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Fri08182017

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On this week's nuclear-war-fearing weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World reveals the backstory behind Trump's lies about phone calls; Jen Sorenson examines how the Trump administration is playing the Country Card; The K Chronicles features touching words from a child; Red Meat shows off Earl's motherly side; and ApocaClips looks at the interplay Peter Pence and Tink.

Published in Comics

A thick fog is rolling in over Sunshine Week (March 12-18), the annual event when government transparency advocates raise awareness about the importance of access to public records.

We are entering an age when officials at the highest levels seek to discredit critical reporting with “alternative facts,” “fake news” slurs and selective access to press conferences—while making their own claims without providing much in the way to substantiate them.

But no matter how much the pundits claim we’re entering a “post-truth” era, it is crucial we defend the idea of proof. Proof is in the bureaucratic paper trails. Proof is in the accounting ledgers, the legal memos, the audits and the police reports. Proof is in the data. When it comes to government actions, that proof is often obtained by leveraging laws like the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and state-level public records laws—except when government officials seek to ignore the rules to suppress evidence.

While the attacks on transparency today may be worse than ever, they are nothing new. As award-winning investigative reporter Shane Bauer recently posted on Twitter: “I’ve been stonewalled by the government throughout my journalistic career. I’m seriously baffled by people acting like this is brand new.”

For the third year, the Electronic Frontier Foundation presents “The Foilies,” our anti-awards identifying the times when access to information has been stymied, or when government agencies have responded in the most absurd ways to records requests. Think of it as the Golden Raspberries, but for government transparency, where the bad actors are actually going off script to deny the public the right to understand what business is being conducted on their behalf.

To compile these awards, EFF solicited nominations from around the country and scoured through news stories and the #FOIAFriday Twitter threads to find the worst, the silliest and the most ridiculous responses to request for public information.

The Make America Opaque Again Award: President Donald Trump

A commitment to public transparency should start at the top.

But from the beginning of his campaign, President Trump has instead committed to opacity by refusing to release his tax returns, citing concerns about an ongoing IRS audit. Now that he’s in office, Trump’s critics, ethics experts and even some allies have called on him to release his tax returns and prove that he has eliminated potential conflicts of interest and sufficiently distanced himself from the businesses in his name that stand to make more money now that he’s in office. But the Trump administration has not changed its stance.

No matter where you stand on the political spectrum, the American public should be outraged that we now have the first sitting president since the 1970s to avoid such a baseline transparency tradition.

The Hypocrisy Award: Former Indiana Governor—and current Vice President—Mike Pence

Vice President Mike Pence cared a lot about transparency and accountability in 2016, especially when it came to email. A campaign appearance couldn’t go by without Pence or his running mate criticizing Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton for using a private email server during her tenure as Secretary of State. In fact, the Foilies honored Clinton last year for her homebrewed email approach.

But Pence seemed much less bothered by those transparency and accountability concerns when he used a private AOL email address to conduct official business as Indiana’s governor. The Indianapolis Star reported in February that Pence used the account to communicate “with top advisors on topics ranging from security gates at the governor’s residence to the state’s response to terror attacks across the globe.” That means that critical homeland security information was kept in an account likely less secure than government accounts (his account was reportedly hacked, too), and Pence’s communications were shielded from government records requirements.

The Frogmarch Award: Town of White Castle, La.

The only thing that could’ve made reporter Chris Nakamoto’s public records request in the small town of White Castle, La., a more absurd misadventure is if he’d brought Harold and Kumar along with him.

As chief investigator for WBRZ in Baton Rouge, Nakamoto filed records requests regarding the White Castle mayor’s salary. But when he turned up with a camera crew at city hall in March 2016 to demand missing documents, he was escorted out in handcuffs, locked in a holding cell for an hour, and charged with a misdemeanor for “remaining after being forbidden.” What’s worse is that Nakamoto was summoned to appear before the “Mayor’s Court,” a judicial proceeding conducted by the very same mayor Nakamoto was investigating. Nakamoto lawyered up, and the charges were dropped two months later.

“If anything, my arrest showed that if they’ll do that to me, and I have the medium to broadcast and let people know what’s happening to me, think about how they’re treating any citizen in that town,” Nakamoto says.

