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Rand Paul, Cory Booker to team up on marijuana

U.S. Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. – an unlikely couple if ever there was one – are teaming up to introduce the same amendment the House approved in May ordering the Justice Department to stop targeting medical pot clubs that comply with state law.

The 219-189 vote in the Republican-led House on May 30 might eventually bring relief for some targeted California operations while emboldening other states to adopt marijuana legalization laws of their own — if it can survive a difficult path in the Democrat-led Senate. Even California’s Democratic senators don’t seem to be behind it.

California in 1996 was the first state to legalize medical marijuana; 21 states plus the District of Columbia have followed. But marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and many facilities in these states have been subject to federal raids, warning letters to landlords or civil property seizure lawsuits.

This amendment to the Justice Department’s spending bill – first offered in 2003 and voted upon several times since but never approved by House until now – would forbid the department from spending money on any such actions.

“The House just made history last month by voting to stop the DEA from interfering with state marijuana laws,” Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a news release. “Now every U.S. Senator has the opportunity to provide relief for the sick and dying – and to be on the right side of history, not to mention public opinion.”

Piper noted polls show voters from both parties support letting states set medical marijuana policies without federal interference. “No American should have to live in fear of arrest and prosecution for following their doctor’s advice. We’re going to make sure voters know which Senators vote to protect their states and which do not.”

The House version of the amendment made similarly strange bedfellows, offered by six Republicans and six Democrats: Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Don Young, R-Alaska; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Paul Broun, R-Ga.; Steve Stockman, R-Texas; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; and Dina Titus, D-Nev.

Posted on Thursday, June 19th, 2014
Under: marijuana, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | No Comments »

Lawmakers cheer tougher penalties for pot grows

Northern California House members from both sides of the aisle are cheering new, stiffer federal penalties for illegal marijuana grows on trespassed lands.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission announced last week it had adopted tougher punishments for high-level offenders who cultivate marijuana grows on public or private lands they don’t own. The amended guidelines will be submitted to Congress and reviewed for six months before officially taking effect Nov. 1.

This had been the aim of a bill introduced last summer and a letter sent to the commission in November by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, as well as by senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

“Illegal marijuana grow sites that threaten lives, destroy public lands and devastate wildlife have become far too common,” Thompson said in a news release Monday. “These new sentencing guidelines will serve as a strong deterrent against these illegal grow sites, and they will help make sure criminals who wreck our public and private lands are held fully responsible for the harm they cause.”

Huffman said toxic and illegal chemicals used at such sites, plus the potential for violence, make such grows unsafe on many levels. Also, “California is in the midst of a devastating drought, and many of these grow operations illegally divert streams and tap groundwater with untold impacts on downstream water users and wildlife,” he noted.

Both he and Farr noted the nation seems to be moving toward what they consider to be more reasonable laws on marijuana use, but these illegal grows can’t be tolerated. “With these new guidelines in place, we can make public and private lands safer while protecting the environment for everyone to enjoy,” Farr said.

LaMalfa said property owners and local government often are stuck paying thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. “The Sentencing Commission’s recognition of these impacts will go a long way toward ensuring that those who disregard our nation’s laws are held responsible.”

Posted on Monday, April 14th, 2014
Under: Barbara Boxer, Dianne Feinstein, Jared Huffman, marijuana, Mike Thompson, Sam Farr, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

CAGOP14: Nehring calls for Newsom to debate pot

Ron Nehring, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said incumbent Democrat Gavin Newsom is dead wrong to be supporting marijuana legalization.

Ron Nehring“California has been a leader in fighting Big Tobacco… now we’re seeing the rise of Big Marijuana,” Nehring, a former state GOP chairman from El Cajon, said in a news conference Saturday morning at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame.

Newsom last October became chairman of a committee convened by the American Civil Liberties Union to explore legalization and taxation, as voters in Colorado and Washington already have voted to embrace. He also gave a speech supporting legalization at the California Democratic Party’s convention last week in Los Angeles.

