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Barbara Boxer cosponsors medical marijuana bill

U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer on Tuesday became an early cosponsor of a bipartisan bill to end the federal prohibition on medical marijuana.

Perhaps she was feeling particularly green for St. Patrick’s Day.

Barbara BoxerSenators Cory Booker, D-N.J.; Rand Paul, R-Kent.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., last week introduced S.683, the Compassionate Access, Research Expansion, and Respect States Act of 2015. The bill would move marijuana from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act – a list of drugs not recognized to have any valid medical use – to the less-restrictive Schedule II.

States would be freer to enact and implement medical marijuana laws without federal interference; veterans’ doctors could recommend the drug; research would speed up; and bankers could breathe easier when dealing with the industry if this bill became law.

Some advocates say having Boxer, D-Calif., sign onto the bill is a big deal.

“Sen. Boxer represents the state that led the way on medical marijuana, and it’s about time she took some action to defend the will of California’s voters from federal interference,” said Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority.

“We would have expected her to do something on this years ago, but better late than never,” he said. “A new generation of senators like Cory Booker, Rand Paul and Kirsten Gillibrand are leading the way on this issue, and it’s nice to see that even some lawmakers who have been around for awhile are starting to notice which way the political winds are blowing. This is a sign that the dam is about to break. Expect more old-school politicians to get on board soon.”

Boxer spokesman Zachary Coile said the senator “is a strong supporter of California’s medical marijuana law and she believes that patients, doctors and caregivers in states like California should be able to follow state law without fear of federal prosecution.”

Posted on Wednesday, March 18th, 2015
Under: Barbara Boxer, marijuana, U.S. Senate | 8 Comments »

Bipartisan push for veterans medical marijuana bill

A bipartisan group of House members reintroduced a bill Tuesday to let Veterans Affairs doctors discuss and recommend medical marijuana to their patients in states that have medical marijuana laws.

Without such a bill, doctors at the VA – under federal authority – can’t discuss or recommend the drug. Federal law still bans all cultivation, sale, possession and use of marijuana for any purpose. A similar bill was introduced in late November, but came so late in the last Congress that it stood no chance of action.

“Post traumatic stress and traumatic brain injury can be more damaging and harmful than injuries that are visible from the outside,” Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., said in a news release. “And they can have a devastating effect on a veteran’s family. We should be allowing these wounded veterans access to the medicine that will help them survive and thrive, including medical marijuana — not treating them like criminals and forcing them into the shadows. It’s shameful.”

Along with Blumenauer, the Veterans Equal Access Act’s original cosponsors are Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach; Walter Jones, R-N.C.;, Justin Amash, R-Mich.; Tom Reed, R-N.Y.; Richard Hanna, R-N.Y.; Dina Titus, D-Nev.; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Jared Polis, D-Colo.

The Veterans Health Administration (VHA) issued a directive in 2011 saying “VHA policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in state marijuana programs from also participating in VHA substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals.” But the policy also forbids VA physicians from issuing medical marijuana recommendations to their patients.

“Veterans must be given the same rights and health care options that we give other Americans, especially where medical marijuana is concerned,” said Mike Liszewski, government affairs director with Americans for Safe Access.

Posted on Tuesday, February 3rd, 2015
Under: marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House, veterans | No Comments »

Obama’s AG nominee opposes pot legalization

Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to become U.S. Attorney General, told senators at her confirmation hearing Wednesday that she opposes legalization of marijuana.

Questioned by U.S. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Lynch – currently the top federal prosecutor for part of New York City and all of Long Island – said she doesn’t agree with President Obama’s comments comparing marijuana to alcohol.

“I certainly think that the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I’m able to share,” she said. “But I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization, nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general.”

The federal Controlled Substances Act deems marijuana to have no valid medical use and a high risk of addiction, and so bans its cultivation, sale, possession and use. Obama in early 2014 told the New Yorker that he believes marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, a comment that brought criticism from anti-drug activists.

Current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in August 2013 told the governors of Washington and Colorado – states which had voted in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana, in conflict with federal law – that the Justice Department will let them implement their laws. At the same time, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country outlining priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws – including those in the 20 states including California that have legalized marijuana for medical use. California activists hope to put a recreational legalization measure on the November 2016 ballot.

