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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 »

Ammiano bill lets ABC control medical marijuana

Medical marijuana would be regulated by the California Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control under a bill rolled out by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano.

Tom AmmianoAmmiano, D-San Francisco, last year had carried a bill that would have created a nine-member Board of Medical Marijuana Enforcement within the Department of Consumer Affairs to regulate the industry. The Assembly passed AB 2312 on a 41-30 vote last May, but Ammiano pulled it from consideration by a state Senate committee.

Now his new bill, AB 473, would instead establish a Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement within the ABC, responsible for monitoring supply and sales of medical cannabis so that the product is kept clean of toxins and criminal involvement is eliminated.

“Where marijuana rules are concerned, California has been in chaos for way too long,” Ammiano said in a news release. “Cities have been looking for state guidance, dispensaries feel at the mercy of changing rules and patients who need medical cannabis are uncertain about how their legitimate medical needs will be filled. This is a concrete plan that will keep medical marijuana safe. We will get it into the right hands and keep it out of the wrong hands.”

Ammiano says the approach is similar to that which has operated successfully in Colorado for three years, because the ABC has the experience in education, compliance and enforcement necessary to regulate successfully, said Matt Cook, a national consultant who was the architect of Colorado’s regulatory plan.

“With this kind of mechanism, you can ensure that only those who are authorized through state law are able to get it,” Cook said. “We’ve had not one federal intervention.”

Ammiano introduced a placeholder version of AB 473 last month, but updated it Tuesday. He’s also introducing an Assembly resolution asking the federal government to give California breathing room to get its medical cannabis house in order without the threat of new widespread prosecutions of medical providers.

Posted on Tuesday, March 19th, 2013
Under: Assembly, marijuana, Tom Ammiano | 3 Comments »

Bills would end federal marijuana ban, levy taxes

Even as states keep chipping away at marijuana prohibition, some House members keep trying to change the federal law.

A bill being introduced by Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., would end federal marijuana prohibition, letting states decide their own policies; it also would set up a regulatory process like the one for alcohol for states that choose to legalize the drug. Commercial marijuana producers would have to buy a permit, as commercial alcohol producers now do, to offset the costs of oversight by the newly renamed Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Marijuana and Firearms.

And a bill by Rep. Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore., would establish a 50 percent federal excise tax on the first sale of marijuana, from the producer to the next stage of production, usually the processor. It also would impose an occupational tax on those operating in marijuana, with producers, importers and manufacturers facing an occupation tax of $1,000 per year and any other person engaged in the business facing an annual tax of $500 per year.

“Absolutely, there’s an opportunity for us to make at minimum a $100 billion difference over the next 10 years,” Blumenauer said on a conference call with reporters this afternoon, as the nation moves away from high law enforcement and prison costs and marijuana starts generating public revenue.

Polis said November’s successful legalization ballot measures in his state and Washington mark “an enormous evolution of American opinion on the issue.”

Most Americans now believe the war on drugs has failed and “enough is enough, let’s try a new way,” he said. “It’s an idea that’s time has come.”

Jesselyn McCurdy, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office, said the war on drugs has had disproportionate impact on communities of color. Students for Sensible Drug Policy executive director Aaron Houston said young people are disproportionately impacted as well.

“It’s clear that we’ve reached the tipping point,” said Bill Piper, national affairs director for the Drug Policy Alliance. “The American people are demanding reform, and members of Congress are starting to give it to them.”

Posted on Tuesday, February 5th, 2013
Under: marijuana, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Medical marijuana advocates lose appeal

A federal appeals court today ruled the federal Drug Enforcement Administration does not have to reconsider moving marijuana to a less-strict list of controlled substances – a significant defeat for those advocating for the drug’s medical use.

Marijuana is currently listed on Schedule I of the 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. Other drugs on that list include heroin and LSD, while methamphetamine is on the less-restrictive Schedule II.

The Coalition for Rescheduling Marijuana filed a rescheduling petition in 2002; that petition was unanswered until 2011, when the Drug Enforcement Administration denied it after advocates sued for unreasonable delay. This hearing is on the appeal of that denial.

