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Marijuana reform advocates win 3 of 4 in House

Marijuana reform advocates won three of four battles in the House on Wednesday, as lawmakers approved amendments that forbid federal interference in state laws allowing medical use of marijuana and marijuana-based oils or industrial hemp uses.

“There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights,” Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said in a news release. “The more the DEA blocks sensible reforms the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny.”

California is one of 23 states, plus the District of Columbia and Guam, that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The House voted 242-186 for an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, that prohibits the federal government from using any funds to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients or providers that are in a compliance with their state’s laws. This amendment also passed the House last year with strong bipartisan support – after a decade of failed efforts – and made it into the final spending bill signed into law, but because it was attached to an annual spending bill, it will expire later this year unless Congress renews it.

“The majority of the states have said they want medical marijuana patients to have access to the medicine they need without fear of prosecution,” Farr said in a news release. “For the second year in a row, the people’s house has listened to the will of the people and voted to give them that access.”

The House voted 297-130 to pass an amendment by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., that protects laws in 16 states allowing use of CBD oils, a non-psychotropic marijuana component that’s been shown to be effective in managing children’s epileptic seizures.

And the House voted 282-146 to pass an amendment by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kent., prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration from undermining state laws allowing the industrial use of hemp. A similar amendment passed the House last year.

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and voters in California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are expected to face legalization ballot initiatives next year. But an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., to bar the DEA and Justice Department from undermining such state laws narrowly failed on a 206-222 vote.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy staffer who now is president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said his anti-legalization group is “re-energized” by the recreational amendment’s defeat.

“This is a victory for the science, and it’s a victory for our nation’s kids,” Sabet said in a news release. “It’s a crushing blow to the new Big Marijuana industry special interest group. Legalization is not inevitable and we will continue to discuss why today’s high THC marijuana runs counter to mental health and basic principles of public health and road safety.”

But Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, issued a statement saying “now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it’s time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law.”

“That’s what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well,” Angell said. “Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there’s absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the lawbooks any longer.”

Posted on Wednesday, June 3rd, 2015
Under: marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House | No Comments »

Marijuana legalization measure filed in Sacramento

A group that couldn’t get enough signatures to put a marijuana legalization measure on 2014’s ballot has launched its effort to try again for 2016.

MCLR logoProponents of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act went to the Secretary of State’s office Monday to make their initial filing; they then headed for San Francisco to join the 4/20 celebration at Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill.

The proposed measure – which was immediately forwarded to the state attorney general’s office to receive an official title and summary before proponents can start gathering petition signatures – is the product of Americans For Policy Reform’s “wiki-like” open-source process, which took input from thousands of California residents.

“We hope this broad-based coalition of support will encourage further cooperation,” AFPR director and measure proponent John Lee said in a news release “We urgently encourage other advocacy groups to join us at the table.”

The measure’s backers say it keep marijuana out of minors’ hands; prevent growing on public lands; deprive cartels, gangs and other criminal enterprises of the proceeds from sales; prevent drugged driving and other adverse health effects; clarify the state’s existing medical marijuana laws; and save the state millions in law enforcement costs while generating millions in tax revenues.

AFPR tried to put a measure on 2014’s ballot but couldn’t raise enough funds for its petition drive. They’ve made some modifications to the measure since, and held a fundraiser in Los Angeles earlier this month.

“We have worked hard to bring people together and create the best law possible for legalization in California,” proponent Dave Hodges, founder of San Jose’s All American Cannabis Club, said in the release. “MCLR creates a comprehensive set of regulations to allow all types of cannabis businesses to flourish, and will net California billions in tax revenues.”

But one of the reasons the measure went nowhere in 2014 might be just as big an obstacle now. A larger Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform – chaired by Oaksterdam University executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones and including national groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access and the Marijuana Policy Project – had started collecting signatures for 2014 but then decided to hold off. The coalition now is moving forward with its own plans for 2016, with a far more extensive fundraising network as well as buy-in from many more established marijuana-related organizations.

Hodges in 2014 had said the coalition’s effort had sucked all of the fundraising air out of the room for his measure, making it impossible to bankroll a petition drive. He might find this year’s air to be just as thin.

UPDATE @ 4:38 p.m.: A marijuana legalization task force convened by the American Civil Liberties Union and chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will hold a digital town square on the issue at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at www.SafeAndSmartPolicy.org. The forum will focus on public safety, especially drugged driving, criminal justice, and environmental concerns; two more forums are planned for later this spring.

Posted on Monday, April 20th, 2015
Under: ballot measures, marijuana | 6 Comments »

And now, a bit of tax-board marijuana humor.

Best headline I’ve seen in a while on a government news release: “Cannabis Learning Tour Provides Tax Policy Insight into Budding Industry.”

Get it? BUDDING.

Hey, I know it’s not subtle, but most of the releases I see are utterly humorless.

Fiona MaThis one came from the Board of Equalization, announcing that members Fiona Ma and Vice Chair George Runner took a listening and learning tour through Humboldt County this week with leaders in the area’s cannabis industry. Up there in the “Emerald Triangle,” it’s a substantial chunk of the local economy. Ma and Runner sought perspective on the product, from seed to sale, to help shape tax policy; the release didn’t mention whether they inhaled.

“I am proud to be a part of these informational meetings as part of a broader effort to engage stakeholders who will play an integral role in the regulation of this industry,” Ma said in the release. “Our goal is to encourage this industry to come out of the shadows, to register, to become legal, and that is where we must find a balance for the future of our state.”

George RunnerRunner said the tour “provided helpful insights into how we can work with the medical marijuana industry to promote compliance with California tax laws. This is a growing industry [ed. note – pun intended?], but we’re currently missing out on a great deal of revenue that is owed to the state.”

State law requires medical marijuana sales be taxed at the local tax rate where the product is sold or will be used, so Runner and Ma want state and local governments get what they’re due.

Posted on Thursday, April 9th, 2015
Under: marijuana, taxes | No Comments »

House members tell DOJ to back off on marijuana

A bipartisan pair of California House members are insisting that the Justice Department back off from prosecutions of medical marijuana patients and providers in states with medical marijuana laws – as Congress mandated in a recent spending bill.

Reps. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday, reminding him in no uncertain terms that the amendment they co-authored to the “cromnibus” federal spending bill – approved by Congress and signed by President Obama in December – bars the Justice Department from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws.

The lawmakers cited a recent Los Angeles Times article in which a department spokesman said the amendment doesn’t apply to cases against individuals or organizations, but merely stops the department from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.”

“We write to inform you that this interpretation of our amendment is emphatically wrong,” Farr and Rohrabacher wrote to Holder. “Rest assured, the purpose of our amendment was to prevent the Department from wasting its limited law enforcement resources on prosecutions and asset forfeiture actions against medical marijuana patients and providers, including businesses that operate legally under state law.”

State law enforcement agencies are better equipped to determine whether people and businesses are abiding by state laws, they wrote.

“We respectfully insist that you bring your Department back into compliance with federal law by ceasing marijuana prosecutions and forfeiture actions against those acting in accordance with state medical marijuana laws,” their letter concludes.

Posted on Wednesday, April 8th, 2015
Under: marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 5 Comments »

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 | 3 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 »