The Arts and Crafts Award: Public Health Agency of Canada

Journalists are used to receiving documents covered with cross-outs and huge black boxes. But in May 2016, Associated Press reporters encountered a unique form of redaction from Public Health Agency of Canada when seeking records related to the Ebola outbreak.

As journalist Raphael Satter wrote in a letter complaining to the agency: “It appears that PHAC staff botched their attempt to redact the documents, using bits of tape and loose pieces of paper to cover information which they tried to withhold. By the time it came into my hands, much of the tape had worn off, and the taped pieces had been torn.”

Even the wryest transparency advocates were amused when Satter wrote about the redaction art project on Twitter, but the incident did have more serious implications. At least three Sierra Leonean medical patients had their personal information exposed. Lifting up the tape also revealed how the agency redacted information that the reporters believed should’ve been public, such as email signatures.

The Office of the Privacy Commissioner of Canada said it would investigate, but Satter says he hasn’t heard anything back for 10 months.

The Whoa There, Cowboy Award: Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke

Milwaukee Sheriff David Clarke rose to prominence in 2016 as one of then-candidate Donald Trump’s top surrogates. He made inflammatory remarks about the Black Lives Matter movement, such as calling them a hate group and linking them to ISIS. But the press has also been a regular target of his.

Milwaukee Journal Sentinel Political Watchdog Columnist Daniel Bice filed a series of records requests with the sheriff’s office, demanding everything from calendars, to details about an NRA-funded trip to Israel, to records related to a series of jail deaths. So far, Clarke has been extremely slow to release this information, while being extremely quick to smear the reporter on the sheriff’s official Facebook page. Clarke frequently refers to the publication as the “Urinal Sentinel” and has diagnosed Bice with “Sheriff Clarke Derangement Syndrome.”

“I deal with open records requests with local governments and police departments. I do it at the city, county and state level,” Bice says. “He’s by far the worst for responding to public records.”

In May 2016, Clarke published a short essay on Facebook titled, “When Journalism Becomes an Obsession.” Clarke claimed that after he rejected Bice’s request for an interview, Bice retaliated with a series of public records requests, ignoring the fact that these requests are both routine and are often reporter’s only recourse when an official refuses to answer questions.

“This lazy man’s way of putting together newspaper columns uses tax-paid, government employees as pseudo-interns to help him gather information to write stories,” Clarke wrote.

Memo to Clarke: Requesting and reviewing public records is tedious and time-consuming, and certainly not the way to score an easy scoop. If anything, ranting on Facebook, then issuing one-sentence news releases about those Facebook posts, are the lazy man’s way of being accountable to your constituents.

The Longhand Award: Portland Commissioner Amanda Fritz

A local citizen in Portland, Ore., filed a records request to find out everyone that City Commissioner Amanda Fritz had blocked or muted from her Twitter account. This should’ve been easy. However, Fritz decided to go the long way, scribbling down each and every handle on a sheet of paper. She then rescanned that list in, and sent it back to the requester.

The records did show that Fritz had decided to hush accounts that were trying to affect public policy, such as @DoBetterPDX, which focuses on local efforts to help homeless people, and anonymous self-described urban activist @jegjehPDX.

Here’s a tip for officials who receive similar requests: All you need to do is go to your “Settings and Privacy” page, select the “Muted accounts” or “Blocked accounts” tab, and then click “export your list.”

The Wrong Address Award: U.S. Department of Justice

America Rising PAC, a conservative opposition research committee, has been filing FOIA requests on a number of issues, usually targeting Democrats. Following Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia’s passing, the PAC sent a FOIA to the attorney general seeking emails referencing the death.

But America Rising never received a response acknowledging that the DOJ received the request. That’s because the DOJ sent it to a random federal inmate serving time on child-pornography charges. The offender, however, was nice enough to forward the message to the PAC with a note railing against the “malicious incompetence” of the Obama administration.

The Redaction of Interest Award: General Services Administration

One of the threads that reporters have tried to unravel through the Trump campaign is how the prolific businessman would separate himself from his financial interests, especially regarding his 30-year contract with the federal government to build a Trump International Hotel at the location of the federally owned Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., a paper airplane’s flight from the White House.

BuzzFeed filed a FOIA request with the General Services Administration for a copy of the contract. What they received was a highly redacted document that raised more questions than it answered, including what role Trump’s family plays in the project.

