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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.”

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Ammiano bill would make growing pot a ‘wobbler’

California Assembly Public Safety Committee Chairman Tom Ammiano today said he introduced a bill last Friday that would change marijuana cultivation from a mandatory felony penalty to an alternate felony or misdemeanor known as a “wobbler”

David EysterOne size doesn’t fit all when it comes to growing pot, according to Mendocino County District Attorney David Eyster, who sponsored Ammiano’s AB 1017.

“The proposed change affords local District Attorneys the charging discretion to determine, for example, that a home gardener with a few non-medical marijuana plants will not be prosecuted at the same level as a profiteer operating a major marijuana plantation,” Eyster said in Ammiano’s news release. “It makes no sense that unlawful possession of less than one ounce of marijuana is an infraction, that possession of more than an ounce of marijuana is a misdemeanor, that possession of methamphetamines may be charged as a misdemeanor, but that growing any amount of marijuana must be charged as a straight felony punishable by prison.”

Tom AmmianoAmmiano, D-San Francisco, said the change “is long overdue and is simply common sense. Allowing marijuana cultivation to be a misdemeanor will save the state money, allow for more cost-effective prosecution and reflects the views of most Californians. I applaud DA Eyster for his leadership on trying to create a rational public policy for marijuana in California.”

Stephen Gutwillig, the Drug Policy Alliance’s California director, said the state’s budget crisis requires reconsidering its penal policies. “Sending nonviolent marijuana offenders to state prison is a particular waste of resources in a state that lowered marijuana possession penalties and seriously considered ending marijuana prohibition outright last year. That law enforcement figures like District Attorney Eyster are supporting Assemblymember Ammiano’s sensible new legislation shows how quickly the tide is turning against our costly, ineffective, and punitive marijuana policies.”

California District Attorneys Association CEO W. Scott Thorpe said the CDAA “is reviewing the bill and has not taken a position.” I’ve not yet heard back from the California Narcotic Officers’ Association or the California Police Chiefs Association, but I’d bet that once they’ve reviewed the bill, they’ll not favor it.

UPDATE @ 11:15 P.M.: California Police Chiefs Association lobbyist John Lovell says the group hasn’t yet taken a position on AB 1017, but “my guess is that, given the critical level of problems created by cartel cultivation in California, we would oppose this bill.”

UPDATE @ 4:42 P.M. THURSDAY: California Narcotic Officers’ Association Executive Director Joe Stewart said today his group “is obviously concerned about the bill. As always, CNOA is always vigilant in looking into this and other bills that effect the legalization and decriminalization of marijuana.”

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New bills on booze, child care, energy, bullies

Like the swallows to San Juan Capistrano, state lawmakers flocked back to Sacramento today, some to be sworn into their new terms, some to introduce bills, some perhaps just to keep their seats warm.

Among the Bay Area delegation’s legislative priorities: sangria, child care, party buses, public utilities, human trafficking, renewable energy and bullying (in no particular order).

State Sen. Mark Leno, D-San Francisco – who was announced today as the new chairman of the Senate Budget Committee – introduced a bill that would lift state law’s ban on sale of infused alcohol. Believe it or not, it’s illegal under existing law for a bar to mix up a big jar of sangria, or to infuse a big container of vodka or some other liquor, for later use and sale; such things can only be made to order. As a resurgence of the art of the cocktail has swept the state, many bar owners have ignored this rule – at their peril, it turned out, when the state Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control started handing out warnings and citations earlier this year. Leno estimates half of the Bay Area bars’s create and serve infusions, including limoncello, sangria, fruit flavored tequilas and many flavors of infused vodka, and his SB 32 is supported by the Golden Gate Restaurant Association.