But Nehring said Saturday that legalization would bring down marijuana’s price and lead to a dramatic expansion in use of a drug that affects reaction time, memory and other brain functions for weeks, and is particularly harmful to still-developing adolescent brains. The medical community opposes legalization, he said, while the public costs would far exceed the tax revenues and job creation.

And, Nehring noted, Latinos oppose legalization by about a two-to-one margin, so this is an issue on which the GOP can connect with those voters.

Nehring said he supports the mission of Project SAM, an anti-legalization group that favors changing laws to favor treatment over punishment for those who use marijuana.

Nehring stood next to a poster displaying a photo of Gov. Jerry Brown and his recent quote that, “All of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”

“We should have a debate about this issue,” Nehring said. “If Gavin Newsom is not willing to debate me, perhaps he’d be willing to debate Gov. Brown, and they could also debate high-speed rail while they’re at it.”

Nehring acknowledged this will be a tough campaign.

“We completely understand that we are the underdog in this race,” Nehring said, given Democratic incumbents in all statewide offices, a big Democratic voter registration advantage, and robust Democratic fundraising. “Every financial report that comes out will show that Gavin Newsom has raised more money than Ron Nehring.”

As a down-ticket race, “this campaign needs to be about big ideas,” he said – a good prescription for all GOP candidates.

“Republicans need to be the party of bold reform” in order to inspire voters, Nehring said, not just “the party of tweaks and cuts.”

Meanwhile, he said, “Gavin Newsom is treating the office like a taxpayer funded gubernatorial exploratory committee for 2018.”

Posted on Saturday, March 15th, 2014
Under: Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor, marijuana, Republican Party, Republican politics | No Comments »

CAGOP14: One thing Kashkari & Brown agree on

Rancorous though this election is likely to grow, Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari and Gov. Jerry Brown agree on at least one thing: California shouldn’t legalize marijuana.

NEEL KASHKARITalking with reporters moments after rallying his college volunteer troops at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame, Kashkari scoffed at the idea that legalized marijuana can be a job-creator.

“We need jobs that are productivity-enhancing,” he said, adding that when Brown “said we don’t need a state full of pot-heads, he was right.”

But he also said today’s drug laws are disproportionately enforced, causing more harm to minority communities, and it makes no sense to react to marijuana by locking people up, ruining their lives and wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars across the nation. “I think there are elements of decriminalization that are worth looking at.”

Sharing an elevator with reporters, Ron Nehring – the former state GOP chairman now running to unseat incumbent Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – said he intends to discuss marijuana at a press conference Saturday morning at the convention.

Kashkari wouldn’t give reporters any details Friday of how he intends to create jobs, which along with improving education is his campaign’s backbone. “We’ll roll out our jobs plan very soon, we’re looking at various ways to lure factories back to California,” he said.

Minutes earlier, he had repeated to his volunteers his general mantra on jobs: “unleash the potential” of the state’s natural resources by opening oil and gas fields to more fracking; eliminating much of the state’s regulatory red tape; and “improve our overall economic competitiveness.”

State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte and Vice Chair Harmeet Dhillon earlier Friday made it clear that statewide races won’t be the state party’s focus this year; instead, they’ll look for House, legislative and local victories. Brulte said he believes only two or three statewide races are even competitive this year, though he wouldn’t say which ones.

Kashkari said he agrees “that the lower races are very important” and hopes the tide of his campaign will lift GOP boats further down the ticket. Winning his race this year will be “absolutely hard, but we have so many examples nationally of very strong incumbents losing.”

Brown’s “track record is the destruction of the middle class,” he repeated, also defending a recent statement that Brown was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Reminded that Brown famously has lived more frugally than just about any governor in recent memory, Kashkari replied that it must be nice for Brown to have had a multi-million dollar trust fund that let him go visit in the mid-1980s with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.

Posted on Friday, March 14th, 2014
Under: marijuana, Neel Kashkari, Republican Party, Republican politics | 2 Comments »

Pot measures seek signatures at Miley Cyrus show

Proponents of a San Jose medical marijuana initiative will gather signatures outside San Jose’s SAP Center on Tuesday night as Miley Cyrus brings her “Bangerz” tour to town.

