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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 »

Lee offers bill to stop medical pot asset seizures

A Bay Area congresswoman’s new bill would bar federal prosecutors from filing civil lawsuits to seize property from landlords whose tenants comply with states’ medical marijuana laws.

Barbara Lee (Dec-2010)“The people of California have made it legal for patients to have safe access to medicinal marijuana and, as a result, thousands of small business owners have invested millions of dollars in building their companies, creating jobs, and paying their taxes,” Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland, said in a statement issued Friday by Americans for Safe Access.

“We should be protecting and implementing the will of voters, not undermining our democracy by prosecuting small business owners who pay taxes and comply with the laws of their states in providing medicine to patients in need,” she said.

U.S. Attorneys for more than a year have been threatening landlords of medical marijuana dispensaries with civil asset forfeiture proceedings if they don’t kick their tenants out – more than 300 such letters have gone to property owners in California, Colorado and some of the 15 other states with medical marijuana laws.

The civil asset forfeiture law affords property owners a chance to retrieve seized property in civil court, but they’re not afforded many of the constitutional rights granted to criminal defendants, such as the right to an attorney and a jury trial. And the burden of proof is on the property owner to show their innocence rather than the government having to prove their guilt.

Lee’s HR 6335 would prohibit the Justice Department from using civil asset forfeiture to go after properties so long as the medical marijuana tenants comply with state law; those in violation of state law would still be fair game. Among the bill’s eight original cosponsors are Rep. Mike Honda, D-Campbell, and Rep. Pete Stark, D-Fremont.

Relatively few of the prosecutors’ threats have led to actual civil asset forfeiture cases, but the pressure has caused many landlords to force dispensaries to close.

HarborsideBut Melinda Haag, the U.S. Attorney for California’s Northern District, did serve an asset forfeiture lawsuit last month against the landlord of Oakland’s Harborside Health Center, a dispensary in Lee’s district. This wasn’t the first federal attack on Harborside: The dispensary already had appealed an Internal Revenue Service’s finding that it owed $2.5 million in back taxes because it can’t deduct standard business expenses such as payroll and rent while violating the federal ban on marijuana.

Haag has threatened civil asset forfeiture actions against landlords of several other Bay Area dispensaries as well. In San Francisco this week, local officials joined a “funeral procession” to Haag’s office to mark the closing of two more dispensaries that were forced to close due to her pressure on their landlords.

Posted on Friday, August 3rd, 2012
Under: Barbara Lee, marijuana, Oakland, U.S. House | 7 Comments »

Ricky Gill cancels fundraiser in marijuana flap

Republican congressional candidate Ricky Gill cancelled a Stockton fundraiser that was to be co-hosted by a businessman whose son was just indicted on federal marijuana charges.

Those who brought the event to my attention believe Gill’s association with anyone under federal investigation or indictment is damning, especially given that this is the second instance. My colleague, Lisa Vorderbrueggen, has written about the Gill family’s business connections to – and Gill’s own campaign contributions, later returned, from – Harvey Whittemore, the Nevada lobbyist now under federal indictment in a campaign-finance scandal.

But this seems like a somewhat different matter, given the debate now raging in California and elsewhere over the Obama Administration’s crackdown on medical marijuana dispensaries operating in accordance with state and local laws.

Gill fundraiserThe $125-per-person fundraiser was to be held tomorrow, Thursday, July 26, at Le Bistro, a Stockton restaurant co-owned by Bruce Davies, a local Realtor; the Davies family was listed among the event’s co-hosts. Bruce Davies in 2010 had applied to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Stockton, according to the Stockton Record, and had proposed using part of Le Bistro’s kitchen to produce edible marijuana products.

Matthew Davies, Bruce Davies’ son, was indicted by a federal grand jury this month on marijuana cultivation charges; he and two other Stockton men are accused of having grown marijuana in a warehouse and a home within the city.

The Stockton Record reports that a multi-agency probe began last September after Davies and told a CHP officer that he was on his way to his marijuana storage facility, where he stored marijuana for his Medizen dispensary in Sacramento, because the burglar alarm had gone off – hardly an effort to hide his activities. Federal agents later seized 1,962 plants and 40 pounds of processed marijuana from the warehouse, which also apparently had supplied the Central Valley Caregivers Cooperative in Stockton.

Gill is running against Rep. Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton, in the newly drawn 9th Congressional District. McNerney in 2008 reversed his previous opposition to medical marijuana, voicing support for an amendment that would bar the federal government from spending money to investigate and prosecute those who are operating in accordance with their states’ medical marijuana laws.

Ricky GillGill spokesman Colin Hunter today said the campaign cancelled the fundraiser as soon as Matthew Davies’ indictment was reported in the Record, and Gill has not received any contributions from the Davies family.

