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Marijuana reform advocates win 3 of 4 in House

Marijuana reform advocates won three of four battles in the House on Wednesday, as lawmakers approved amendments that forbid federal interference in state laws allowing medical use of marijuana and marijuana-based oils or industrial hemp uses.

“There’s unprecedented support on both sides of the aisle for ending the federal war on marijuana and letting states set their own drug policies based on science, compassion, health, and human rights,” Bill Piper, the Drug Policy Alliance’s national affairs director, said in a news release. “The more the DEA blocks sensible reforms the more they will see their agency’s power and budget come under deeper scrutiny.”

California is one of 23 states, plus the District of Columbia and Guam, that have legalized marijuana for medicinal purposes.

The House voted 242-186 for an amendment by Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Huntington Beach, and Sam Farr, D-Carmel, that prohibits the federal government from using any funds to arrest or prosecute medical marijuana patients or providers that are in a compliance with their state’s laws. This amendment also passed the House last year with strong bipartisan support – after a decade of failed efforts – and made it into the final spending bill signed into law, but because it was attached to an annual spending bill, it will expire later this year unless Congress renews it.

“The majority of the states have said they want medical marijuana patients to have access to the medicine they need without fear of prosecution,” Farr said in a news release. “For the second year in a row, the people’s house has listened to the will of the people and voted to give them that access.”

The House voted 297-130 to pass an amendment by Rep. Scott Perry, R-Pa., that protects laws in 16 states allowing use of CBD oils, a non-psychotropic marijuana component that’s been shown to be effective in managing children’s epileptic seizures.

And the House voted 282-146 to pass an amendment by Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Ore., and Rep. Thomas Massie, R-Kent., prohibiting the Drug Enforcement Administration from undermining state laws allowing the industrial use of hemp. A similar amendment passed the House last year.

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington have legalized marijuana for recreational use, and voters in California, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada are expected to face legalization ballot initiatives next year. But an amendment by Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Roseville, and Rep. Jared Polis, D-Colo., to bar the DEA and Justice Department from undermining such state laws narrowly failed on a 206-222 vote.

Kevin Sabet, a former White House drug policy staffer who now is president and CEO of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, said his anti-legalization group is “re-energized” by the recreational amendment’s defeat.

“This is a victory for the science, and it’s a victory for our nation’s kids,” Sabet said in a news release. “It’s a crushing blow to the new Big Marijuana industry special interest group. Legalization is not inevitable and we will continue to discuss why today’s high THC marijuana runs counter to mental health and basic principles of public health and road safety.”

But Tom Angell, chairman of Marijuana Majority, issued a statement saying “now that the House has gone on record with strong bipartisan votes for two years in a row to oppose using federal funds to interfere with state medical marijuana laws, it’s time for Congress to take up comprehensive legislation to actually change federal law.”

“That’s what a growing majority of Americans wants, and these votes show that lawmakers are on board as well,” Angell said. “Congress clearly wants to stop the Justice Department from spending money to impose failed marijuana prohibition policies onto states, so there’s absolutely no reason those policies themselves should remain on the lawbooks any longer.”

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Marijuana legalization measure filed in Sacramento

A group that couldn’t get enough signatures to put a marijuana legalization measure on 2014’s ballot has launched its effort to try again for 2016.

MCLR logoProponents of the Marijuana Control, Legalization and Revenue Act went to the Secretary of State’s office Monday to make their initial filing; they then headed for San Francisco to join the 4/20 celebration at Golden Gate Park’s Hippie Hill.

The proposed measure – which was immediately forwarded to the state attorney general’s office to receive an official title and summary before proponents can start gathering petition signatures – is the product of Americans For Policy Reform’s “wiki-like” open-source process, which took input from thousands of California residents.

“We hope this broad-based coalition of support will encourage further cooperation,” AFPR director and measure proponent John Lee said in a news release “We urgently encourage other advocacy groups to join us at the table.”

The measure’s backers say it keep marijuana out of minors’ hands; prevent growing on public lands; deprive cartels, gangs and other criminal enterprises of the proceeds from sales; prevent drugged driving and other adverse health effects; clarify the state’s existing medical marijuana laws; and save the state millions in law enforcement costs while generating millions in tax revenues.

AFPR tried to put a measure on 2014’s ballot but couldn’t raise enough funds for its petition drive. They’ve made some modifications to the measure since, and held a fundraiser in Los Angeles earlier this month.

“We have worked hard to bring people together and create the best law possible for legalization in California,” proponent Dave Hodges, founder of San Jose’s All American Cannabis Club, said in the release. “MCLR creates a comprehensive set of regulations to allow all types of cannabis businesses to flourish, and will net California billions in tax revenues.”