Miley CyrusKnow thy demographic: The first rule of ballot measures.

The Medical Marijuana Regulation for San Jose Act (MMRSJ) was created in response to what proponents say was the city’s failure to provide workable regulations for its cannabis clubs. It’s supported by the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition, Americans for Policy Reform, Control & Regulate San Jose, and most cannabis clubs in the city, they say.

“MMRSJ puts in place reasonable regulations and creates a commission to address any impact to the community. For the past 5 years, without regulations, we have had the wild-west in San Jose. That needs to stop,” proponent Dave Hodges founder of the All American Cannabis Club, said in a news release. “It is crucial that we collect enough signatures to make the San Jose ballot. We have been here before with the city, and the regulations they proposed forced us to do a referendum. We must put reasonable regulations in place to stop the city council from creating something we cannot live with.”

Proponent John Lee, founder of Americans for Policy Reform, said closure of cannabis clubs shouldn’t be indiscriminate. “It should be based on the community needs. If a cannabis club is disturbing the neighborhood and creating a nuisance, then of course it should be shut down. On the other hand, a well run cannabis club can have a positive impact and enhance their community.”

They’re hoping to finish their signature drive by April 20. 4/20. Of course.

Lee and Hodges also are proponents for a statewide marijuana legalization measure – the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act – that’s struggling to gather signatures by mid-April in order to qualify for this November’s ballot.

“Don’t worry, we will be collecting signatures for the 2014 statewide legalization at the show as well,” Hodges said.

We weren’t worried.

Posted on Tuesday, February 25th, 2014
Under: marijuana | No Comments »

Neel Kashkari: Now isn’t the time to cut taxes

GOP gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari’s top priority isn’t cutting taxes, he told the San Jose State University College Republicans on Thursday night.

They’re too high, he agreed, but he called for first getting the state’s money’s worth from the taxes it does collect to foster new jobs and better education. Once the economy is strong again, he said, it’ll be time to reform the tax code to lower the overall taxation level.

“To be candid with you, I don’t think we start there; I think we start by putting people back to work,” he told about 20 students who’d gathered to hear him speak.

Kashkari & SJSU College Republicans, photo by Josh Richman

Because Kashkari’s speech occurred on our print deadline and due to limited space in the paper, here are a few other tidbits that didn’t make it into today’s story:

He’s “not comfortable with legalizing marijuana. … I’ve never smoked pot in my life,” he said. “But I also don’t think it makes sense to lock people up, to ruin their lives, to waste millions of dollars for a small amount of drugs,” he added, noting there must be a better approach than the “war on drugs” that has disproportionately hurt minorities.

Kashkari again called for opening the Monterey Shale to fracking for shale oil, saying it’ll be a key part of the job boom California desperately needs. The nation’s highest rents aren’t in San Francisco or New York, he noted, but actually in a small North Dakota town at the epicenter of that state’s fracking boom.

A true climate-change response must be national or international in order to have any effect, he said, and a robust state economy will bring more tax revenues that can be spent in part on basic research into clean energy sources and other climate-change solutions.

“I love our natural beauty, we have to protect the environment, but I believe we need to find the right balance,” he said.

Kashkari & Barr, photo by Josh RichmanKashkari got into a back-and-forth with Cheryl Barr, 22, an industrial-design student who disagreed with his environmental positions.

Barr after the meeting said Kashkari generally “seems like a decent guy,” and she likes that he has an engineering background – he earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering and worked briefly as an aerospace engineer, before earning his M.B.A. and entering the financial sector. But his campaign mantra of “‘jobs and education’ is kind of vague,” she said, and she believes his support of fracking is misguided.

“There actually is room to create jobs that can help the environment at the same time,” she said.

Posted on Friday, February 21st, 2014
Under: economy, energy, Environment, marijuana, Neel Kashkari, taxes | No Comments »

Feds ease banking restrictions for marijuana biz

The Obama administration issued new guidelines Friday that’ll make it easier for banks to work with marijuana-related businesses.

