House members tell DOJ to back off on marijuana

A bipartisan pair of California House members are insisting that the Justice Department back off from prosecutions of medical marijuana patients and providers in states with medical marijuana laws – as Congress mandated in a recent spending bill.

Reps. Sam Farr, D-Carmel, and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder on Wednesday, reminding him in no uncertain terms that the amendment they co-authored to the “cromnibus” federal spending bill – approved by Congress and signed by President Obama in December – bars the Justice Department from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws.

The lawmakers cited a recent Los Angeles Times article in which a department spokesman said the amendment doesn’t apply to cases against individuals or organizations, but merely stops the department from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws.”

“We write to inform you that this interpretation of our amendment is emphatically wrong,” Farr and Rohrabacher wrote to Holder. “Rest assured, the purpose of our amendment was to prevent the Department from wasting its limited law enforcement resources on prosecutions and asset forfeiture actions against medical marijuana patients and providers, including businesses that operate legally under state law.”

State law enforcement agencies are better equipped to determine whether people and businesses are abiding by state laws, they wrote.

“We respectfully insist that you bring your Department back into compliance with federal law by ceasing marijuana prosecutions and forfeiture actions against those acting in accordance with state medical marijuana laws,” their letter concludes.


Honda touts manufacturing bill within CRomnibus

Some last-minute poison pills kept Rep. Mike Honda from voting for the $1.1 “CRomnibus” spending bill approved by Congress, but he sees a few bright spots in it for Silicon Valley nonetheless.

And there’s little that Honda – who just eked out a narrow electoral win last month over fellow Democrat Ro Khanna – would rather do these days than deliver a bit of good news for his district.

honda.jpgHonda, D-San Jose, said Tuesday that the CRomnibus included the Revitalize American Manufacturing and Innovation (RAMI) Act. This Republican-led, bipartisan bill that the House had approved back in September authorizes $400 million to create up to 15 Centers for Manufacturing Innovation – regional hubs where universities and colleges, small and large manufacturers, and government can address manufacturing challenges and bring ideas from lab to market. They’ll also work toward producing a skilled workforce to meet the nation’s manufacturing needs.

Honda believes the initiative will lead to more domestic manufacturing and job creation across the nation. He anticipates that Silicon Valley will be among the first applicants seeking to create such a center, probably in order to develop the next generation of semiconductor manufacturing tools.

IPC – a global trade association serving the printed board and electronics assembly industries, their customers and suppliers – issued a statement Monday thanking Honda for his role in RAMI’s passage.

“Among the bill’s earliest and most steadfast champions, Congressman Honda keenly appreciates the connection between the strength of America’s manufacturing base and the incredible innovation that takes place in his district in Silicon Valley.” IPC President and CEO John Mitchell said. “Representing all facets of the electronics industry, IPC’s members — including the many located in Congressman Honda’s district — look forward to the collaboration among private and public sector stakeholders at the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation centers that this legislation will establish.”

Honda was proud of the bipartisan effort behind this bill and the greater CRomnibus, but said he had no choice but to vote against it after two riders were added that he staunchly opposed – one to roll back part of the Dodd-Frank banking reforms that prevent taxpayers being left on the hook to insure risky derivatives trading, and another to vastly increase the amount of money individuals can contribute to political parties.

“I had to make that decision (to vote nay) … That’s the way the sausage is made in Congress,” he said. “But I’m glad we got the RAMI in and also the next round of funding on BART, about $150 million” for the Berryessa extension.

Honda spoke Tuesday as he prepared to leave for South Korea, where he’ll spend the next few days meeting with business and government leaders including Korean Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se and U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert, as well as visiting U.S. troops and surviving victims of World War II sexual enslavement.

He said his priority is to discuss what South Korea is doing to encourage American businesses to thrive there, and the investment and innovation opportunities South Korean businesses have in the Bay Area. He’ll be delivering a policy speech at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul about how the two nations can strengthen their economic and political relations; he also has a dinner scheduled with the Korea International Trade Association and its chairman, as well as a meeting with the vice minister of trade, industry and energy.


Conservatives blast Kevin McCarthy for CRomnibus

A conservative super PAC is trashing House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Bakersfield, for helping pass the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending bill, which some say doesn’t do enough to roll back President Obama’s executive actions on immigration.

Senate Conservatives Action, the super PAC arm of the Senate Conservatives Fund, said the one-minute radio ad will air for one week in McCarthy’s home district.

“Americans asked Republican leaders to defund the president’s unlawful amnesty and pledged to run ads against them if they didn’t,” SCF President Ken Cuccinelli, the former Virginia attorney general who lost that state’s 2013 gubernatorial race. “Unfortunately, Congressman Kevin McCarthy didn’t listen so now the grassroots are taking action to hold him accountable. This ad tells McCarthy’s voters what he’s done and urges him to keep his promise.”

But Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, with whom McCarthy sided in supporting and whipping votes for the CRomnibus, issued a statement Thursday night saying the measure merely saves the immigration fight for a more advantageous time by funding the Department of Homeland Security only through Feb. 27.

