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Governor vetoes medical marijuana zoning bill

Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would’ve barred medical marijuana dispensaries from being located with 600 feet of a school or residential area, unless city or county officials enact their own ordinances.

The bill was SB 847 by state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. The state Senate had passed it 31-2 in June; the Assembly had passed it 68-5 in August; and the state Senate had concurred in the Assembly’s amendments on a 34-4 vote in August.

“I have already signed AB 1300 that gave cities and counties authority to regulate medical marijuana dispensaries – an authority I believe they already had,” Brown said in his veto message. “This bill goes in the opposite direction by preempting local control and prescribing the precise locations in which dispensaries may not be located. Decisions of this kind are best made in cities and counties, not the State Capitol.”

SB 847 had originated with the city of Anaheim and was supported by groups such as the Peace Officers Research Association of California; advocates contended it would create a buffer zone until local governments can enact their own ordinances.

Groups including Americans for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project had opposed SB 847, saying it would force a one-size-fits-all zoning scheme on local governments, and would lead to a lack of access to medical marijuana in some high-density urban areas.

Don Duncan, Americans for Safe Access’ California director, blogged today that the veto followed a groundswell of opposition from medical marijuana advocates, proving “that grassroots participation makes a difference.”

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California’s online poker bills are dead until 2012

A contentious effort to legalize and regulate online poker in California was pronounced dead for this year by state Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg today.

Steinberg, D-Sacramento, wrote a letter to stakeholders saying that although the Legislature has held several hearings with hours of testimony, “significant, unresolved issues remain, including tribal exclusivity and waiver of sovereign immunity, the types of games that would be authorized, who would be eligible to apply for gaming site licenses and potential federal constitutional questions.”

The problems aren’t insurmountable, he wrote, “but not before the end of this legislative year on September 9th, when Interim Study Recess is scheduled to begin. Rushing to meet a legislative deadline on an issue of such significance for our state and our people would be unwise.”

Steinberg said he expects a better proposal will be developed during the recess for consideration when the Legislature reconvenes in 2012, and the state Senate Governmental Organization Committee will hold a hearing in January to move that bill along. “There is time to get this right, and it is imperative that we do so.”

A million Californians per week already play online poker on sites that are operated overseas or may be run illegally, says state Sen. Lou Correa, D-Santa Ana. The sites operate despite a 2006 federal law that bars gambling businesses from taking and paying out money online, unless the bets are made and paid within a state that has laws regulating it. No state currently does.

A pending, bipartisan House bill would end that federal ban and set up an interstate licensing program giving states authority to run online sites; U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid has pledged cooperation.

And Reid’s home state of Nevada, where gaming is king, is straining at the bit to see the ban overturned: Gov. Brian Sandoval signed a law in June requiring his state to adopt its own online poker regulations by January.

California could be left behind if it doesn’t do the same, Correa has said, as Nevada and other states stand to cut into approximately $7.5 billion in annual revenues now earned by California’s brick-and-mortar card rooms and tribal casinos. He said his SB 40 instead would bring California 1,300 new jobs and — with a 10 percent take from all online poker fees — $1.4 billion in revenue for state coffers in the next decade.

But while a coalition of card rooms and Indian tribes backed Correa’s bill, some gaming tribes opposed it, claiming a $50 million “buy-in” for online poker licenses would create an unfair advantage for certain gaming interests.

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Joe Dunn will be State Bar’s executive director

Former state Sen. Joe Dunn, D-Santa Ana, will be the new executive director of the State Bar of California, State Bar President Howard Miller announced today.

Joe DunnDunn, 52, served in the state Senate from 1998 to 2006, including a stint as the Senate Judiciary Committee’s chair; he led the Legislature’s investigation into Enron’s involvement in the 2000-2001 energy crisis. Scared out of the 2006 Democratic primary for state attorney general by Jerry Brown, Dunn instead ran in the 2006 Democratic primary for state Controller, but lost to John Chiang. The Secretary of State’s campaign finance database shows Dunn still has one political committee open, with $105,333.97 at the end of last year.

From 2006 to 2009, he was CEO/executive director of the California Medical Association, a position from which he resigned because he said the demands of traveling between Orange County and Sacramento were too heavy on his family life. Earlier this year, he formed a law/lobbying practice with former state Sen. Martha Escutia, D-Whittier, and veteran Democratic strategist Richie Ross; The Senators (Ret.) Firm LLP‘s lobbying clients have included the California Coalition of Option Schools and McGraw-Hill Education.

“I am honored to have been offered this position. My life commitment has been to the legal profession, and there is no better way I can think of to show that commitment than to assist the Board of Governors with its work at the State Bar,” Dunn said in a State Bar news release.

Judy Johnson, the State Bar’s executive director for more than a decade, resigned in January but has stayed on as a consultant through February 2011; Dunn will take over sometime after the State Bar’s annual convention later this week in Monterey.

State Bar President-elect Bill Hebert said he was “extremely pleased that after a thorough search that Senator Dunn, with his extensive background and experience, has been named to the position. He will be a major aid to the Board of Governors as we advance the mission of the Bar and seek to meet the challenges facing the legal profession.”

The State Bar, created by the state legislature in 1927, is a public corporation within the judicial branch of government, serving as an arm of the California Supreme Court. Membership is mandatory for all attorneys licensed to practice law in the state; with more than 226,000 members, it’s by far the nation’s largest state bar.