“The American taxpayer would have no clue who was getting the lease to the building,” says reporter Aram Roston, who was investigating how Trump failed to uphold promises made when he put in a proposal for the project. “You wouldn’t know who owned this project.”

After pushing back, BuzzFeed was able to get certain sections unredacted, including evidence that Trump’s three children—Ivanka, Donald Jr. and Eric—all received a 7.425 percent stake through their LLCs, seemingly without injecting any money of their own.

The Fake News Award: Santa Maria Police Department

In 2015, the Santa Maria Police Department in California joined many other agencies in using the online service Nixle to distribute public information in lieu of press releases. The agency told citizens to sign up for “trustworthy information.”

Less than a year later, police broke that trust. The Santa Maria Police posted to its Nixle account a report that two individuals had been arrested and deported, which was promptly picked up the local press. Months later, court documents revealed that it had all been a lie to ostensibly help the individuals—who had been targeted for murder by a rival gang—escape the city.

Police were fiercely unapologetic. The agency has yet to remove the offending alert from Nixle or offer any kind of addendum, a direct violation of Nixle’s terms of service, which prohibits the transmission of “fraudulent, deceptive or misleading communications” through the service.

The Stupid Meter Award: Elster Solutions, Landis+Gyr, Ericsson

In May 2016, several smart meter companies sued transparency website MuckRock and one of its users, Phil Mocek, in a failed attempt to permanently remove documents from the website that they claimed contained trade secrets. Some of the companies initially obtained a court order requiring MuckRock to take down public records posted to the site that the city of Seattle had already released to the requester.

But in their rush to censor MuckRock and its user, the companies overlooked one small detail: the First Amendment. The Constitution plainly protected MuckRock’s ability to publish public records one of its users lawfully obtained from the city of Seattle, regardless of whether they contained trade secrets. A judge quickly agreed, ruling that the initial order was unconstitutional and allowing the documents to be reposted on MuckRock. The case and several others filed against MuckRock and its user later settled or were dismissed outright. The documents continue to be hosted on MuckRock for all to see.

The Least Productive Beta Testing Award: Federal Bureau of Investigation

The FBI spent most of 2016 doing what might be charitably described as beta testing a proprietary online FOIA portal that went live in March. But beta testing is probably a misnomer, because it implies that the site actually improved after its initial rollout.

The FBI’s year of “beta testing” included initially proposing a requirement that requesters submit a copy of their photo ID before submitting a request via the portal, and also imposed “operating hours” and limited the number of requests an individual could file per day.

Yet even after the FBI walked back from those proposals, the site appears designed to frustrate the public’s ability to make the premiere federal law enforcement agency more transparent. The portal limits the types of requests that can be filed digitally to people seeking information about themselves or others. Requesters cannot use the site to request information about FBI operations or activities, otherwise known as the bread and butter of FOIA requests. Oh, and the portal’s webform is capped at 3,000 characters, so brevity is very much appreciated!

Worse, now that the portal is online, the FBI has stopped accepting FOIA requests via email, meaning fax and snail mail are now supposed to be the primary (frustratingly slow) means of sending requests to the FBI. It almost seems like the FBI is affirmatively trying to make it hard to submit FOIA requests.

The Undermining Openness Award: U.S. Department of Justice

Documents released in 2016 in response to a FOIA lawsuit by the Freedom of the Press Foundation show that the U.S. Department of Justice secretly lobbied Congress in 2014 to kill a FOIA reform bill that had unanimously passed the U.S. House of Representatives 410-0.

But the secret axing of an overwhelmingly popular transparency bill wasn’t even the most odious aspect of DOJ’s behavior. In talking points disclosed via the lawsuit, DOJ strongly opposed codifying a “presumption of openness,” a provision that would assume by default that every government record should be disclosed to the public unless an agency could show that its release could result in foreseeable harm.

DOJ’s argument: “The proposed amendment is unacceptably damaging to the proper administration of FOIA and of the government as a whole,” which is bureaucratese for something like: “What unhinged transparency nut came up with this crazy presumption of openness idea, anyway?”

That would be Barack Obama, whose FOIA guidance on his first day in office back in 2009 was the blueprint for the presumption-of-openness language included in the bill. Perhaps DOJ thought it had to save Obama from himself?