But one of the reasons the measure went nowhere in 2014 might be just as big an obstacle now. A larger Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform – chaired by Oaksterdam University executive chancellor Dale Sky Jones and including national groups like the Drug Policy Alliance, Americans for Safe Access and the Marijuana Policy Project – had started collecting signatures for 2014 but then decided to hold off. The coalition now is moving forward with its own plans for 2016, with a far more extensive fundraising network as well as buy-in from many more established marijuana-related organizations.

Hodges in 2014 had said the coalition’s effort had sucked all of the fundraising air out of the room for his measure, making it impossible to bankroll a petition drive. He might find this year’s air to be just as thin.

UPDATE @ 4:38 p.m.: A marijuana legalization task force convened by the American Civil Liberties Union and chaired by Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom will hold a digital town square on the issue at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at www.SafeAndSmartPolicy.org. The forum will focus on public safety, especially drugged driving, criminal justice, and environmental concerns; two more forums are planned for later this spring.

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Obama’s AG nominee opposes pot legalization

Loretta Lynch, President Obama’s nominee to become U.S. Attorney General, told senators at her confirmation hearing Wednesday that she opposes legalization of marijuana.

Questioned by U.S. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., Lynch – currently the top federal prosecutor for part of New York City and all of Long Island – said she doesn’t agree with President Obama’s comments comparing marijuana to alcohol.

“I certainly think that the president was speaking from his personal experience and personal opinion, neither of which I’m able to share,” she said. “But I can tell you that not only do I not support legalization of marijuana, it is not the position of the Department of Justice currently to support the legalization, nor would it be the position should I become confirmed as attorney general.”

The federal Controlled Substances Act deems marijuana to have no valid medical use and a high risk of addiction, and so bans its cultivation, sale, possession and use. Obama in early 2014 told the New Yorker that he believes marijuana is less dangerous than alcohol, a comment that brought criticism from anti-drug activists.

Current U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in August 2013 told the governors of Washington and Colorado – states which had voted in 2012 to legalize recreational marijuana, in conflict with federal law – that the Justice Department will let them implement their laws. At the same time, Deputy Attorney General James Cole issued a memo to U.S. attorneys across the country outlining priorities for federal prosecutors enforcing marijuana laws – including those in the 20 states including California that have legalized marijuana for medical use. California activists hope to put a recreational legalization measure on the November 2016 ballot.

Legalization opponents hailed Lynch’s testimony Wednesday.

“Loretta Lynch could have skirted the issue of legalization by simply repeating DOJ’s policy of select intervention, but she tackled it head on. We are breathing a sigh of relief,” said Kevin Sabet, who used to work in the White House drug czar’s office and now is president of Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “Ms. Lynch is a knowledgeable, experienced, justice-minded individual, and for her to come out so adamantly against legalization is extremely encouraging. It will give our efforts a shot in the arm. We look forward to working with her on these important matters if she is confirmed by the Senate.”

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Musings on the state GOP, Congress, pot & Kansas

A few observations on Tuesday’s elections, with a hat tip to my colleagues Paul Rogers and Ken McLaughlin for their thoughts:

CALIFORNIA GOP: Tuesday’s results seem to be a vindication and victory for the “Brulte Doctrine,” spelled out by the state GOP chairman at his party’s convention in March: Don’t waste much effort trying to win unwinnable statewide races, but instead rebuild the party by “grinding it out on the ground” in local races – a strategy that will take several election cycles to bear larger fruit.

Despite their buzz, Ashley Swearengin and Pete Peterson couldn’t make it happen statewide: as it stands now, it looks like a 5.6-point loss for Swearengin in the controller’s race and a 5-point loss for Peterson in the secretary of state’s race. Those are respectable losses but losses nonetheless, and I submit that the GOP putting more money and party resources behind them might actually have resulted in wider margins of loss – I think they did this well in part by distancing themselves from partisanship.

Instead, Brulte’s GOP concentrated on denying Democrats their legislative supermajorities – and now it’s “mission accomplished” in the state Senate while the Assembly still hangs by a thread as vote-by-mail ballots are counted.

In doing so, the GOP is hatching a new generation of up-and-comers. Exhibit A: Catharine Baker, who at this hour is up 3.8 points over Democrat Tim Sbranti in the East Bay’s 16th Assembly District race. Baker, an attorney hailed as a cream-of-the-crop “California Trailblazer” at her party’s convention in March, was far outspent by Sbranti, who already had some name recognition among the electorate as Dublin’s mayor. But GOP officials and activists came from around the state to pound the pavement for her, and it looks like it could pay off with the first Bay Area Republican sent to Sacramento since Guy Houston was term-limited out (in the same part of the East Bay) in 2008.