Legalization opponents hailed Lynch’s testimony Wednesday.

“Loretta Lynch could have skirted the issue of legalization by simply repeating DOJ’s policy of select intervention, but she tackled it head on. We are breathing a sigh of relief,” said Kevin Sabet, who used to work in the White House drug czar’s office and now is president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Ms. Lynch is a knowledgeable, experienced, justice-minded individual, and for her to come out so adamantly against legalization is extremely encouraging. It will give our efforts a shot in the arm. We look forward to working with her on these important matters if she is confirmed by the Senate.”

Posted on Wednesday, January 28th, 2015
Under: Attorney General, marijuana, Obama presidency | 2 Comments »

‘Cromnibus’ includes medical marijuana protection

The final “cromnibus” federal spending bill that Congress will consider this week includes an amendment barring the Justice Department from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws – something a growing number of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been pursuing for more than a decade.

The House in May had voted 219-289 for such an amendment, co-authored by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach – a sudden success 11 years after it was first offered.

When this “must-pass” spending bill – which would keep the government from shutting down when funding runs out Thursday night – was released Tuesday night, the amendment was included. Farr issued a statement Wednesday calling this “great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country.”

“The public has made it clear that they want common sense drug policies. The majority of states have passed reasonable medical marijuana laws but the federal government still lags behind. Our amendment prevents the unnecessary prosecution of patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people,” he said.

“We need to rethink how we treat medical marijuana in this country and today’s announcement is a big step in the right direction,” Farr added. “Patients can take comfort knowing they will have safe access to the medical care they need without fear of federal prosecution. And all of us can feel better knowing our federal dollars will be spent more wisely fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients.”

Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said Congress for the first time is truly letting states set their own medical marijuana polices. “States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It’s not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed.”

The spending bill also includes a bipartisan amendment that prohibits the Drug Enforcement Administration from blocking implementation of a federal law passed last year by Congress that allows hemp cultivation for academic and agricultural research purposes in states that allow it.

The news wasn’t all good for marijuana advocates, however. The “cromnibus” also includes an amendment blocking Washington, D.C. from spending any federal or local funds to implement the marijuana-legalization initiative approved last month by 70 percent of voters.

Posted on Wednesday, December 10th, 2014
Under: marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

Musings on the state GOP, Congress, pot & Kansas

A few observations on Tuesday’s elections, with a hat tip to my colleagues Paul Rogers and Ken McLaughlin for their thoughts:

CALIFORNIA GOP: Tuesday’s results seem to be a vindication and victory for the “Brulte Doctrine,” spelled out by the state GOP chairman at his party’s convention in March: Don’t waste much effort trying to win unwinnable statewide races, but instead rebuild the party by “grinding it out on the ground” in local races – a strategy that will take several election cycles to bear larger fruit.

Despite their buzz, Ashley Swearengin and Pete Peterson couldn’t make it happen statewide: as it stands now, it looks like a 5.6-point loss for Swearengin in the controller’s race and a 5-point loss for Peterson in the secretary of state’s race. Those are respectable losses but losses nonetheless, and I submit that the GOP putting more money and party resources behind them might actually have resulted in wider margins of loss – I think they did this well in part by distancing themselves from partisanship.

Instead, Brulte’s GOP concentrated on denying Democrats their legislative supermajorities – and now it’s “mission accomplished” in the state Senate while the Assembly still hangs by a thread as vote-by-mail ballots are counted.

In doing so, the GOP is hatching a new generation of up-and-comers. Exhibit A: Catharine Baker, who at this hour is up 3.8 points over Democrat Tim Sbranti in the East Bay’s 16th Assembly District race. Baker, an attorney hailed as a cream-of-the-crop “California Trailblazer” at her party’s convention in March, was far outspent by Sbranti, who already had some name recognition among the electorate as Dublin’s mayor. But GOP officials and activists came from around the state to pound the pavement for her, and it looks like it could pay off with the first Bay Area Republican sent to Sacramento since Guy Houston was term-limited out (in the same part of the East Bay) in 2008.