Advocates claim the ban on marijuana is rooted in politics, not science, and that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has created a unique and unreasonable research approval process for the drug.

An appeals brief filed by Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access had argued the DEA has no “license to apply different criteria to marijuana than to other drugs, ignore critical scientific data, misrepresent social science research, or rely upon unsubstantiated assumptions, as the DEA has done in this case.”

But the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled today that the DEA did adhere to its own rules, and so does not have to reconsider its ruling.

According to the appeals court, the DEA was following its own rules when it claimed that petitioners for rescheduling marijuana had failed to provide “adequate and well-controlled studies proving efficacy.” Although the petitioners had provided peer-reviewed research as to the medical benefits of marijuana, the DEA requires studies more in line with the specific trials required by the FDA.

“We defer to the agency’s interpretation of these regulations and find that substantial evidence supports its determination that such studies do not exist,” the court ruled today, later adding, “it appears that adequate and well-controlled studies are wanting not because they have been foreclosed but because they have not been completed.”

But Drug Policy Alliance senior staff attorney Tamar Todd said in a news release that advocates are stuck in a Catch-22.

“The DEA is saying that marijuana needs FDA approval to be removed from Schedule I, but at the same time they are obstructing that very research,” Todd said. “While there is a plethora of scientific evidence establishing marijuana’s safety and efficacy, the specific clinical trials necessary to gain FDA approval have long been obstructed by the federal government itself.”

Advocates say the federal government has obstructed medical marijuana research by maintaining a government monopoly on the supply of marijuana that can legally be used in research; marijuana remains the only Schedule I drug that DEA prohibits from being produced by private laboratories for scientific research. Although DEA has licensed multiple privately-funded manufacturers of all other Schedule I drugs, it permits just one facility, located at the University of Mississippi, to produce marijuana for research purposes.

Posted on Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013
Under: marijuana | No Comments »

Skinner: Dems must choose battles, but fight some

With supermajorities in both legislative chambers, Democrats must walk a finer line than ever, Assemblywoman Nancy Skinner said Wednesday.

My coffee meeting with Skinner, D-Berkeley, yielded a wide-ranging conversation about her party’s considerable new power and the responsibilities that go with it, as well as her own legislative priorities. The former Berkeley councilwoman has just won re-election to her third and final Assembly term, and she sees a productive but sensitive session ahead.

“We’ve been given this privilege by the voters and we want to be respectful of the privilege we’ve been handed,” she said Wednesday.

The caucus must choose its battles, she said, but not choose them so carefully that none ever get fought.

She’s in a position to help choose those battles because, as the Assembly Rules Committee’s chair, Skinner is among the Legislature’s top leaders. Rules is responsible for assigning bills to committees, setting salaries for legislative staff, waiving rules and overseeing the Assembly’s business; it’s basically an executive committee for the chamber, and its seats are coveted.

But Skinner on Wednesday said the supermajorities were achieved by votes in individual districts, not a statewide vote, and so lawmakers must move cautiously to ensure they don’t salt the field.

For example, she said, voters’ approval of Proposition 30 – Gov. Jerry Brown’s measure temporarily increasing sales taxes and income taxes for the state’s richest residents to fund K-12 and higher education – was “great,” but it would take a lot more revenue to return the state’s schools, colleges and universities to their heyday.

“There’s probably appetite for some more revenue,” she said, but it has to be something that’s palatable to voters.

For example, state Sen. Ted Lieu’s proposal to triple the Vehicle License Fee – which was slashed by former Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, blowing a huge hole in the state budget – was withdrawn almost as soon as it was advanced last month due to public backlash. And voters in November 2010 handily rejected Proposition 21, which would’ve boosted the VLF to bankroll state parks. Voters just don’t like the VLF, Skinner said.

“We have to look at the range of … tax expenditures, what I call tax loopholes or tax giveaways, that were part of various budget deals in order to get a Republican vote” in past years, she said.

One such loophole was the single-sales factor, just repealed last month by Proposition 39; that’ll bring in about $1 billion a year, half of which for the first five years is earmarked for projects increasing energy efficiency and creating green jobs. Skinner this month introduced the Assembly version of a bill to implement that.