This had been a big problem for businesses in the 20 states – including California – plus the District of Columbia where medical use of marijuana is legal under state law, and particularly in Washington and Colorado, which have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

Marijuana is generating millions of dollars in those states, but because it’s still banned by federal law, many banks and credit card issuers were loath to let such businesses open accounts. That left many marijuana businesses to do all their transactions in cash, and having so much cash around increases the risk of robbery and other violent crimes.

But on Friday, the Treasury Department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network in coordination with the Justice Department issued guidelines to clarify “how financial institutions can provide services to marijuana-related businesses” consistent with their Bank Secrecy Act obligations.

“Now that some states have elected to legalize and regulate the marijuana trade, FinCEN seeks to move from the shadows the historically covert financial operations of marijuana businesses,” Jennifer Shasky Calvery, the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network’s director, said in a news release. “Our guidance provides financial institutions with clarity on what they must do if they are going to provide financial services to marijuana businesses and what reporting will assist law enforcement.”

Banks should check with state authorities whether the business is duly licensed and registered and review the information it provided to get that license; learn as much as possible about the business’ owners, products and customers; and monitor the business for any suspicious activity or news reports of legal problems, the memo advised.

Even so, banks must file “suspicious activity reports” on any funds derived from marijuana, the memo says – but they can file special “limited” reports for businesses that are believed to be complying with state law.

Drug reform and marijuana legalization advocates are pleased.

“It appears that the Obama administration is trying to provide as much protection as possible for the marijuana industry, given the constraints of federal law,” Ethan Nadelmann, the Drug Policy Alliance’s executive director, said in a news release. “The assurances the administration have provided appear fairly substantial and will hopefully prove sufficient so that banks will feel safe doing business with the marijuana industry. I have to say I’m impressed by how the White House is trying to make this work, especially given the inability of Congress to do anything constructive in this area.”

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, said advocates have been pushing for such concessions for years, but it’s still a piecemeal approach.

“We will certainly be working with banks, credit unions, and credit card companies to ensure proper implementation of this federal guidance,” she said. “Removing the risks of operating as an ‘all-cash’ business cannot be overstated, but we will also continue to put pressure on the Obama Administration to wrap these types of discrete practices into a more comprehensive medical marijuana policy.”

Posted on Friday, February 14th, 2014
Under: marijuana, Obama presidency | No Comments »

Lawmakers urge Obama to reclassify marijuana

Eighteen House members, including six from the Bay Area, wrote to President Obama today urging him to use his authority to move marijuana off the federal government’s list of most-restricted drugs.

Marijuana currently is listed on Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, a list for drugs deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use in the United States and a lack of accepted safety under medical supervision. The lawmakers’ letter says this “makes no sense” for marijuana, and calls on the president to instruct Attorney General Eric Holder to reclassify the drug.

“Classifying marijuana as Schedule I at the federal level perpetuates an unjust and irrational system,” the letter says. “Schedule I recognizes no medical use, disregarding both medical evidence and the laws of nearly half of the states that have legalized medical marijuana.”

The letter comes days after Obama told the New Yorker magazine that he believes marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, a comment that has brought criticism from anti-drug activists.

Among those signing the letter were Reps. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; and Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton. The only Republican among the 18 signers was Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach.

The Controlled Substances Act gives authority for rescheduling controlled substances to Congress, but it also grants executive branch authority to the U.S. Attorney General and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Several rescheduling bills have gone nowhere in recent years.

“President Obama just told the nation during his State of the Union address that because Congress has been unable to act, he would take executive action where he could on behalf of helping the American people,” said Steph Sherer, executive director of Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access. “The president has the authority to reclassify marijuana and could exercise that authority at any time.”

Posted on Wednesday, February 12th, 2014
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, Jared Huffman, marijuana, Mike Honda, Obama presidency, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Zoe Lofgren | No Comments »

Ammiano: No marijuana legalization bill in 2014

With two marijuana legalization ballot measures already seeking petition signatures and two more under review by the state attorney general, a lawmaker who’s been a longtime legalization supporter says this isn’t the right year for California to take the plunge. (See update below.)