CONGRESS: Anyone who’s surprised that Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and gained seats in the House isn’t very well-versed in history. A two-term president’s party almost always loses ground in his sixth-year midterm.

Sure, President Barack Obama’s job-approval rating stood at 42 percent (per Gallup) on Tuesday. And President George W. Bush’s job approval was at 38 percent in November 2006 as Democrats picked up five Senate seats and 31 House seats, making Harry Reid the new Senate Majority Leader and Nancy Pelosi the new House Speaker. And President Ronald Reagan was riding high with a 63 percent job-approval rating in November 1986 (although he was about to take a precipitous dive as details of the Iran-Contra scandal came to light) as Democrats picked up eight Senate seats, putting Robert Byrd in the driver’s seat, and five House seats to cement the majority they already had.

The exception was President Bill Clinton, who saw his party pick up five House seats in 1998 – a stinging defeat that left Republicans in control but forced Newt Gingrich to resign as Speaker – while the Senate was a zero-sum game. Clinton, under fire for the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, still was at a 66 percent job-approval rating at the time.

But Bubba always had a way of defying the odds.

MARIJUANA: If Oregon and Alaska got enough younger voters out to the polls in this midterm election to approve marijuana legalization, just imagine what California can do in 2016’s presidential election with an initiative forged in the trial-and-error of four other states’ experiences.

KANSAS: Kansas has had private-sector job growth that lags the rest of the country, and adopted tax cuts big enough to blow a still-widening hole in the state budget requiring school closings, teacher layoffs and increased class sizes – but doubled down with its Republican governor and Republican U.S. Senator. I guess you can lead a Jayhawk to water, but you can’t make it drink…

Posted on Wednesday, November 5th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Assembly, California State Senate, marijuana, Republican Party, Republican politics, U.S. House, U.S. Senate | 10 Comments »

Brownie Mary Democratic Club rises in East Bay

The East Bay has its first marijuana-oriented Democratic club.

As Brownie Mary Democratic Club, created to advocate for the rights of California marijuana. has been chartered by the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee with members including Assemblyman Bill Quirk, D-Hayward; county Democratic chairwoman Robin Torello; and county committeewoman Ginny DeMartini. It’ll be chaired by committeewoman Denise Martellaci and vice-chaired by committeeman Rick Trullinger.

“The Brownie Mary Club will help bridge the cannabis community throughout Alameda County and educate our elected and future elected with cannabis reform issues,” Martellacci said in a news release. “Our Brownie Mary members are representatives from a wide spectrum and will demonstrate to the Democratic community our seriousness and abilities to meet our 2016 goal of full marijuana legalization for adults in the state of California.”

Members of the club are already walking precincts for cannabis-friendly candidates, and plan to help with phone banking and fundraisers. But its first order of business was to make endorsements – no surprises in the state, congressional and legislative races – including Rebecca Kaplan for Oakland mayor and taking a “no” position on Proposition 46 and a “yes” on Proposition 47.

The new club also is working on a pending Alameda County ordinance that would limit use of e-cigarettes, by advocating for patients who vaporize their medical marijuana.

It’s named for “Brownie Mary” Rathbun, a renowned activist who baked brownies for AIDS patients in San Francisco in the run-up to California voters’ approval for legal medical marijuana in 1996.

The Alameda County club is the sixth such group chartered in the state, after Riverside, Sacramento, Los Angeles, San Bernardino and San Francisco. The previous clubs were a visible presence at the March 2014 state Democratic convention in Los Angeles, and succeeded in getting the party to add a platform plank supporting “the legalization, regulation and taxation of marijuana in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol.

Also represented in the club are cannabis reform groups California NORML, the Drug Policy Alliance and the California Cannabis Industry Association, along with cannabis advocates Dan Grace of Dark Heart Nursery, Sean Luce of Berkeley Patients Group, attorney James Anthony, and Hank Levy, CPA. Union representative Debra Pearson, with SEIU Local 1021’s Alameda County Committee on Political Education, and campaign strategist Mark Goodwin are also on board.