CONGRESS: Anyone who’s surprised that Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate and gained seats in the House isn’t very well-versed in history. A two-term president’s party almost always loses ground in his sixth-year midterm.

Sure, President Barack Obama’s job-approval rating stood at 42 percent (per Gallup) on Tuesday. And President George W. Bush’s job approval was at 38 percent in November 2006 as Democrats picked up five Senate seats and 31 House seats, making Harry Reid the new Senate Majority Leader and Nancy Pelosi the new House Speaker. And President Ronald Reagan was riding high with a 63 percent job-approval rating in November 1986 (although he was about to take a precipitous dive as details of the Iran-Contra scandal came to light) as Democrats picked up eight Senate seats, putting Robert Byrd in the driver’s seat, and five House seats to cement the majority they already had.

The exception was President Bill Clinton, who saw his party pick up five House seats in 1998 – a stinging defeat that left Republicans in control but forced Newt Gingrich to resign as Speaker – while the Senate was a zero-sum game. Clinton, under fire for the Monica Lewinsky sex scandal, still was at a 66 percent job-approval rating at the time.

But Bubba always had a way of defying the odds.

MARIJUANA: If Oregon and Alaska got enough younger voters out to the polls in this midterm election to approve marijuana legalization, just imagine what California can do in 2016’s presidential election with an initiative forged in the trial-and-error of four other states’ experiences.

KANSAS: Kansas has had private-sector job growth that lags the rest of the country, and adopted tax cuts big enough to blow a still-widening hole in the state budget requiring school closings, teacher layoffs and increased class sizes – but doubled down with its Republican governor and Republican U.S. Senator. I guess you can lead a Jayhawk to water, but you can’t make it drink…

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Nehring ad: Newsom’s policies encourage addiction

Ron Nehring, the Republican challenger to Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, has launched his first video ad, claiming Newsom’s policies will lead to more drug addiction.

http://youtu.be/K3yUym9DqPM

Nehring spokeswoman Nyna Armstrong said the ad will run online only, at least for now. “Then, we’ll decide what our ad buy will be based on the response that we get.”

Newsom campaign spokesman Sean Clegg seemed angry that a reporter had contacted him seeking comment.

“This is not an ad,” he replied by email. “This is a video produced to hoodwink journalists into writing that he has an ad. There is no real TV buy. If I send you the video my eight-year-old son made will you post that too?”

Nehring’s ad features a series of women speaking to the camera. “In America, one baby is born addicted to drugs every hour. More lives destroyed. If Gavin Newsom gets his way, drug abuse in California will skyrocket. More women addicted to drugs.”

“These are our daughters. Mothers. Sisters. Friends,” it continues. “You can’t be pro-woman, and be pro-more women addicted to drugs. There’s nothing Democratic. Nothing progressive. About addiction.”

Yet Nehring’s ad never mentions how Newsom’s policies would further drug addiction.

Newsom last year was tapped to head the American Civil Liberties Union’s panel studying marijuana legalization in California, with an eye toward drafting a measure for 2016’s presidential-year ballot. He said at the time, and has reiterated since, that he can’t support a status quo of high prison and police costs associated with marijuana enforcement that disproportionately affects minority communities. He recently said the same on KQED’s “Forum” radio show, saying he favors taxing and regulating marijuana to keep it out of children’s hands.

The jury is still out on whether recent recreational legalization in Colorado and Washington state have led to increased use or abuse, with organizations and agencies on both side offering conflicting reports.

Nehring, a former state GOP chairman from El Cajon, offered a 2010 RAND Corp. study to bolster his claim that “drug abuse in California will skyrocket;” the study actually projected “consumption will increase, but it is unclear how much.”

Nehring issued a statement saying California faces big challenges with poverty, unemployment and failing schools, and “we don’t solve them by swinging wide open the doors for more drug abuse and dependency. That’s a distraction that takes our state in exactly the wrong direction.”

Nehring said he supports reforming drug policy by focusing on treatment instead of imprisonment, as the Project SAM organization advocates. “Gavin Newsom will claim that there are only two choices: the status quo or his legalization idea. Yet, there is a third and better way that puts the emphasis on treatment while avoiding creating the conditions that will lead to skyrocketing addiction in California.”

Newsom differs from several prominent fellow Democrats such as Gov. Jerry Brown and U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who oppose legalization. Attorney General Kamala Harris has said California should wait and learn from Colorado and Washington, while her Republican challenger, Ron Gold, is more forthright in his support of legalization.

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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.