It's been nearly a month since California's yearly legislative session closed, and the tenor then was all backslaps and high-fives for the state lawmakers who had spent months crafting medical marijuana laws.
Three bills, one each from State Sen. Mike McGuire and assemblymen Jim Wood and Rob Bonta, had been torn apart and pasted back together in a marathon, 11th-hour drafting session with the governor's office.
The language of the bills was mostly agreed upon. They would finally set up regulations for the state's multibillion-dollar medical marijuana industry, which has operated for nearly 20 years without a hint of direction. For Wood and McGuire, whose districts contain the Emerald Triangle, regulation was both long overdue and of utmost concern to their constituents.
But if everything was so hunky-dory, why hasn't Gov. Jerry Brown signed the legislation into law yet? And why were Wood, Bonta and Palmdale Assemblyman Tom Lackey — the sole Republican involved in the drafting process — on the steps of the Humboldt County Courthouse one recent afternoon begging urging the governor to sign them?
Probably, it was another opportunity to stand in front of a lectern. Wood told a medium-size crowd, made up of local politicos and marijuana advocates, that he "firmly" believes the governor will sign the legislation, particularly since his office had a lot of control over the final product. Marijuana is controversial, Wood said — Lackey said he was opposed to further legalization — which is probably why the governor is taking his time deciding on the bill.
After the assemblymen spoke, Supervisor Mark Lovelace, Sheriff Mike Downey and Northcoast Environmental Center Director Dan Ehresman each got a chance to tell the governor why it was crucial to Humboldt County to have a framework for its largest industry.
The lawmakers acknowledged the bill had shortcomings, but also pointed out that the legislation was a starting point, with room for modifications. Wood lamented the loss of his proposed excise tax on cultivation that was cut from the final draft, which he says would've funded watershed enforcement and environmental cleanups at impacted sites.
Bonta said the law may not interact perfectly with Los Angeles' Measure D, which taxes and regulates dispensaries — some tweaks will have to be made to accommodate the laws. He also said there could be changes coming to the "suitability language," meaning who is eligible to operate in the industry when regulation comes. He's likely referring to concerns about the law's prohibition of previously convicted felons working in marijuana businesses, which critics have said would unfairly prohibit minorities from entering the industry, as they're arrested and prosecuted at higher rates than white people.
Brown has until midnight, Oct. 11 to sign the bills into law or veto them. If he does neither by the deadline, the bills will become law without his signature.
Still, the Oct. 6 press conference felt a bit like a victory lap, with Wood and the other speakers touting the as-yet-unpassed bills as particularly important to Humboldt County.
As a man with a crumpled tall can of beer loudly muttered near the crowd, Wood said into the mic, "the voices of our locals will continue to be heard."