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Pot advocates form 2016 initiative committee

A national marijuana advocacy group is filing papers with the Secretary of State’s office Wednesday to form a committee in support of a 2016 ballot measure for recreational legalization.

That measure is still coalescing, but the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project says it’ll be part of a coalition of activists, organizations and businesses supporting a plan they expect will resemble the MPP-financed initiative approved by Colorado in 2012. And they intend to start raising money immediately.

“Marijuana prohibition has had an enormously detrimental impact on California communities. It’s been ineffective, wasteful, and counterproductive. It’s time for a more responsible approach,” MPP Executive Director Rob Kampia said in a news release. “A diverse coalition of activists, organizations, businesses, and community leaders will be joining together in coming months to draft the most effective and viable proposal possible. Public opinion has been evolving nationwide when it comes to marijuana policy, and Californians have always been ahead of the curve.

“Marijuana is an objectively less harmful substance than alcohol, and that’s how it needs to be treated,” Kampia added. “Regulating and taxing marijuana similarly to alcohol just makes sense.”

California activists have been watching Colorado’s and Washington state’s experiences with legalization, and have said they’ll tweak the Golden State’s ballot measure accordingly.

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Rand Paul, Cory Booker to team up on marijuana

U.S. Senators Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Cory Booker, D-N.J. – an unlikely couple if ever there was one – are teaming up to introduce the same amendment the House approved in May ordering the Justice Department to stop targeting medical pot clubs that comply with state law.

The 219-189 vote in the Republican-led House on May 30 might eventually bring relief for some targeted California operations while emboldening other states to adopt marijuana legalization laws of their own — if it can survive a difficult path in the Democrat-led Senate. Even California’s Democratic senators don’t seem to be behind it.

California in 1996 was the first state to legalize medical marijuana; 21 states plus the District of Columbia have followed. But marijuana remains illegal under the federal Controlled Substances Act, and many facilities in these states have been subject to federal raids, warning letters to landlords or civil property seizure lawsuits.

This amendment to the Justice Department’s spending bill – first offered in 2003 and voted upon several times since but never approved by House until now – would forbid the department from spending money on any such actions.

“The House just made history last month by voting to stop the DEA from interfering with state marijuana laws,” Bill Piper, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a news release. “Now every U.S. Senator has the opportunity to provide relief for the sick and dying – and to be on the right side of history, not to mention public opinion.”

Piper noted polls show voters from both parties support letting states set medical marijuana policies without federal interference. “No American should have to live in fear of arrest and prosecution for following their doctor’s advice. We’re going to make sure voters know which Senators vote to protect their states and which do not.”

The House version of the amendment made similarly strange bedfellows, offered by six Republicans and six Democrats: Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach; Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Tom McClintock, R-Granite Bay; Steve Cohen, D-Tenn.; Jared Polis, D-Colo.; Don Young, R-Alaska; Earl Blumenauer, D-Ore.; Paul Broun, R-Ga.; Steve Stockman, R-Texas; Justin Amash, R-Mich.; and Dina Titus, D-Nev.

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Lawmakers cheer tougher penalties for pot grows

Northern California House members from both sides of the aisle are cheering new, stiffer federal penalties for illegal marijuana grows on trespassed lands.

The U.S. Sentencing Commission announced last week it had adopted tougher punishments for high-level offenders who cultivate marijuana grows on public or private lands they don’t own. The amended guidelines will be submitted to Congress and reviewed for six months before officially taking effect Nov. 1.

This had been the aim of a bill introduced last summer and a letter sent to the commission in November by Reps. Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Sam Farr, D-Carmel; and Doug LaMalfa, R-Oroville, as well as by senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

“Illegal marijuana grow sites that threaten lives, destroy public lands and devastate wildlife have become far too common,” Thompson said in a news release Monday. “These new sentencing guidelines will serve as a strong deterrent against these illegal grow sites, and they will help make sure criminals who wreck our public and private lands are held fully responsible for the harm they cause.”

Huffman said toxic and illegal chemicals used at such sites, plus the potential for violence, make such grows unsafe on many levels. Also, “California is in the midst of a devastating drought, and many of these grow operations illegally divert streams and tap groundwater with untold impacts on downstream water users and wildlife,” he noted.

Both he and Farr noted the nation seems to be moving toward what they consider to be more reasonable laws on marijuana use, but these illegal grows can’t be tolerated. “With these new guidelines in place, we can make public and private lands safer while protecting the environment for everyone to enjoy,” Farr said.

LaMalfa said property owners and local government often are stuck paying thousands of dollars in clean-up costs. “The Sentencing Commission’s recognition of these impacts will go a long way toward ensuring that those who disregard our nation’s laws are held responsible.”

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CAGOP14: Nehring calls for Newsom to debate pot

Ron Nehring, a Republican candidate for lieutenant governor, said incumbent Democrat Gavin Newsom is dead wrong to be supporting marijuana legalization.

Ron Nehring“California has been a leader in fighting Big Tobacco… now we’re seeing the rise of Big Marijuana,” Nehring, a former state GOP chairman from El Cajon, said in a news conference Saturday morning at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame.

Newsom last October became chairman of a committee convened by the American Civil Liberties Union to explore legalization and taxation, as voters in Colorado and Washington already have voted to embrace. He also gave a speech supporting legalization at the California Democratic Party’s convention last week in Los Angeles.

But Nehring said Saturday that legalization would bring down marijuana’s price and lead to a dramatic expansion in use of a drug that affects reaction time, memory and other brain functions for weeks, and is particularly harmful to still-developing adolescent brains. The medical community opposes legalization, he said, while the public costs would far exceed the tax revenues and job creation.

