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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 »

Medical marijuana bill dies, but might rise again

A bill to have the state Bureau of Alcoholic Beverage Control regulate medical marijuana died on the Assembly floor Friday, but its author said he’ll work to resurrect it with help from the state Senate.

“This is not an easy bill, but it is a needed bill that has the necessary support,” Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, insisted in a news release Friday. “Unfortunately, the vote was closed prematurely and in error, preventing all the votes from being registered. I’m going to make sure my legislative colleagues stay focused on getting this to the Governor’s desk for his signature this year.”

Ammiano spokesman Carlos Alcala explained that if a bill doesn’t reach enough votes to pass right away, the author can essentially ask that it be put on hold and then brought back up later in the same day’s session. Ammiano tried that on Thursday, but his AB 473 still failed on a 32-36 vote.

“It turned out that some offices were getting misinformation suggesting that the bill would preempt cities’ right to determine where dispensaries can go, or whether they can go in at all,” Alcala said.

Assembly rules also let authors request reconsideration of a bill after it has failed, and Ammiano brought the bill back up on Friday so he and other supporters could reassure other lawmakers that cities’ rights wouldn’t be infringed. The bill would require ABC to set up a division to monitor production, transportation and sales of medical marijuana.

“I hope cities will allow dispensaries so their residents who need this product can get it safely, instead of illegally,” Ammiano said in his release. “I believe that a Division of Medical Marijuana Regulation and Enforcement will help cities see they can authorize dispensaries. Not only will the division’s oversight ensure there is no increase in crime, more cities will begin to recognize the economic benefits that others have already seen.”

Again, the bill didn’t reach a passing threshold, but rather than asking Ammiano whether he wanted to put the vote on call for the rest of Friday’s session, the presiding officer – Assemblywoman Nora Campos, D-San Jose – simply closed the vote, “at least temporarily killing the bill,” Alcala said.

“Mr. Ammiano doesn’t want to put the blame on her (Campos). I think a lot of people were confused about what was going on – there was parliamentary confusion and that led to an early demise, but he sees it more as a stumbling block than a dead end,” Alcala said, adding Ammiano’s staff knows ways to work with the state Senate to revive the bill. “He intends to still get a bill through the Legislature this year and to the governor.”

Posted on Friday, May 31st, 2013
Under: Assembly, marijuana, Tom Ammiano | 4 Comments »

Ruling gives new drive to medical marijuana bill

A Bay Area lawmaker says today’s California Supreme Court decision that local governments can ban medical marijuana dispensaries is all the more reason to support his bill to create statewide regulation under the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

AB 473, by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, was passed by the Assembly Public Safety Committee two weeks ago on a 5-2 vote, and now is pending before the Appropriations Committee. Here’s what Ammiano said today:

Tom Ammiano“As I understand it, the court ruling says Riverside County can, under current state law, prohibit dispensaries. However, it allows a big hole for the legislature to drive through. The court wrote: ‘Of course, nothing prevents future efforts by the Legislature, or by the People, to adopt a different approach. In the meantime, however, we must conclude that Riverside‘s ordinances are not preempted by state law.’

“To me, that sounds like a call for the Legislature to act. I hope to move toward that different approach so we can ensure that patients have access to medical cannabis wherever they live.

“That’s what the voters of California wanted when they passed the Compassionate Use Act.

“In the meantime, my AB 473 can be a kind of friendly persuasion. It provides a way to make localities more open to allowing dispensaries. State regulation should reassure them (and the federal government) that dispensaries can operate safely, legally without threats to the communities where they are located.

“In fact, I think they will see that dispensaries often stabilize and contribute to their communities because of greater attention to security and increased tax revenues.”

Drug-reform groups are on aboard, given today’s court ruling.

“It is time for the state legislature to enact state-wide medical marijuana oversight and regulation that both protects patient access and eases the burden on localities to deal with this issue on their own,” Tamar Todd, senior staff attorney for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a news release. “Localities will stop enacting bans once the state has stepped up and assumed its responsibility to regulate.”