“This is a transparent attempt to distract from the real issue in this campaign: Jerry McNerney’s utter failure to stand up for our communities in Congress on jobs, foreclosures and agriculture,” Hunter said. “Perhaps the Democrats ought to worry about the real contributions McNerney took – from big banks and from Solyndra’s lead investor, to name just a few – rather than the hypothetical contributions Ricky didn’t.”

Hunter said Gill “does not object to the legitimate, physician-prescribed use of marijuana to treat serious, chronic or debilitating illnesses. He believes state and federal governments should work together to craft a sensible enforcement plan that will hold accountable those individuals operating outside or in clear violation of medical marijuana regimes, but will not penalize seriously ill patients seeking only to manage their pain.”

So, how scandalous would it have been if Gill had raised money from people linked to medical marijuana? Lots of Bay Area politicians have taken contributions from people connected to local dispensaries. But consider who and where Gill is: What flies in the mostly Democratic Bay Area might not fly for a Republican in that Central Valley-centric district (even if Democrats have a 7-point registration edge there).

Posted on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012
Under: 2012 Congressional Election, campaign finance, Jerry McNerney, marijuana, U.S. House | 3 Comments »

Medical marijuana trial evidence bill reintroduced

A California member of Congress re-introduced a bill yesterday to let federal criminal defendants use medical marijuana evidence at trial.

The U.S. Supreme Court’s 2005 ruling in the Oakland-based Gonzalez v. Raich case gave the federal government discretion to enforce its ban on marijuana even in states with laws allowing its medical use, and let federal prosecutors exclude all evidence of compliance with state law from federal marijuana trials.

“The federal government has tilted the scales of justice towards conviction by denying medical marijuana defendants the right to present all of the evidence at trial,” Rep. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, said in a news release issued by Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access. “My bill would restore due process rights to law abiding citizens acting within the parameters of state and local laws. Juries should hear the entire story of a patient’s medical marijuana use before choosing to convict, not the heavily edited version they currently hear.”

Farr’s H.R. 6134, the “Truth in Trials Act,” has 18 cosponsors including Reps. Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; George Miller, D-Martinez; Pete Stark, D-Fremont; and Lynn Woolsey, D-Petaluma, as well as Ron Paul, R-Texas, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Costa Mesa.

“The federal government should be leaving enforcement issues up to the local and state officials who designed the medical marijuana laws in the first place,” Americans for Safe Access executive director Steph Sherer said in the news release. “But, as long as the Justice Department is going to arrest and prosecute people in medical marijuana states, defendants ought to have a right to a fair trial.”

This is Farr’s fourth iteration of this bill:

  • 111th Congress – H.R. 3939 – referred to Judiciary Committee, never heard
  • 109th Congress – H.R. 4272 – referred to Judiciary and Energy & Commerce committees, never heard
  • 108th Congress – H.R. 1717 – referred to Judiciary and Energy & Commerce committees, never heard
  • Americans for Safe Access notes the Obama Administration has far surpassed the Bush Administration’s rate of indicting and prosecuting people operating under states’ medical marijuana laws, making the bill more crucial than ever.

    Posted on Wednesday, July 18th, 2012
    Under: marijuana, Sam Farr, U.S. House | 2 Comments »

    Medical marijuana advocates claim legal victory

    Medical marijuana advocates are trumpeting what they call a major legal victory providing some protection for dispensaries that provide the drug to patients.

    The California Supreme Court has denied review of a February state Court of Appeal ruling from Los Angeles which had held that dispensaries need not have patients participating in their operation.

    The appeals court in People v. Colvin had held that Attorney General Kamala Harris’ argument – that member-patients must engage in unspecified “united action or participation” to qualify for protection under the state’s medical marijuana law – would likely “limit drastically the size of medical marijuana establishments,” and provide “little direction or guidance to, among others, qualified patients, primary caregivers, law enforcement, and trial courts.” It would, in fact, “contravene the intent of [state law] by limiting patients’ access to medical marijuana,” the lower court had held.

    The Court of Appeal also held that “collectives and cooperatives may cultivate and transport marijuana in aggregate amounts tied to its membership numbers,” and it affirmed that possession of extracted or concentrated forms of medical marijuana was legal under state law.

    “This has not been a problem in the Bay Area, but now we’re sure it’s not going to be,” said Joe Elford, chief counsel with Oakland-based Americans for Safe Access. “The decision not to review People v. Colvin should now put to rest this unfounded notion that patients must ‘till the soil’ or somehow participate in the production of the medicine they purchase at a dispensary.”

    Elford said the court letting Colvin stand means the state Justice Department might have to change its arguments in other, similar cases.

    Posted on Thursday, May 24th, 2012
    Under: marijuana | 16 Comments »