartened by the legislative overhaul. Importantly, lawmakers endeavored to encourage small growers willing to play fair — and discourage large-scale corporate participants. As The Weed Blogobserved separately, “growers using the ambiguity of the state’s current lack of regulation as a cover for grey or black market production will probably find their wiggle-room decreased.” On the other hand, “‘Big Marijuana,’ that favorite bogey-man of prohibitionists, doesn’t fare so well. There are constraints on vertical integration within the industry, and the licensing scheme foreseen is tilted toward small and medium producers.”

Federal fault lines

California’s giant leap forward on standardizing marijuana regulation played out against the backdrop of a fractious debate among Republican candidates for president gathered in Simi Valley. Disagreement has emerged in the wake of President Obama’s willingness to let states depart to a degree from the strictures of federal drug law. “The West’s experiment with legalization — so far, a major boost to Colorado’s tax revenue — has been treated with benign neglect. Just three months ago, the administration lifted a public health review requirement that had prevented some research into marijuana’s medicinal properties,” the Washington Post noted. But laws such as California’s could wind up on shaky ground: “A new president could reverse all of that with a pen stroke.”

Cross-posted at CalWatchDog.