Before acupuncture became regulated in California, it was not uncommon for acupuncturists to be arrested and prosecuted for engaging in the practice of acupuncture. These practitioners and their patients organized and advocated for regulation to provide protection for people practicing acupuncture.
The Board of Medical Examiners began regulating acupuncture in 1972 pursuant to provisions which authorized the practice of acupuncture under the supervision of licensed physicians as part of acupuncture research in medical schools. The provisions relating to the regulation of acupuncture were amended to allow acupuncture research to be conducted under the guidance of medical schools, and $150,000 was appropriated to fund acupuncture research projects.
On July 12, 1975, the governor signed a bill that took effect immediately, creating the Acupuncture Advisory Committee. From 1975 until 1982 it was the Advisory Committee to the Division of Allied Health Professions of the Medical Board of California.
The new law authorized the practice of acupuncture, but only upon the prior diagnosis and/or referral by a physician, dentist, podiatrist or chiropractor. Consequently, prosecutions of acupuncturists, who had been arrested simply for practicing, were ordered dismissed. The law required acupuncturists to be certified, to be at least eighteen years old and of good moral character. It also required them to complete an approved acupuncture course or have two years of experience, and pass an examination administered by the then Committee.
In 1978, AB 1291 (Torres) essentially established acupuncturists as "primary health care providers" (B&P Code, section 4926) by eliminating the requirement for "prior diagnosis or referral" by a doctor, dentist, podiatrist or chiropractor; and AB 2424 (Keysor) authorized Medi-Cal payments for acupuncture treatment. Legislation was passed which established acupuncture as a certified health care profession. Certification was obtained upon successful completion of a competency examination. Also, in 1978, legislation was passed (SB 1106 (Song)) that added four public members to the Acupuncture Advisory Committee. It also clarified that the Division of Allied Health Professions (DAHP) within the Board of Medical Quality Assurance had the authority to enforce acupuncture laws; was directed to establish training standards; and was authorized to establish apprentice programs and continuing education requirements for acupuncturists. (B&P Code sections 4927, 4928, 4940 and 4945)].
In 1980, the Acupuncture Advisory Committee was abolished and replaced with the Acupuncture Examining Committee within the Division of Allied Health Professions. This allowed the Committee to have more autonomous authority; expanded acupuncturists' scope of practice to include electroacupuncture, cupping and moxibustion; and clarified that oriental massage, breathing techniques, exercise and herbs for nutrition were within the authorized practice of an acupuncturist. Fees collected from acupuncturists were no longer to be deposited into the Board of Medical Quality Assurance Fund, but into the Acupuncture Examining Committee Fund (B&P Code sections 4933 & 4937).
Legislation that passed in 1988, (Chapter 1496) included acupuncturists as "physicians" only in the Workers' Compensation system for purposes of treating injured workers. The bill permitted acupuncturists to treat workplace injuries without first obtaining a referral, but limited the role of acupuncturists by not authorizing them to evaluate disability. The bill went into effect in 1989 with a four-year sunset clause. AB 400 (Chapter 824, Statutes of 1992) extended the inclusion of acupuncturists as "physicians" in the Workers' Compensation system until December 1996 and AB 1002 (Chapter 26, Statutes of 1996) further extended the inclusion of acupuncturists as "physicians" in the Workers' Compensation system until January 1, 1999. Legislation passed in 1997 (Chapter 98, Statutes of 1997) deleting the 1999 sunset date on the Workers' Compensation system.
The name of the committee was changed from "Acupuncture Examining Committee" to "Acupuncture Committee" effective January 1, 1990 (Chapter 1249, Statutes of 1989). This legislation further provided that, until January 1, 1995, the California Acupuncture Licensing Examination (CALE) would be developed and administered by an independent consultant, which was later extended to June of 2000. In September 1998 legislation was passed changing the "Acupuncture Committee" to "Acupuncture Board" to become effective January 1, 1999. The board was sunrisen until June of 2002, and the composition of the board was changed from 11 to 9 members as a result of this legislation.
In late 1999, legislation was passed (Chapter 67 (SB 1105) that eliminated the clinical portion of the examination and required that the Office of Examination Resources of the Department of Consumer Affairs develop the written examination.
The Current Acupuncture Board
As a result of legislation passed in 2005 (Chapter 659, Statutes of 2005), the board is currently comprised of seven members - four public members and three licensed acupuncturists. The Legislature has mandated that the acupuncture members of the board must represent a cross-section of the cultural backgrounds of the licensed members of the profession.
The Acupuncture Board is now an autonomous body under the umbrella of the Department of Consumer Affairs, which licenses and regulates acupuncturists in California. Pursuant to Business and Professions Code section 4925 et seq., the board administers an examination that tests an applicant's ability, competency, and knowledge in the practice of an acupuncturist; issues licenses to qualified practitioners; approves and monitors students in tutorial programs; approves acupuncture schools and continuing education providers and courses; and enforces the Acupuncture Licensure Act. The board is authorized to adopt regulations, which appear in Division 13.7, Title 16 of the California Code of Regulations.