“But there’s others like that,” she said, citing the “net operating loss carryback” deduction that was suspended for 2010 and 2011 but will apply to 2012’s corporate taxes.

This and other loopholes, if closed, “could be worth from $2.5 billion to $4 billion, which is significant,” she said.

And of course there’s the possibility of “split-roll” reform of Proposition 13 so that residential properties remain protected but commercial properties are re-assessed more often, she said. Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, already has announced a bill to tighten state laws enacted under Prop. 13 so that it’s harder for businesses to avoid re-assessment and higher taxes when property changes hands – a half-step toward split-roll that wouldn’t require voters’ approval of a ballot measure.

Lots more, after the jump…
Read the rest of this entry »

Posted on Wednesday, December 12th, 2012
Under: Assembly, gun control, marijuana, Nancy Skinner, same-sex marriage, state budget, taxes | 2 Comments »

Poll: Even split on marijuana legalization

Americans are evenly split over whether marijuana should be legalized, but far more Americans believe legalization is a matter for states to decide than for the federal government, according to a new CBS News poll.

The poll released last week found 47 percent of Americans favor legalization while 47 percent oppose it. And 59 percent believe whether to legalize marijuana should be left up to each individual state to decide, while 34 percent say it should be a matter for the federal government to decide.

But that support for state jurisdiction actually has declined from 62 percent in September. In the interim, Washington State and Colorado voters last month approved ballot measures to legalize and regulate recreational marijuana use for people age 21 and up. A similar measure in California – Proposition 19 of 2010 – was rejected by voters; California has no proposed ballot measures or legislative bills on marijuana legalization currently pending.

Still, drug reformers take the poll as proof that states should be allowed to make their own choices.

“The big question on everyone’s mind is – how will the federal government respond to the decisive victories in Colorado and Washington?” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a news release. “What this new poll shows is that Americans believe that states should be able to move forward with the responsible regulation of marijuana. The Obama administration would be wise to allow them to do so.”

This CBS News poll was conducted by telephone from Nov. 16-19 among 1,100 adults nationwide, including both land-line and cell phones; it has a three-percentage-point margin of error.

Other polls over recent years have shown a slow but steady trend in favor of legalization.

Posted on Tuesday, December 4th, 2012
Under: marijuana, polls | 1 Comment »

Appeals court to hear landmark marijuana case

A federal appeals court is about to hear oral arguments on marijuana’s medical value, the first time in almost 20 years that advocates have had the chance to offer a court scientific evidence for a change in the government’s classification of the drug.

“Medical marijuana patients are finally getting their day in court,” Joe Elford, chief counsel for Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access, said in a news release. “What’s at stake in this case is nothing less than our country’s scientific integrity and the imminent needs of millions of patients.”

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit will hear arguments Tuesday on whether the government has arbitrarily and capriciously kept marijuana classified in Schedule 1 of the Controlled Substances Act, as advocates claim. Schedule 1 drugs are those deemed to have a high potential for abuse, no currently accepted medical use, and a lack of accepted safety even under medical supervision; other drugs on that list include heroin and LSD, while methamphetamine is on the less-restrictive Schedule 2.

A Coalition for Rescheduling Marijuana filed a rescheduling petition in 2002; that petition was unanswered until 2011, when the Drug Enforcement Administration denied it after advocates sued for unreasonable delay. This hearing is on the appeal of that denial.

Advocates claim the ban on marijuana is rooted in politics, not science, and that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has created a unique and unreasonable research approval process for the drug.

ASA’s appellate brief argues the DEA has no “license to apply different criteria to marijuana than to other drugs, ignore critical scientific data, misrepresent social science research, or rely upon unsubstantiated assumptions, as the DEA has done in this case.”

An open letter from more than 60 medical professionals is being sent to the Obama Administration in advance of Tuesday’s arguments. It cites favorable positions on rescheduling by the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, and the American Nurses Association – an effort to refute the government’s position that marijuana lacks any accepted medical use.

California is among 17 states, plus the District of Columbia, which have enacted medical marijuana laws.

Posted on Friday, October 12th, 2012
Under: marijuana | 4 Comments »