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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 »

Delay for marijuana legalization initiative

A proposed marijuana-legalization ballot initiative, spearheaded in part by a San Jose cannabis collective’s founder, will be delayed as supporters gather more input.

Americans for Policy Reform, a new nonprofit dedicated to grassroots legislative reform, submitted a first iteration of its “Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014” to the Secretary of State’s office in October. The group spent a year gathering input from people within California’s marijuana movement and from others, using it to compile an “open source” document to legalize the drug.

But apparently that wasn’t time enough. The proponents issued a news release Wednesday saying they’re still “coordinating meet-and-greet events throughout California to gather ideas and support before the last realistic date to file for the 2014 California General Election.” They intend to file final amendments with the state during the first week of December.

The Secretary of State’s office had submitted the measure’s first draft to the Attorney General for preparation of an official title and summary, which was expected to be ready around Dec. 23. But amendments will delay the title and summary’s completion, and only after that completion can proponents start gathering petition signatures to place the measure on next November’s ballot.

“We have been working very hard to include everyone in the drafting of the MCLR language,” co-proponent Dave Hodges said in the news release. “This latest outreach demonstrates our commitment to an open, inclusive process to legalizing marijuana in California.”

One of those meetings is scheduled for 3 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 26 at the All American Cannabis Club, 1082 Stockton Ave. in San Jose, of which Hodges is founder.

Supporters say the proposed initiative would give Californians freedom to use, grow, transport and sell cannabis subject to reasonable regulation and taxation in a manner similar to alcohol. It will comply with recent Justice Department guidelines, clarify California’s medical marijuana law, generate millions in new tax revenue and save law enforcement resources while preventing distribution to minors; growing on public lands; profits from going to criminal enterprises; violence and firearm use in cultivation and distribution; and drugged driving, the group claims.

Posted on Wednesday, November 20th, 2013
Under: ballot measures, marijuana | No Comments »

Marijuana legalization ‘wiki’ measure proposed

A marijuana-legalization effort led by a San Jose cannabis collective’s founder submitted a proposed initiative Friday aimed at the November 2014 ballot.

The initiative is the first project of Americans for Policy Reform, a new nonprofit dedicated to grassroots legislative reform. The group for the past year has been gathering input from people within California’s marijuana movement and from others, using it to compile an “open source” document to legalize the drug.

“We started by soliciting input from roughly 1,000 members of the SaveCannabis.org forum,” Dave Hodges, founder of the forum and of San Jose’s All American Cannabis Collective, had said in August. “In addition to open meetings in San Jose and regular reports to the SaveCannabis.org forum, we created a Google document that literally anyone can see and contribute to. At each event, we requested specific input, and dozens of key advocates and legal advisers around the state provided recommendations and expertise.”

The group submitted the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act of 2014 to the state Attorney General’s office at 4:20 p.m. Friday, I’m told.

The AG must prepare an official title and summary; once that’s done, the Secretary of State’s office will clear the proponents to start circulating petitions to gather enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot.

“This is a breakthrough change for Californians and a serious issue for most. By using a public open source document, we were given great insight into what the real issues were and how to solve them,” Hodges said in a news release Friday. “It not only legalizes cannabis, but it also shows how it will be governed in an acceptable way that the majority of Californians can endorse.”

The group says the proposed initiative would give Californians freedom to use, grow, transport and sell cannabis subject to reasonable regulation and taxation in a manner similar to alcohol. It will comply with recent Justice Department guidelines, clarify California’s medical marijuana law, generate millions in new tax revenue and save law enforcement resources while preventing distribution to minors; growing on public lands; profits from going to criminal enterprises; violence and firearm use in cultivation and distribution; and drugged driving, the group claims.

Posted on Friday, October 11th, 2013
Under: ballot measures, marijuana | 2 Comments »

Medical-marijuana bill revived via gut-and-amend

A marijuana-regulation bill that was defeated on the Assembly floor in May has returned, revived through a gut-and-amend tactic in the final week of the Legislature’s session.

AB 604 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, which used to deal with eyewitness identifications in criminal investigations, is now the vehicle for Ammiano’s Medical Cannabis Regulation and Control Act, formerly AB 473. It’s coauthored by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, and state Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco.

The bill would require the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control to set up a division to monitor production, transportation and sales of medical marijuana, and would grandfather in medical marijuana businesses already operating legally under city or county laws.

“Not only are patients in California barraged by virtually daily closures of dispensaries due to aggressive attacks by the Justice Department, but the patchwork system of local bans and regulations in the state leaves hundreds of thousands of patients without safe access to medical marijuana,” said Don Duncan, California director of Americans for Safe Access. “It’s time for state legislators to roll up their sleeves and finish the job of implementing California’s medical marijuana law.”

