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A bill introduced in the California Assembly on April 11, 2019, aims to expand cannabis access statewide by specifying a ratio between marijuana retailers and businesses that serve alcohol.

Democratic Assembly member Phil Ting introduced AB 1356, a bill that he hopes will increase access to cannabis, especially for medical patients. If enacted, the measure would require local jurisdictions to issue one cannabis retail license for every four onsite liquor consumption licenses.

The bill also proposes that the licensing ratio would apply only to local jurisdictions where more than half of voters supported Proposition 64, California's landmark adult-use ballot initiative.

According to a New York Times analysis of the Proposition 64 vote, 40 of California's 58 counties voted in favor of adult-use marijuana. The most support was in the state's population centers: Southern California, the San Francisco Bay Area, and western Sacramento, as well as the agricultural San Joaquin Valley. Every coastal county, from San Diego on the U.S.-Mexico border to Del Norte, on the Oregon border, voted for Proposition 64. The 18 counties voting against adult-use legalization were in California's agricultural Central Valley, the eastern and northern suburbs of Sacramento, and the rural, mountainous Sierra Nevada communities.

According to a New York Times analysis of the Proposition 64 vote, 40 of California's 58 counties voted in favor of adult-use marijuana. Click To Tweet

Though Proposition 64, known as the California Marijuana Legalization Initiative, earned more than 57% of the vote in the November 2016 election, nearly 80% of California cities and counties have banned retail cannabis businesses within their borders.  

Proposition 64 also allowed for the sale of taxation of adult-use marijuana to begin on Jan. 1, 2018, yet many places in California exist in a so-called cannabis desert, nearly 18 months after broad retail sales began.

“Californians voted for Prop. 64 to replace the illicit market with a legal system that would grant Californians safe access to cannabis products, while also creating good jobs and significant tax revenue,” Ting said in a statement. “However, these goals can only be fully realized if enough licenses are granted to meet existing demand. This bill will ensure the legal market can succeed.”

Ting was joined by the bill's co-author, Democratic Assembly member Reginald Jones-Sawyer, who said in a statement that the historic vote on Proposition 64 “ … made clear the importance of access to cannabis products. For many, including seniors, veterans, young people with childhood maladies and individuals with disabilities, cannabis serves an important medical purpose.

“Many cities and counties are currently not providing this access to their medically challenged constituents, even when a majority of their constituents voted for Prop. 64. Banning and limiting access to cannabis in these jurisdictions only fuels the illicit market in our state,” Jones-Sawyer continued in the statement. He asked local governments to “respect the will of the voters by increasing access to safe cannabis products from the legal cannabis market.”

The bill also comes with the backing of labor, caregiver and veterans' groups. The labor union representing more than 110,000 California In-Home Supportive Services (IHSS) providers backs the bill's aim to treat medical patients equally, no matter where they live.

“As a union of caregivers, UDW members are driven by compassion and the desire to provide comfort,” said Doug Moore, executive director of United Domestic Workers of America (UDW)/AFSCME Local 3930 in San Diego. The American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) is the largest government workers union in the U.S., claiming 1.6 million members. “Many of our members and their clients choose to use cannabis for relief, and we believe that they should not be burdened by lack of access.”

Julian Canete, president and CEO of California Hispanic Chambers of Commerce, said about the bill: “The legal cannabis market in California has been stalled dramatically. Labor and business have come together in support of AB 1356 because it will expand and expedite permitting for legal cannabis retailers, increasing access and business opportunities to minority communities across the state, which have traditionally been targets of the war on drugs.”

Aaron Augustis, founder of Veterans Cannabis Group, said California's “cannabis deserts” add another barrier to access for veterans.

“We served our country and want to work with our local cities, counties, and state governments to ensure our veterans have safe access across the state to medicinal cannabis,” Augustis said.

AB 1356 also allows local jurisdictions that don't want to meet the 25% licensing ratio to put a local ban on the ballot at the next scheduled election.

The bill is scheduled to be heard on April 23, 2019, in the Assembly Business and Professions Committee in the Capitol in Sacramento.