“This measure puts us on track to save taxpayers more than $2.1 trillion while protecting jobs and supporting our national defense,” Boehner said. “In addition, by the House’s action, we are setting up a direct challenge to the president’s unilateral actions on immigration next month, when there will be new Republican majorities in both chambers.”


How Bay Area House members voted on CRomnibus

The House voted 219-206 Thursday night to pass the $1.1 trillion “CRomnibus” spending bill to avert a government shutdown and fund the federal government through next October.

Conservative Republicans opposed the measure because it doesn’t explicitly bar President Obama from implementing his executive actions on immigration; many Democrats opposed it because of non-budgetary policy riders attached to the bill, including one that to roll back a key provision of the landmark Dodd-Frank financial reform act and another to raise the maximum amount contributors can give to political parties.

This made for some pretty weird bedfellows. President Barack Obama; Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md.; and Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, all urged its passage, while House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco, and conservatives like Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., opposed it.

In the end, 57 Democrats crossed the aisle to join 162 Republicans in supporting it, while 67 Republicans crossed the aisle to join 139 Democrats in opposing it. Ten members did not vote.

Here’s how the Bay Area delegation split:

YEA: George Miller, D-Martinez; Sam Farr, D-Carmel

NAY: Pelosi; Barbara Lee, D-Oakland; Mike Thompson, D-Napa; Eric Swalwell, D-Dublin; Jackie Speier, D-San Mateo; Anna Eshoo, D-Palo Alto; Zoe Lofgren, D-San Jose; Mike Honda, D-San Jose; Jared Huffman, D-San Rafael; Jerry McNerney, D-Stockton

See what some had to say about it, after the jump…
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Your International Human Rights Day review

Hey, it’s International Human Rights Day!

The date was set by the United Nations in 1950 “to bring to the attention ‘of the peoples of the world’ the Universal Declaration of Human Rights as the common standard of achievement for all peoples and all nations.”

Nice! Let’s take a celebratory scan of some of today’s top stories!

“All senior U.S. officials and CIA agents who authorized and carried out torture like waterboarding as part of former President George W. Bush’s national security policy must be prosecuted, top U.N. human rights officials said Wednesday,” the Associated Press reports.

Ah. Well, at least we can be sure ordinary people’s voices are heard by lawmakers come election time.

“The $1.1 trillion spending agreement reached by House and Senate negotiators on Tuesday night would vastly expand the amount of money that donors can give political parties, bolstering party leaders’ ability to tap into the wallets of their largest contributors and reclaiming some clout from the outside groups that can accept unlimited dollars,” the New York Times reports.

OK, maybe we should look a little closer to home.

“For the third time in four nights, mayhem defined a protest march from Berkeley to Oakland, as demonstrators took over a freeway, looted businesses and threw objects at police, authorities said,” our own Bay Area News Group reports. “The demonstrations were part of an ongoing national movement against police violence, spurred by grand jury decisions not to indict police officers in Missouri and New York after the deaths of two unarmed black men.”

Yeeeesh. Well, at least there’s some progress elsewhere on protecting that most basic of human rights – life itself.

“The Ebola virus that has killed thousands in West Africa is still ‘running ahead’ of efforts to contain it, the head of the World Health Organization has said,” the BBC reports.

I give up.

I surrender


‘Cromnibus’ includes medical marijuana protection

The final “cromnibus” federal spending bill that Congress will consider this week includes an amendment barring the Justice Department from spending money to undermine state medical marijuana laws – something a growing number of lawmakers from both sides of the aisle have been pursuing for more than a decade.

The House in May had voted 219-289 for such an amendment, co-authored by Rep. Sam Farr, D-Santa Cruz, and Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach – a sudden success 11 years after it was first offered.

When this “must-pass” spending bill – which would keep the government from shutting down when funding runs out Thursday night – was released Tuesday night, the amendment was included. Farr issued a statement Wednesday calling this “great news for medical marijuana patients all across the country.”

“The public has made it clear that they want common sense drug policies. The majority of states have passed reasonable medical marijuana laws but the federal government still lags behind. Our amendment prevents the unnecessary prosecution of patients while the federal government catches up with the views of the American people,” he said.

“We need to rethink how we treat medical marijuana in this country and today’s announcement is a big step in the right direction,” Farr added. “Patients can take comfort knowing they will have safe access to the medical care they need without fear of federal prosecution. And all of us can feel better knowing our federal dollars will be spent more wisely fighting actual crimes and not wasted going after patients.”

Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said Congress for the first time is truly letting states set their own medical marijuana polices. “States will continue to reform their marijuana laws and Congress will be forced to accommodate them. It’s not a question of if, but when, federal marijuana prohibition will be repealed.”

The spending bill also includes a bipartisan amendment that prohibits the Drug Enforcement Administration from blocking implementation of a federal law passed last year by Congress that allows hemp cultivation for academic and agricultural research purposes in states that allow it.

The news wasn’t all good for marijuana advocates, however. The “cromnibus” also includes an amendment blocking Washington, D.C. from spending any federal or local funds to implement the marijuana-legalization initiative approved last month by 70 percent of voters.