DOJ’s fearmongering won out, and the bill died. Two years later, Congress eventually passed a much-weaker FOIA reform bill, but it did include the presumption of openness DOJ had previously fought against.

We’re still waiting for the “government as a whole” to collapse.

The Outrageous Fee Award: Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services

When public agencies get requests for digital data, officials can usually simply submit a query straight to the relevant database. But not in Missouri, apparently, where officials must use handcrafted, shade-grown database queries by public records artisans.

At least that’s the only explanation we can come up with for why the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services estimated that it would take roughly 35,000 hours and $1.5 million to respond to an exceedingly simple request for state birth and death data.

Nonprofit Reclaim the Records, whose name eloquently sums up its mission, believed that a simple database query, combined with copy and paste, was all that was needed to fulfill its request. Missouri officials begged to differ, estimating that it would take them the equivalent of a person working around the clock for more than four years to compile the list by hand.

Although the fee estimate is not the highest the Foilies has ever seen—that honor goes to the Pentagon for its $660 million estimate in response to a MuckRock user’s FOIA request last year—Missouri’s estimate was outrageous. Stranger still, the agency later revised their estimated costs down to $5,000 without any real explanation. Reclaim the Records tried negotiating further with officials, but to no avail, as officials ultimately said they could not fulfill the request.

Reclaim the Records has since filed a lawsuit for the data.

The Dehumanization Award: Lafayette City Marshall

Public officials often dehumanize the news media to score cheap points … but can the same ploy work when fighting public records requests? That’s the issue in a very strange case between the IND, a Lafayette, La., media outlet, and a city marshal. After the marshal lost his bid to keep records secret in the trial court, he appealed on the grounds that IND had no right to bring the lawsuit in the first place.

The marshal, who faced fines, community service and house arrest for failing to turn over records, argues that Louisiana’s public records law requires that a living, breathing human make a request, not a corporate entity such as IND.

Make no mistake: There is no dispute that an actual human filed the request, which sought records relating to a bizarre news conference in which the marshal allegedly used his public office to make baseless allegations against a political opponent. Instead, the dispute centers on a legal formalism of whether IND can sue on its own behalf, rather than suing under the name of the reporter. The marshal’s seemingly ridiculous argument does have some basis in the text of the statute, which defines a requester as a person who is at least 18 years old.

That said, it’s an incredibly cynical argument, putting the letter well over the spirit of the law in what appears to be a well-documented effort by the marshal to violate the law and block public access. We hope the learned Louisiana appellate judges see through this blatant attempt to short-circuit the public records law.

The Lethal Redaction Award: States of Texas and Arizona

BuzzFeed reporters Chris McDaniel and Tasneem Nashrulla have been on a quest to find out where states like Texas and Arizona are obtaining drugs used for lethal injection, as some pharmaceutical suppliers have decided not to participate in the capital punishment machine. But these states are fighting to keep the names of their new suppliers secret, refusing to release anything identifying the companies in response to BuzzFeed’s FOIA requests.

At the crux of the investigation is whether the states attempted to obtain the drugs illegally from India. At least one shipment is currently being detained by the FDA. The reason for transparency is obvious if one looks only at one previously botched purchase the reporters uncovered: Texas had tried to source pentobarbital from an Indian company called Provizer Pharma, run by five 20-year-olds. Indian authorities raided their offices for allegedly selling psychotropic drugs and opioids before the order could be fulfilled.

The Poor Note-taker Award: Secretary of the Massachusetts Commonwealth

Updates to Massachusetts’ public records laws were set to take effect in January 2016, with Secretary of the Commonwealth William Galvin tasked with promulgating new regulations to clear up the vague language of the law. But Galvin didn’t exactly take his duty seriously. Instead, he crafted a regulation allowing his office to dodge requirements that public records appeals be handled in a timely fashion.

However, no regulation could take affect without public hearing. So he went through the motions and dispatched an underling to sit at a table and wait out the public comment—but didn’t keep any kind of record of what was said. A close-up captured by a Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism reporter showed a pen lying on a blank pad of paper. Asked by a reporter about the lack of notes, the underling said, “I was just here to conduct this hearing. That’s all I can say.”

