California May Slow the Rolling Cannabis Party

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Much like tours for wineries and breweries, cannabis party buses have sprouted all over California, and a bill designed to rein in the festivities could soon become law. Senate Bill 625, introduced by State Senator Jerry Hill in February, was approved by the California State Assembly’s Appropriations Committee on Wednesday.

The bill, if implemented, would bar passengers from smoking or vaping cannabis products in buses, limousines, and taxicabs, with an exception for limousines and buses whose passenger and driver compartments are completely sealed off and separately ventilated. The bill would also prohibit anyone under twenty-one from being on board in the presence of cannabis smoke.

At a state senate hearing in April, Amy Jenkins, senior policy director of the California Cannabis Industry Association, voiced her support for the bill, noting that, in Colorado, cannabis tourism has increased by 51% since 2014. “With over 250 million tourists visiting California each year,” she said, “we can assume many of these tourists are or will be taking advantage of California’s newly compliant cannabis marketplace.” 

In an accompanying written analysis, the Appropriations Committee noted that earlier versions of Senate Bill 625 had been opposed by some law enforcement groups. The current version of the bill, however, is backed by the California Association of Highway Patrolmen. The California Police Chiefs Association has also changed its position from “opposed” to “neutral.” Still, the California Highway Patrol remains opposed to the bill, saying the patrol does not have a method to test the efficacy of the barriers that will separate the passengers from the drivers. 

During Wednesday’s hearing, Senator Hill, a Democrat who represents the counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara upstate, acknowledged the California Highway Patrol’s opposition and said, “The amendments that we will be making after this committee will remove their opposition.”

Hill also reiterated that, under current law, cannabis is allowed in these buses and limos, without safeguards. At the moment, he emphasized, passengers “can go and smoke as much as they want.”

With regard to the bill’s fiscal impact, the state’s Department of Finance noted that the California Highway Patrol anticipates a one-time $50,000 expense “to update literature and training policies,” along with $150,000 to carry out inspections of  the vehicles, either with state staff or by contracting. The Department also indicated that the California Public Utilities Commission will be tasked with regulatory and safety oversight over the for-hire passenger carriers. And because only a limited number of vehicles meet the bill’s provisions, “the Commission believes it is unlikely that there will be a significant new case load” as a result of any enforcement action. Likewise, the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control anticipates that “any fiscal impact from this bill is minor and absorbable.”

Ultimately, the bill moved forward this week, with ten Appropriations Committee members in favor and six in opposition. After the amendments are made, the bill will head for a vote before the full Assembly. If it passes, it will then be kicked back to the Senate, where the bill originated, for approval, before heading over to Governor Gavin Newsom’s desk.

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