Duncan’s group would prefer that medical marijuana be regulated by the Department of Public Health, but said it’s more important to put some sort of state regulatory structure in place so that cities and counties can’t keep imposing bans. ASA and the Sacramento chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws are staging a lobbying blitz today to build support for the legislation.

California representatives of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition support the bill, too.

“While law enforcement special interest groups have derailed bills like this before, this is something police on the ground want,” retired lieutenant commander Diane Goldstein said in a news release. “Just like anyone else, they try to do their jobs as professionally and effectively as possible. But right now, the lack of clear regulations on the medical marijuana industry means they can’t do that because they don’t know what’s legal and what isn’t.”

Posted on Monday, September 9th, 2013
Under: Assembly, California State Senate, Darrell Steinberg, marijuana, Mark Leno, Tom Ammiano | 2 Comments »

Feds to let WA, CO implement marijuana laws

In what could be a sea change for federal marijuana policy, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder has told the governors of Washington and Colorado – which recently legalized recreational use, in conflict with federal law – that the Justice Department will let them implement their laws.

In addition to Holder’s joint phone call with the two governors Thursday, Deputy Attorney General James Cole has 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.

The memo says federal law enforcement will still prioritize targeting distribution of marijuana to minors; revenue from the sale of marijuana from going to criminal enterprises, gangs and cartels; diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states; use of state-authorized activity as a smokescreen for other illegal activity; violence and use of firearms in the cultivation and distribution of marijuana; drugged driving and other adverse public health consequences; growing marijuana on public lands; and preventing marijuana possession or use on federal property.

But “in jurisdictions that have enacted laws legalizing marijuana in some form and that have also implemented strong and effective regulatory and enforcement systems to control the cultivation, distribution, sale and possession of marijuana, conduct in compliance with those laws and regulations is less likely to threaten the federal priorities set forth above,” Cole wrote in the memo.

The memo also says federal prosecutors “should not consider the size or commercial nature of a marijuana operation alone as proxy for assessing whether marijuana trafficking implicates the Department’s enforcement priorities listed above.” Instead, it says, prosecutors should make case-by-case judgments as to whether operations are complying with a state’s regulations.

“Today’s announcement demonstrates the sort of political vision and foresight from the White House we’ve been seeking for a long time,” Drug Policy Alliance Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann said in a news release. “I must admit, I was expecting a yellow light from the White House. But this light looks a lot more green-ish than I had hoped. The White House is basically saying to Washington and Colorado: Proceed with caution.”

Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, issued a statement saying his group is encouraged by the memo.

“At the heart of the guidance is a willingness to respect the voters who have decided a regulated marijuana market is preferable to a criminal market in their states. Cannabis-related businesses in these states are creating thousands of jobs and generating tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue. These are clear public benefits,” Smith said. “Now is not the time to push marijuana sales back under ground. The new voter-approved, regulated systems in Colorado and Washington should be allowed to proceed. We have full confidence the businesses in these states will comply with any requirements put forth by the Department of Justice.”

Posted on Thursday, August 29th, 2013
Under: marijuana, Obama presidency | No Comments »

Senate to probe state-federal marijuana conflicts

U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy said Monday he’ll hold a hearing Sept. 10 on the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws.

That’s big news for 20 states including California that have legalized medical marijuana, as well as for Colorado and Washington, which have legalized it for recreational use.

Leahy, D-Vt., has invited Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole to testify. Perhaps someone will ask them why President Obama’s rhetoric and action haven’t matched up on this issue: Though he has said that federal law enforcement resources are better targeted toward violent elements of the drug trade, federal agents and prosecutors have continued to pursue dispensaries that are in compliance with California law.

Leahy wrote to White House “drug czar” Gil Kerlikowske last December, asking how the federal government intended to deal with states like Colorado and Washington. In that letter, Leahy also suggested that federal legislation could be introduced to legalize up to an ounce of marijuana, at least in states that have legalized it; he also sought assurances that state employees would not be prosecuted for implementing state laws.

Congress’ efforts to address this haven’t advanced. H.R. 1523, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, would protect those operating under medical-marijuana laws in 18 states including California plus the District of Columbia, or under the recreational legalization laws enacted last year in Colorado and Washington state. Introduced in April, the bill has 18 cosponsors from both sides of the aisle yet has never had a hearing.

“Ending marijuana prohibition not just in the states but also nationally is going to require the sort of leadership that Senator Leahy is now providing,” Drug Policy Alliance executive director Ethan Nadelmann said Monday. “Now is the time for his colleagues to stand up as well in defense of responsible state regulation of marijuana.”

Posted on Monday, August 26th, 2013
Under: marijuana, Obama presidency, U.S. Senate | No Comments »