State Sen. Ellen Corbett, D-San Leandro, was named Majority Leader – second in command, responsible for setting the Democratic agenda and the Senate’s floor operations – and introduced a bill to restore the $256 million for Stage 3 child care that Gov. Schwarzenegger line-item vetoed out of the state’s budget. The Stage 3 program provided child care services to more than 81,000 children and some 60,000 working families statewide; a court has put the cut on hold until Dec. 31, and the First 5 Commissions in many counties – including Alameda and Santa Clara – are footing the program’s bills until funding can be restored. “This money is vital for thousands of working parents, their children, and their caregivers who depend on these centers being open,” Corbett said in a news release.

On the Assembly side, Assemblyman Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, co-authored the Assembly version of the bill to restore the vetoed child-care funds, and also introduced his own bill to crack down on operators of “party buses” that allow underage drinking aboard their vehicles. Prompted by the death of a 19-year-old from Burlingame, Hill’s AB 45 would require bus drivers – just as limousine drivers already are required – to make underage passengers sign statements that their consumption of alcohol is illegal, and then end the ride if any underage passengers imbibe. Fines starting at $2,000 for a first offense could be imposed by the Public Utilities Commission against companies that don’t comply, and further violations could result in license suspensions or revocations; party bus operators also could be charged with a misdemeanor.

Hill also introduced a bill, inspired by the Sept. 9 natural gas blast that killed eight people and flattened 27 San Bruno homes, that would prevent utilities from using ratepayer money to pay penalties or fees assessed by the Public Utilities Commission; require utilities that own or operate gas facilities to annually report to the PUC any pipeline problems; require utilities to create public education programs on their emergency response plans; require gas pipeline owners or operators to prioritize pipelines near seismically active areas for increased safety oversight, and by 2020 to create programs to upgrade their facilities for state-of-the-art inspection methods; require the PUC to set minimum standards to install automatic and/or remote shutoff valves; and require the PUC to ensure utility owners actually use rate increases to pay for the projects they propose, with any diversions publicly explained.

Lots more, after the jump…
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Marijuana debate revived with bill, TV show

Even as Assemblyman Tom Ammiano today reintroduced his bill to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana for all uses, marijuana advocates are taking to television – but not with ads.

Cannabis PlanetCannabis Planet,” a 30-minute weekly television program is about to start a 26-week run on the Bay Area’s KOFY-TV (Channel 20/13) at midnight this Friday.

The show – focusing on the merits of the marijuana plant in medicine, industry and agriculture “and the benefits this plant brings to Planet Earth, mankind and the United States” – is already seen in the Los Angeles and San Diego markets, and will roll out in Sacramento in March and in Colorado later this spring.

Weekly topics will include cannabis news and information, profiles of medical marijuana collectives, cannabis cooking, patient testimonials, celebrity interviews, music, entertainment and more. It’s co-hosted by Ngaio Bealum, publisher of West Coast Cannabis Magazine, and Los Angeles medical marijuana activist Sarah Diesel; Oakland’s own Ed Rosenthal, the “guru of ganja” who’s world-renowned for his horticultural expertise in marijuana, will serve as a resident expert offering cultivation tips, while Chef Michael Delao will cook up some cannabis cuisine.

“We are very excited to be bringing this show into the Bay Area, where Prop. 215 was born” Brad Lane, the show’s creator and executive producer, said in a news release. “Our goal at Cannabis Planet is to inform and educate the masses about the merits of the Cannabis Sativa plant, and to fight for safe and legal access for medical cannabis patients.”

That’s a hell of a publicity blitz even as California ramps up the debate over Ammiano’s bill and a like-minded November ballot measure put forth by Oakland marijuana activists and businessmen Richard Lee and Jeffrey Jones. But when I talked to Lane this afternoon, he insisted it’s not a political show.

“Our political agenda is to legalize cannabis” for food, fuel, fiber and medicine “but we’re not a political-based show, if that makes sense – were just trying to educate and inform the masses about the merits of cannabis sativa,” he said, noting the show won’t depict or promote recreational use of marijuana. “Hemp, hemp hooray – we just want to get the message out there.”

The show originally ran in Los Angeles for 13 weeks, then was re-run. Lane said the producers have “re-mastered” the LA episodes with minor touches to make them geographically appropriate for other areas – San Diego and Bay Area backdrops, for example – and are now producing a second run of 13 new shows which will contain more local content.