Posted on Tuesday, October 21st, 2014
Under: Alameda County, Democratic Party, Democratic politics, marijuana | 14 Comments »

Nehring ad: Newsom’s policies encourage addiction

Ron Nehring, the Republican challenger to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, has launched his first video ad, claiming Newsom’s policies will lead to more drug addiction.

Nehring spokeswoman Nyna Armstrong said the ad will run online only, at least for now. “Then, we’ll decide what our ad buy will be based on the response that we get.”

Newsom campaign spokesman Sean Clegg seemed angry that a reporter had contacted him seeking comment.

“This is not an ad,” he replied by email. “This is a video produced to hoodwink journalists into writing that he has an ad. There is no real TV buy. If I send you the video my eight-year-old son made will you post that too?”

Nehring’s ad features a series of women speaking to the camera. “In America, one baby is born addicted to drugs every hour. More lives destroyed. If Gavin Newsom gets his way, drug abuse in California will skyrocket. More women addicted to drugs.”

“These are our daughters. Mothers. Sisters. Friends,” it continues. “You can’t be pro-woman, and be pro-more women addicted to drugs. There’s nothing Democratic. Nothing progressive. About addiction.”

Yet Nehring’s ad never mentions how Newsom’s policies would further drug addiction.

Newsom last year was tapped to head the American Civil Liberties Union’s panel studying marijuana legalization in California, with an eye toward drafting a measure for 2016′s presidential-year ballot. He said at the time, and has reiterated since, that he can’t support a status quo of high prison and police costs associated with marijuana enforcement that disproportionately affects minority communities. He recently said the same on KQED’s “Forum” radio show, saying he favors taxing and regulating marijuana to keep it out of children’s hands.

The jury is still out on whether recent recreational legalization in Colorado and Washington state have led to increased use or abuse, with organizations and agencies on both side offering conflicting reports.

Nehring, a former state GOP chairman from El Cajon, offered a 2010 RAND Corp. study to bolster his claim that “drug abuse in California will skyrocket;” the study actually projected “consumption will increase, but it is unclear how much.”

Nehring issued a statement saying California faces big challenges with poverty, unemployment and failing schools, and “we don’t solve them by swinging wide open the doors for more drug abuse and dependency. That’s a distraction that takes our state in exactly the wrong direction.”

Nehring said he supports reforming drug policy by focusing on treatment instead of imprisonment, as the Project SAM organization advocates. “Gavin Newsom will claim that there are only two choices: the status quo or his legalization idea. Yet, there is a third and better way that puts the emphasis on treatment while avoiding creating the conditions that will lead to skyrocketing addiction in California.”

Newsom differs from several prominent fellow Democrats such as Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who oppose legalization. Attorney General Kamala Harris has said California should wait and learn from Colorado and Washington, while her Republican challenger, Ron Gold, is more forthright in his support of legalization.

Posted on Monday, October 20th, 2014
Under: 2014 general, Gavin Newsom, Lt. Governor, marijuana | No Comments »

Pot advocates form 2016 initiative committee

A national marijuana advocacy group is filing papers with the Secretary of State’s office Wednesday to form a committee in support of a 2016 ballot measure for recreational legalization.

That measure is still coalescing, but the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project says it’ll be part of a coalition of activists, organizations and businesses supporting a plan they expect will resemble the MPP-financed initiative approved by Colorado in 2012. And they intend to start raising money immediately.

“Marijuana prohibition has had an enormously detrimental impact on California communities. It’s been ineffective, wasteful, and counterproductive. It’s time for a more responsible approach,” MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia said in a news release. “A diverse coalition of activists, organizations, businesses, and community leaders will be joining together in coming months to draft the most effective and viable proposal possible. Public opinion has been evolving nationwide when it comes to marijuana policy, and Californians have always been ahead of the curve.

“Marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance than alcohol, and that’s how it needs to be treated,” Kampia added. “Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol just makes sense.”

California activists have been watching Colorado’s and Washington state’s experiences with legalization, and have said they’ll tweak the Golden State’s ballot measure accordingly.

Posted on Wednesday, September 24th, 2014
Under: ballot measures, marijuana | No Comments »

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 »