Don Duncan, California policy director of Americans for Safe Access, said “the ball is in the legislature’s court to establish statewide regulations that both meet the needs of patients and keep communities safe.”

Posted on Monday, May 6th, 2013
Under: Assembly, marijuana, Tom Ammiano | 3 Comments »

Bipartisan House bill would shield marijuana use

A California House Republican has introduced his latest of many bipartisan attempts to shield people using marijuana in compliance with their states’ laws from federal arrest and prosecution.

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.

“This bipartisan bill represents a common-sense approach that establishes federal government respect for all states’ marijuana laws,” Rohrabacher said in a news release. “It does so by keeping the federal government out of the business of criminalizing marijuana activities in states that don’t want it to be criminal.”

Rohrabacher and former Rep. Maurice Hinchey, D-N.Y., six times over the past decade had offered an amendment to bar the Justice Department from spending money to arrest and prosecute those using medical marijuana in compliance with state laws. Their high-water mark was 165 “aye” votes in 2007; last year’s vote was 163-262.

But Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said Friday that this new bill is more substantive because it actually changes federal law, exempting those who follow their state’s marijuana law – medicinal or otherwise – from the federal Controlled Substances Act.

“This bill takes conservative principles and applies them to marijuana policy; in terms of the national debate it’s potentially a game-changer,” he said.

This bill’s original cosponsors are Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Don Young, R-Ark.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; and Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.

Polis, Blumenauer, Rohrabacher and others also earlier this year introduced H.R. 499, the Ending Federal Marijuana Prohibition Act, which would set up a federal regulatory process for states that choose to legalize.

Posted on Friday, April 12th, 2013
Under: marijuana, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Battle looming over ‘zero tolerance’ drug DUI bill

Sparks might fly as lawmakers later this month hear a bill that would make it illegal to drive with any detectable trace of marijuana or other illegal drugs in the blood, regardless of the driver’s actual impairment.

Marijuana advocates say this “zero tolerance” bill, to be heard April 23 by the state Senate Public Safety Committee, overlooks the fact that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana compounds in the blood.

Unlike alcohol, THC blood levels have no direct relation to the actual dosage consumed or active in the body, they say. Instead, levels spike right after smoking but then decline quickly to lower levels within an hour or so regardless of dosage, and can remain in the blood anywhere from eight to 12 hours in occasional users and six days or more in regular users – including those who use it medicinally – long after any impairment has faded.

“In effect, SB 289 is equivalent to calling drivers DUI if they’ve had a glass of beer or wine in the past few hours, or left an empty bottle in their trash,” California NORML Director Dale Gieringer said in a news release. “The science is clear that driving impairment can’t be determined by the presence of marijuana in the blood.”

But SB 289’s author, state Sen. Lou Correa, says California lacks any threshold for judging drugged driving.

“Driving under the influence of illegal drugs is dangerous and cannot be tolerated,” Correa, D-Santa Ana, said in a news release when he introduced the bill in February. “Creating a zero tolerance drugged driving policy will equip law enforcement with the tools needed to keep our communities and roads safe.”

In most states, a driver is guilty of driving under the influence if the state proves the driver was actually impaired at the time of arrest. But under SB 289, California would join 17 other states which have made it illegal to drive a vehicle if the driver’s blood contains any detectable amount of Schedule I, II, III or IV drugs.

Correa’s news release noted the bill excludes medicine used with a valid prescription issued by a licensed health care practitioner. Californians voted in 1996 to legalize marijuana for medicinal use, but it remains on Schedule 1 of the federal Controlled Substances Act – the most restrictive category for controlled substances, encompassing drugs defined as having a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety for use under medical supervision.

Correa’s bill is co-sponsored by the California State Sheriffs’ Association, California Police Chiefs Association, California Narcotics Officers Association and International Faith Based Coalition.

Posted on Tuesday, April 9th, 2013
Under: marijuana, Public safety | 1 Comment »