The Foilies were compiled by EFF Investigative researcher Dave Maass, Frank Stanton legal fellow Aaron Mackey, and policy analyst Kate Tummarello. The Electronic Frontier Foundation is a San Francisco-based nonprofit that defends civil liberties at the crossroads of technology and the law. Read more about EFF and how to support our work at eff.org.

Published in Features

The different reactions to marijuana legalization by Coachella Valley’s cities have been varied … to say the least.

Palm Springs has always been forward-thinking where cannabis is concerned, and Desert Hot Springs, Cathedral City and Coachella are now wisely looking to cash in on the green rush. Meanwhile, Palm Desert and Rancho Mirage are going in the other direction by doing their best to slow access—or ban weed altogether.

Now Indian Wells has enacted the most draconian policies yet in the wake of Proposition 64’s November voter approval.

Indian Wells recently passed an ordinance that requires residents who wish to grow marijuana at home for personal use, as allowed by Prop 64, to register with City Hall for a permit—and pay a $141-per-year fee.

Marijuana activists and legal experts alike are attacking the law as unconstitutional, but that didn’t prevent the City Council from passing the ordinance in a 4-1 vote.

Councilman Ty Peabody abstained. Later, according to The Desert Sun, he commented: “I just don’t believe in marijuana,” citing the continuing federal ban.

(What does that even mean? Has he been under a rock the last couple decades?)

In addition to the yearly fee attached to the permit, Indian Wells residents would be required by law to allow city employees to inspect their homes to determine compliance with state and local laws.

While Prop 64 does allow jurisdictions to enact reasonable regulations on a local level, the Indian Wells’ requirements represent a vast overreach, according to multiple experts on the law. In fact, Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), said this may the tightest regulation passed in California to date.

“Proposition 64 states: ‘A city, county, or city and county may enact and enforce reasonable regulations to reasonably regulate’ the indoor cultivation of marijuana by adults,” Armentano told the Independent via e-mail. “However, this proposal clearly stretches the idea of what would be considered ‘reasonable.’ We would not expect adults to register with the city or to submit to inspections of their home if they were brewing their own alcohol, and we should not expect adults to give up their civil liberties and privacy rights to engage in indoor marijuana gardening—activity that is now perfectly legal under state law.”

Dale Gieringer, the director of California NORML, also compared home growers of marijuana to home brewers, and questioned the usefulness of such a law.

“We believe the Indian Wells ordinance violates Prop 64,” he said. “Prop 64 authorizes ‘reasonable’ regulations of personal-use cultivation. Why doesn’t it impose the same regulations on indoor growing of all plants, or on home brewing of beer and wine? This is an obnoxious exercise in over-regulation and an affront to personal privacy. Don’t Indian Wells officials have anything better to do?”

“Unconstitutional” and “crazy” are words used to describe the ordinance by attorney and cannabis law expert Omar Figueroa of Sonoma County. In a conversation with The Desert Sun, he cited the 1969 U.S. Supreme Court Case Leary v. United States, which ruled that “self-incrimination” can’t be required by state or local agencies, due to the Fifth Amendment.

“It’s not a constitutionally enforceable law,” he told The Desert Sun. “It would be foolish of them to enforce it.”

Joy Brown Meredith, the founder and president of Joy of Life Wellness Center, Palm Springs’ sixth licensed dispensary, said she’s happy to be located in a less-restrictive Coachella Valley city.

“I’m glad Palm Springs is more progressive than Indian Wells,” she said. “What is the purpose of the permit and all the identification requirements if not to intimidate people to feel uneasy about growing this amazing plant?”

Indian Wells, Rancho Mirage, Palm Desert, Indio and La Quinta have banned dispensaries and cultivation. The city of Coachella allows manufacturing and cultivation in a specific zone of the city, but not dispensaries or delivery.

Rancho Mirage and Indian Wells recently amended their respective bans to include recreational marijuana businesses in the wake of Prop 64.


DEA: CBD and all other cannabis extracts are on Schedule I

Continuing its steady march backward, the Drug Enforcement Administration has lumped all marijuana extracts—including CBD—into marijuana’s Schedule I classification, making every form of the cannabis plant illegal under federal law.

The new code defines extracts as “containing one or more cannabinoids that (have) been derived from any plant of the genus Cannabis, other than the separated resin (whether crude or purified) obtained from the plant.”