And, Nehring noted, Latinos oppose legalization by about a two-to-one margin, so this is an issue on which the GOP can connect with those voters.

Nehring said he supports the mission of Project SAM, an anti-legalization group that favors changing laws to favor treatment over punishment for those who use marijuana.

Nehring stood next to a poster displaying a photo of Gov. Jerry Brown and his recent quote that, “All of a sudden, if there’s advertising and legitimacy, how many people can get stoned and still have a great state or a great nation?”

“We should have a debate about this issue,” Nehring said. “If Gavin Newsom is not willing to debate me, perhaps he’d be willing to debate Gov. Brown, and they could also debate high-speed rail while they’re at it.”

Nehring acknowledged this will be a tough campaign.

“We completely understand that we are the underdog in this race,” Nehring said, given Democratic incumbents in all statewide offices, a big Democratic voter registration advantage, and robust Democratic fundraising. “Every financial report that comes out will show that Gavin Newsom has raised more money than Ron Nehring.”

As a down-ticket race, “this campaign needs to be about big ideas,” he said – a good prescription for all GOP candidates.

“Republicans need to be the party of bold reform” in order to inspire voters, Nehring said, not just “the party of tweaks and cuts.”

Meanwhile, he said, “Gavin Newsom is treating the office like a taxpayer funded gubernatorial exploratory committee for 2018.”

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CAGOP14: One thing Kashkari & Brown agree on

Rancorous though this election is likely to grow, Republican gubernatorial candidate Neel Kashkari and Gov. Jerry Brown agree on at least one thing: California shouldn’t legalize marijuana.

NEEL KASHKARITalking with reporters moments after rallying his college volunteer troops at the California Republican Party convention in Burlingame, Kashkari scoffed at the idea that legalized marijuana can be a job-creator.

“We need jobs that are productivity-enhancing,” he said, adding that when Brown “said we don’t need a state full of pot-heads, he was right.”

But he also said today’s drug laws are disproportionately enforced, causing more harm to minority communities, and it makes no sense to react to marijuana by locking people up, ruining their lives and wasting billions of taxpayers’ dollars across the nation. “I think there are elements of decriminalization that are worth looking at.”

Sharing an elevator with reporters, Ron Nehring – the former state GOP chairman now running to unseat incumbent Democratic Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom – said he intends to discuss marijuana at a press conference Saturday morning at the convention.

Kashkari wouldn’t give reporters any details Friday of how he intends to create jobs, which along with improving education is his campaign’s backbone. “We’ll roll out our jobs plan very soon, we’re looking at various ways to lure factories back to California,” he said.

Minutes earlier, he had repeated to his volunteers his general mantra on jobs: “unleash the potential” of the state’s natural resources by opening oil and gas fields to more fracking; eliminating much of the state’s regulatory red tape; and “improve our overall economic competitiveness.”

State GOP Chairman Jim Brulte and Vice Chair Harmeet Dhillon earlier Friday made it clear that statewide races won’t be the state party’s focus this year; instead, they’ll look for House, legislative and local victories. Brulte said he believes only two or three statewide races are even competitive this year, though he wouldn’t say which ones.

Kashkari said he agrees “that the lower races are very important” and hopes the tide of his campaign will lift GOP boats further down the ticket. Winning his race this year will be “absolutely hard, but we have so many examples nationally of very strong incumbents losing.”

Brown’s “track record is the destruction of the middle class,” he repeated, also defending a recent statement that Brown was born with a silver spoon in his mouth.

Reminded that Brown famously has lived more frugally than just about any governor in recent memory, Kashkari replied that it must be nice for Brown to have had a multi-million dollar trust fund that let him go visit in the mid-1980s with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.

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Pot measures seek signatures at Miley Cyrus show

Proponents of a San Jose medical marijuana initiative will gather signatures outside San Jose’s SAP Center on Tuesday night as Miley Cyrus brings her “Bangerz” tour to town.

Miley CyrusKnow thy demographic: The first rule of ballot measures.

The Medical Marijuana Regulation for San Jose Act (MMRSJ) was created in response to what proponents say was the city’s failure to provide workable regulations for its cannabis clubs. It’s supported by the Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition, Americans for Policy Reform, Control & Regulate San Jose, and most cannabis clubs in the city, they say.

“MMRSJ puts in place reasonable regulations and creates a commission to address any impact to the community. For the past 5 years, without regulations, we have had the wild-west in San Jose. That needs to stop,” proponent Dave Hodges founder of the All American Cannabis Club, said in a news release. “It is crucial that we collect enough signatures to make the San Jose ballot. We have been here before with the city, and the regulations they proposed forced us to do a referendum. We must put reasonable regulations in place to stop the city council from creating something we cannot live with.”

Proponent John Lee, founder of Americans for Policy Reform, said closure of cannabis clubs shouldn’t be indiscriminate. “It should be based on the community needs. If a cannabis club is disturbing the neighborhood and creating a nuisance, then of course it should be shut down. On the other hand, a well run cannabis club can have a positive impact and enhance their community.”

They’re hoping to finish their signature drive by April 20. 4/20. Of course.

Lee and Hodges also are proponents for a statewide marijuana legalization measure – the Marijuana Control, Legalization & Revenue Act – that’s struggling to gather signatures by mid-April in order to qualify for this November’s ballot.

“Don’t worry, we will be collecting signatures for the 2014 statewide legalization at the show as well,” Hodges said.

We weren’t worried.