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, believes the Golden State’s lawmakers should watch, wait and learn from the experiences of Washington and Colorado, which already have legalized marijuana. Meanwhile, he said, he’ll carry a bill again to create a regulatory structure for medical marijuana so patients have a safe supply.

Here’s his full statement:

Tom Ammiano“It’s clear to me – as we work to pass smart marijuana laws – that momentum is growing. If the critical mass has not been reached, it looks very close when the President of the United States recognizes the negative effects of our excessive laws against cannabis, as he did in his recent New Yorker interview. We can’t afford to spend these resources when the only result is the loss of so much human potential. As President Obama suggested, we can’t afford a system that disproportionately falls on the poor.

“Another sign of momentum: the recent California legislative analyst’s evaluation of two marijuana legalization initiatives showing that they would save tens of millions of dollars and generate significant revenues. Although my focus has been on medical cannabis for those who need it, I have always been a supporter of legalization. Some have suggested we have to see what happens with legalization in Washington and Colorado before we act.

“No. We already know that what we’re doing here in California is not working. We can’t perpetuate problems while we wait. Let’s watch Washington and Colorado, but we have to keep California moving ahead.

“This year, I will again have legislation to create a regulatory structure for medical marijuana. Nearly two decades after voters legalized cannabis for those who have a medical need, we still see a chaotic environment of prosecutions, threats and confusing court decisions. Having lived through the worst years of the AIDS epidemic, I have seen what a lifesaver cannabis can be for those who are sick.

“We need to have a regulatory structure to make sure that patients have a safe supply, free of criminal influence. We also need this to ensure that growers are environmentally responsible, and to make sure that medical recommendations are based on real needs, not some doctor’s profit motive.

“I will continue to work with all responsible parties to make sure this is the best bill we can offer and one that we will pass this year. This is the time to strike.”

UPDATE @ 12:26 P.M. WEDNESDAY: I misunderstood Ammiano’s intent. Spokesman Carlos Alcala says Ammiano “supports legalization, and thinks it is time, but does not see that as an option in the Legislature. He is focused on medical marijuana regulation in the Legislature.”

Posted on Tuesday, January 21st, 2014
Under: Assembly, marijuana, Tom Ammiano | 3 Comments »

Lawmakers urge DOJ to back off pot dispensaries

Four Bay Area House members are urging the area’s top federal prosecutor to halt what they say is ongoing “hostility toward dispensaries” that provide marijuana under the state’s medical marijuana law.

Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Eric Swalwell, D-Pleasanton; and Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, sent a letter to Melinda Haag, U.S. Attorney for California’s Northern District. In says, in part:

“It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward dispensaries. Moreover, it appears to directly counter the spirit of Deputy Attorney General Cole’s memo, and is in direct opposition to the evolving view toward medical marijuana, the will of the people and, by now, common sense. Additionally, the State of California has also received legislative direction and guidelines from California Attorney General Kamala Harris on responsibly delivering medical marijuana.

“It is our view that the intent of the Justice Department is to not enforce its anti-marijuana laws in conflict with the laws of states that have chosen to decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational uses. California understands the urgency toward putting together a statewide regulatory system, and we can all be helpful in that regard, but some municipalities, including Oakland, have already done an extraordinary job regulating medical marijuana. California is moving in the correct direction in a measured manner, and should be given the opportunity to do so.”

Several Bay Area dispensaries have been targeted by federal prosecutors, and Alameda County supervisors this month adopted a resolution urging the federal government to back off.

In a news release announcing the lawmakers’ letter, Lee said it’s “far past time for commonsense and economic sense to prevail in policies and actions related to medical cannabis dispensaries that serve the patients in our communities. This harassment and constant threat of prosecution should end.”

Posted on Thursday, November 21st, 2013
Under: Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller, marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House, Uncategorized | No Comments »