Key Cannabis Bills Make Their Way Through the California State Legislature

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Though still in the early stages of the legislative process, several cannabis-related bills are being weighed in the California Senate and Assembly, which could lead to substantive changes in healthcare, research, taxation, banking and public safety record keeping.

Most recently, Senator Ben Hueso (D) introduced a bill that aims to facilitate access to cannabis in healthcare facilities. If implemented, it would require healthcare centers to allow patients in palliative care to use medical cannabis, provided that they supply a copy of their medical marijuana card or written documentation that its use is recommended by a physician.

On the research front, Assemblymembers Tom Lackey (R) and Ken Cooley (D) introduced a bill that would authorize the California Cannabis Research Program at the University of California San Diego to cultivate cannabis. The bill would also expand the purview of the program, funded by the state’s Tax Fund, to include the study of naturally occurring constituents of cannabis and synthetic compounds, as well authorize controlled clinical trials focused on examining testing methods for detecting harmful contaminants in cannabis, like mold and bacteria.

For those in the industry, financial relief may be on the way. As Cannabis Wire previously reported, in late January, a bipartisan group of lawmakers, backed by State Treasurer Fiona Ma, introduced a bill that would temporarily cut the state’s cannabis excise tax from 15% to 11% and suspend the cultivation tax through 2022. According to the letter of the text, the cumulative tax on legal cannabis— which include a sales tax, a 15% excise tax and a cultivation tax of $9.25 per ounce of flower— “undermines the legal regulatory system.” The bill, introduced by Assemblymembers Rob Bonta (D), Cooley, Reginald Byron Jones-Sawyer (D) and Lackey, also provides for the restoration of current rates, “if the revenues collected from the excise tax on cannabis that was reduced by this act are projected to be insufficient to adequately fund the reasonable regulatory costs.”

Back in December, Jones-Sawyer introduced a bill that could serve to alleviate business expenses. Currently, California’s Personal Income Tax Law and Corporation Tax Law, which conform to federal income tax laws, prohibit a deduction or credit for business expenses associated with the trafficking of controlled substances, which includes cannabis. If implemented, Jones-Sawyer’s bill would specifically provide for nonconformity to that federal law for business expenses associated with commercial cannabis activity.

Senator Robert Hertzberg (D) also introduced an ambitious bill at the end of last year, which could facilitate banking for those in the industry. If implemented, it would create a Cannabis Limited Charter Bank and Credit Union Advisory Board, composed of the Treasurer, the Controller and the Chief of the Bureau of Cannabis Control. Perhaps most significantly, the bill would provide for the licensure and regulation of cannabis limited charter banks and credit unions to provide banking services for cannabis businesses, including the issuing of special purpose checks. Account holders would be able to use these checks to pay state and local fees and taxes; rent on property leased by, or on behalf of, the account holder’s cannabis business; vendors physically located in California; and the purchase of state and local bonds.

Early this month, Assemblymember Ed Chau (D) introduced another bill to keep an eye on, which seeks to alter the Vehicle Code, in relation to driving under the influence. Without making any changes to current penalties, Chau’s bill would make driving under the influence of cannabis, or driving under the combined influence of cannabis and another drug, each a separate offense. According to the letter of the text, “the purpose of this act is to distinguish the offense of driving under the influence of cannabis from other driving under the influence offenses for statistical purposes only.”

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