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Medical Marijuana Research Bill in California Endorsed by Attorney General Dan Lungren, Fails to Pass State Assembly


September-October 1997

California Attorney General Dan Lungren (R), an opponent of Proposition 215, California's medical marijuana law, announced his support on August 26 for a $3 million research program to examine the costs and benefits of marijuana use in medicine. However, the research bill (S.B. 535) proposed by Sen. John Vasconcellos (D-Santa Clara) will be held over until next year because it failed to receive enough votes in the State Assembly for expedited passage (Press Release, "Lungren, Law Enforcement Support Medical Marijuana Research Bill," News from John Vasconcellos, August 26, 1997; Eric Bailey, "Lungren Backs Study on Medical Marijuana Use," Los Angeles Times (Washington Edition), August 27, 1997, p. A1; "Lungren Inhales," Orange County Register, August 28, 1997, p. 8).

Lungren, who initially opposed the marijuana research bill, became a supporter after negotiating amendments, including a peer review process that ensures the objectivity of research personnel, and the prohibition of private donations that come with any conditions or restrictions. In an August 26 letter to Sen. Vasconcellos, Lungren said, "Law Enforcement will benefit from a thorough, objective study ... it is unfortunate that this sort of definitive study could not have been done before the passage of Proposition 215."

The proposed study at the University of California, following National Institute of Health research guidelines, would determine the medical efficacy and safety of using marijuana in treating certain diseases. The bill has considerable law enforcement backing, and bipartisan support in the state legislature, and has been endorsed by the California Medical Association, California Nurses Association, and the American Cancer Society. The American Cancer Society wrote a letter to Sen. Vasconcellos stating that the "American Cancer Society now supports S.B. 535 because it is consistent with our long-held position of supporting research of any agent or technique for which there may be evidence of a therapeutic advantage" (Theresa M. Renken, American Cancer Society letter, July 24, 1997).

The measure passed the Senate, but did not get two-thirds of the vote needed in the state Assembly. On an early vote, the bill gained a 54-16 majority, exactly a two-thirds vote needed in the 80-seat Assembly, but Republicans held the roll open, hoping to persuade some supporting Republicans to switch against the bill. On September 10, the bill lost supporters and failed to pass on a 48-21 vote. S.B. 535 will be held over until the 1998 session due to the adjournment of the California legislature (Associated Press, "Backers of medical-pot study promise to give it another try," San Jose Mercury News, September 12, 1997).

California State Sen. John Vasconcellos - State Capitol, Room 4061, Sacramento, California 95814, Tel: (916) 445-9740, E-mail: