Ammiano: No marijuana legalization bill in 2014

With two marijuana legalization ballot measures already seeking petition signatures and two more under review by the state attorney general, a lawmaker who’s been a longtime legalization supporter says this isn’t the right year for California to take the plunge. (See update below.)

Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, believes the Golden State’s lawmakers should watch, wait and learn from the experiences of Washington and Colorado, which already have legalized marijuana. Meanwhile, he said, he’ll carry a bill again to create a regulatory structure for medical marijuana so patients have a safe supply.

Here’s his full statement:

Tom Ammiano“It’s clear to me – as we work to pass smart marijuana laws – that momentum is growing. If the critical mass has not been reached, it looks very close when the President of the United States recognizes the negative effects of our excessive laws against cannabis, as he did in his recent New Yorker interview. We can’t afford to spend these resources when the only result is the loss of so much human potential. As President Obama suggested, we can’t afford a system that disproportionately falls on the poor.

“Another sign of momentum: the recent California legislative analyst’s evaluation of two marijuana legalization initiatives showing that they would save tens of millions of dollars and generate significant revenues. Although my focus has been on medical cannabis for those who need it, I have always been a supporter of legalization. Some have suggested we have to see what happens with legalization in Washington and Colorado before we act.

“No. We already know that what we’re doing here in California is not working. We can’t perpetuate problems while we wait. Let’s watch Washington and Colorado, but we have to keep California moving ahead.

“This year, I will again have legislation to create a regulatory structure for medical marijuana. Nearly two decades after voters legalized cannabis for those who have a medical need, we still see a chaotic environment of prosecutions, threats and confusing court decisions. Having lived through the worst years of the AIDS epidemic, I have seen what a lifesaver cannabis can be for those who are sick.

“We need to have a regulatory structure to make sure that patients have a safe supply, free of criminal influence. We also need this to ensure that growers are environmentally responsible, and to make sure that medical recommendations are based on real needs, not some doctor’s profit motive.

“I will continue to work with all responsible parties to make sure this is the best bill we can offer and one that we will pass this year. This is the time to strike.”

UPDATE @ 12:26 P.M. WEDNESDAY: I misunderstood Ammiano’s intent. Spokesman Carlos Alcala says Ammiano “supports legalization, and thinks it is time, but does not see that as an option in the Legislature. He is focused on medical marijuana regulation in the Legislature.”


NJ hedge fund prez bankrolls anti-AB 1266 effort

A hedge-fund manager from New Jersey has contributed another $50,000 to the campaign to repeal California’s new law that gives transgender K-12 students rights such as access to the restrooms and locker rooms that they choose.

Wedding AnniversaryThis latest contribution, made Nov. 1 and reported Monday, brings Sean Fieler’s total contributions to the “Privacy for All Students – Stop AB1266” committee to $200,000 – almost as much as all other contributors to that committee have given so far.

Fieler, of Princeton, N.J., is president of Equinox Partners and chairman of the board of the American Principles Project, a conservative 501(c)(3) “founded to reinvigorate and restore those principles that made our country great. We take pride in leading the conversation, defending and promoting the universal truths that we are all ‘created equal, endowed by our Creator with certain unalienable rights, and among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’” Fieler also has been a prolific donor to efforts opposing same-sex marriage.

AB 1266 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, requires that a K-12 pupil be permitted to take part in sex-segregated school programs, activities and facilities including athletic teams and competitions, consistent with his or her gender identity and regardless of the gender listed on that pupil’s records. Though the law applies to a wide range of access, conservative opponents have dubbed it the “bathroom law.”

The Assembly approved it 46-25, the state Senate approved it 21-9, and Gov. Jerry Brown signed it into law Aug. 12. The law will take effect Jan. 1, unless its opponents succeed in placing a repeal referendum on the ballot.

We don’t know yet whether they succeeded. Referendum supporters had until Nov. 10 to gather and submit valid signatures from at least 504,760 registered voters in order to put this on the ballot; hitting that mark usually requires gathering about 700,000 signatures to be safe. The Los Angeles Times reported Oct. 20 that they had gathered about 500,000. Southern California Public Radio reported Sunday that supporters said they’d submitted 620,000 signatures.


TRUST Act activists target sheriffs in Sac, Oakland

Four protesters supporting the TRUST Act anti-deportation legislation now on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk reportedly were arrested Wednesday after a protest and sit-in at the office of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, which opposes the bill.

The sheriffs’ association said the four refused repeated demands that they leave the private property, and were taken to Sacramento County Jail. Alameda County Sheriff Gregory Ahern, the association’s president, later contacted protesters to explain his group’s position.

But apparently they’re all too aware of that position, as they’re planning to hold a “pray-in” at Ahern’s Oakland office Thursday morning.

Among the leaders of Thursday’s protest will be Pancho Ramos-Stierle, who was arrested as he meditated while police cleared the Occupy Oakland encampment in 2011 and was held by Ahern’s office on behalf of immigration authorities; his immigration case is still pending.

Currently, when someone is booked into a county jail, the suspect’s fingerprints are sent to the FBI for comparison with criminal databases. Under the Secure Communities program launched in 2008, the FBI shares that information with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Agency. If ICE thinks the inmate might be deportable, it asks jail officials to hold that person until an immigration agent can review the case and perhaps take the inmate away for deportation.

AB 4 by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco – the TRUST (Transparency and Responsibility Using State Tools) Act – would forbid jail officials from honoring those immigration holds in many cases.

The sheriffs’ association issued a statement Wednesday afternoon explaining that the law “would require offenders that have been subject to prior removal orders, previously deported from the country, or have been charged with serious and violent felonies to be released into the community. It also would require sheriffs to release persons that, while not having been previously convicted of a serious or violent offense, have been deemed threats to national security or public safety by the Department of Homeland Security.”

Finally, the association noted, AB 4 would require a sheriff to let someone go if required by “local law” or “any local policy.”

“These terms are not defined and could defeat even the narrow exceptions provided by AB 4 that would allow a sheriff to hold a person that has been convicted of serious and violent felonies,” the association’s statement said.

But the groups behind tomorrow’s protest in Oakland – Clergy and Laity United for Economic Justice, Faith Alliance for a Moral Economy, and the East Bay Interfaith Immigration Coalition – contend AB 4 gives law enforcement much broader discretion to honor immigration “hold” requests than the similar bill Brown vetoed last year, while ensuring that those with most low-level, non-violent offenses are not wastefully held for deportation.

“We pray for renewed trust between law-enforcement and immigrant communities in Alameda County and throughout our state. And we pray that Sheriff Ahern will open his heart to hear the pleas of the people, for safety and protection from indiscriminate detention and deportations,” Rev. Deborah Lee said in a news release. “And we pray that the Governor will sign this bill, so as to advance immigration reform.”


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.”


Lawmakers to probe state prison conditions

The Bay Area lawmakers who chair the Legislature’s public safety committees announced Friday that they’ll hold public hearings on state prison conditions that have lead to a months-long inmate hunger strike.

State Sen. Loni Hancock, D-Berkeley, and Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, said the hearings might begin this fall and continue into 2014, focused upon confinement conditions in maximum-security prisons and long-term solitary confinement as both a prison-management strategy and a human-rights issue.

Tom Ammiano“The Courts have made clear that the hunger strikers have legitimate issues of policy and practice that must be reviewed,” Ammiano said in a joint news release. “The Legislature has a critical role in considering and acting on their concerns. We cannot sit by and watch our state pour money into a system that the US. Supreme Court has declared does not provide constitutionally acceptable conditions of confinement and that statistics show has failed to increase public safety.

“California continues to be an outlier in its use of solitary confinement, which has been recognized internationally and by other states to be an extreme form of punishment that leads to mental illness if used for prolonged periods of time,” Hancock said in the release. “Since many of these inmates will eventually have served their sentences and will be released, it is in all our best interest to offer hope of rehabilitation while they are incarcerated – not further deterioration.”

Hancock and Ammiano urged an immediate end to the hunger strike so that energy and attention can be focused on the issues that have been raised. The inmates have succeeded in bringing the issues to the public eye, they said, and there’s no need for further sacrifice or risk.

Dolores Canales, a member of the inmate strikers’ mediation team and mother of a convicted murderer in solitary confinement at Pelican Bay State, said the prison activists appreciate the lawmakers’ action.

“Ultimately it is up to the hunger strikers’ themselves as to when and how they will end their protest,” she said. “But as their advocates on the outside, we feel positive about today’s developments.”


Skinner, Ammiano undecided on prison plans

Don’t mistake the Assembly Budget Committee’s unanimous passage of Gov. Jerry Brown’s prison plan Thursday for a clear sail through that chamber.

Committee chairwoman Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, said Friday that the committee acted largely in order to beat the deadline for fiscal committees to move bills to the floor – not because every member agrees completely with the plan put forth by Brown, Assembly Speaker John Perez, Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway.

She demurred when asked whether she prefers this plan to the alternative put forth by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg. “All of this stuff is still being discussed and negotiated,” she said.

She’s not the only Bay Area liberal lawmaker who’s undecided on which plan to side with.

Aug. 16 was the last day for policy committees to meet and report bills, so the Brown/Perez/Huff/Conway plan doesn’t have to go through the Public Safety Committee, chaired by Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco.

I asked whether Ammiano would care to discuss the competing prison plans as chairman of the committee that would’ve had to hear them had they come earlier. “I think he’d rather stay away from the hypotheticals, and has yet to make a decision on how to vote when the Brown/Perez bill gets to the floor,” spokesman Carlos Alcala replied late Thursday afternoon.