Lane said the Berkeley Patients Group is the flagship Bay Area sponsor, with other support for the show coming from San Francisco’s Ketama Collective, Richmond’s Seven Stars Holistic Healing, and Berkeley-based KZee Novelty Products, maker of the “Lollipipe” edible candy smoking pipe. “We plan on bringing in more sponsors, we’ve just started dipping our toe in the water in the Bay Area,” he said.

Statewide sponsors include the MediCann medical-marijuana-evaluation clinics, as well as Canadian hydroponics companies Advanced Nutrients and BC Northern Lights.

Ammiano’s Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act (AB 2254) would create a regulatory structure similar to that used for beer, wine and liquor, permitting taxed sales to adults while barring sales to or possession by those under 21. Its former incarnation, AB 390, was approved by the Assembly Public Safety Committee – which Ammiano chairs – last month, but died when the clock ran out on the last Legislative session. Re-introduced, it’ll probably make a quick pass back through Public Safety on its way to the Assembly Health Committee.

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Arnold’s veto-message wordplay lives on

(Note: This post was penned by San Jose Mercury News reporter Denis C. Theriault, in the Sacramento bureau.)

Reports of a certain veto message’s death — as in the one with the hidden, four-letter message apparently sent from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to Assemblyman Tom Ammiano — have been exaggerated.

Despite a blog post by the Sacramento Bee last week saying the message had gone “poof,” it’s alive and well for all the world to see over on the governor’s Web site.

The message, you might remember, was issued in response to AB 1176 and seemed to follow the governor’s usual form when rejecting bills. But careful readers, eyeballing the first letter of each line, found something else: a familiar curse word, plus the word “you.”

The discovery kicked off a brief national media storm and saw the governor’s office defending the acrostic as mere coincidence — never mind that Ammiano had only weeks before peppered the governor at an appearance with some choice words of his own.

The Bee, in its post, looked only at the Legislature’s bill-tracking site, leginfo.ca.gov, which formatted the message’s text differently and ended up wiping out the acrostic.

So, after bleak budget forecast after bleak budget forecast, long live one of the lighter pieces of writing to come from the governor’s office last year.

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Nevada to take another stab at pot legalization

Even as California readies for year of debate over marijuana legalization culminating with a ballot measure vote this November, activists just across the state line are rolling out their own initiative for 2012.

Nevadans for Sensible Marijuana Laws – an offshoot of the Marijuana Policy Project – will roll out its proposed measure Wednesday on the Nevada State Capitol’s steps in Carson City, moments after submitting it to the Nevada Secretary of State. The group says its measure would create a taxed and regulated marijuana market for adults aged 21 years and older; the measure will need signatures from 97,002 registered voters by this November in order to qualify for the November 2012 ballot.

“We are excited to be launching this historic campaign,” campaign manager Dave Schwartz said in a news release. “We have literally spent months drafting this initiative and believe it is the best marijuana-related initiative ever proposed. We are fully confident that we will qualify for the ballot and will garner majority support in 2012. As we embark on our signature drive, we are determined to use every interaction with Nevada residents to educate them about one simple fact: Marijuana, by every objective measure, is a safer substance than alcohol. We will encourage voters to consider this fact and decide for themselves whether it makes sense to allow adults to use alcohol freely, but punish them if they choose to use a less harmful substance, marijuana.”

Schwartz this afternoon noted his group has put similar measures on Nevada’s ballot twice before, in 2002 and 2006, and had always planned to have another go at it; it’s coinciding with – not piggybacking upon – California’s effort, he said. “Of course, if there’s energy that’s coming off of this and it does well in California, that’s going to be a huge help for us.”

Meanwhile, the new-fangled version of AB 390, the marijuana legalization bill by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, is scheduled to be heard by the Assembly Public Safety Committee (of which Ammiano is chair) next Tuesday, Jan. 12.