The DEA says it’s merely a way to keep better track of research and shipments of extracts versus flowers, by assigning extracts their own code. But the new rule states clearly: “For practical purposes, all extracts that contain CBD will also contain at least small amounts of other cannabinoids. … However, if it were possible to produce from the cannabis plant an extract that contained only CBD and no other cannabinoids, such an extract would fall within the new drug code.”

CBD occurs naturally in cannabis, but unlike THC, it doesn’t get the user high. CBD has been successful in the treatment of tumors, epilepsy, chronic pain and many other ailments. To date, CBD has been legalized in 20 states and Washington, D.C., for medicinal use. While these state laws will not be affected by the new code, those laws will now be more specifically in conflict with federal law.

Congress could still act to reschedule CBD and other extracts. The Cannabidiol Research Expansion Act was introduced in the Senate last year to ease research restrictions on CBD, but stalled—despite support from both sides of the aisle.

Currently, the federal government has a laissez-faire stance regarding state cannabis laws; in other words, the feds are letting states call the shots for their citizens. However, considering the anti-pot crusaders prevalent in the incoming Trump administration—including Vice President-elect Mike Pence and attorney general pick Ken “good people don’t smoke marijuana” Sessions—one must wonder how long that attitude will last.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

As the GOP geared up for its national convention in Cleveland, Republican delegates decided what would be included in the official party platform—and amid wildly inaccurate and unproven claims, cannabis reform was rejected.

Some of the anti-cannabis arguments were some real gems, including claims that mass murderers are all pot-smokers, and that there are links between marijuana and current heroin- and opioids-addiction epidemics. Seriously.

In fairness to the GOP, some delegates fought to get medical marijuana endorsed by the Republicans. “It’s not like we’re talking about Cheech and Chong here, folks. We’re talking about allowing people with debilitating conditions to ease their suffering,” Maryland delegate Ben Marchi said, according to HuffingtonPost.com. Alas, arguments like those given by Marchi weren’t enough to extricate the collective GOP delegate heads from their sandy hiding places: The measure was defeated on the second vote.

Then there’s Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee. In keeping with the GOP’s complete disregard for the will and welfare of the people, Pence was tapped to join Donald Trump on what will hopefully be a disastrous presidential ticket for the GOP.

The nut, in a nutshell:

• Indiana is the home of some of the harshest marijuana laws in the United States. Possession of even a small amount of cannabis is still punishable by 180 days in jail and a $1,000 fine under the Pence administration.

• A proponent of the disastrous and failed War on Drugs, Pence still clings to the repeatedly disproven theory that cannabis is a gateway drug. He referred to it as such in a 2012 gubernatorial debate, and went on to say: “I would not support the decriminalization of marijuana. I’ve seen too many people become involved with marijuana and get sidetracked. We need to get more serious about confronting the scourge of drugs.”

• In 2013, Indiana House Bill 1006 would have revised Indiana’s criminal code—including a reduction in punishment for marijuana charges. However, Pence refused to sign the bill until the clause was dropped, and cannabis was reclassified up to a Class B misdemeanor. This was in direct opposition to the will of Indiana voters: Just a few months before HB 1006’s passage, a Howey/DePauw poll asked the state’s voters: “Currently it is a misdemeanor crime in Indiana to possess a small amount of marijuana. The legislature may consider making it an infraction rather than a crime to possess a small amount of marijuana. Do you favor or oppose making possession of a small amount of marijuana an infraction rather than a crime?” Poll respondents favored decriminalization by a margin of 54 percent to 37 percent.

So much for democracy.

Trump himself has been all over the place on this issue, saying in 1990 that recreational use should be legalized, and that the tax revenue should be used for drug education. Since his run for president kicked off, he’s moved a bit to the right, saying in October of last year to the Washington Post: “Marijuana is such a big thing. I think medical should happen—right? Don’t we agree? ... And then I really believe we should leave it up to the states.” This seems like a pretty reasonable position to most Americans, including many Republicans.

What influence Pence will have on The Donald’s platform remains to be seen—but you can bet it won’t be favorable to the plant. If the GOP slate is elected, the results could be disastrous for the legalization movement.


On the Bright Side

Colorado is set to reach $1 billion in cannabis sales in 2016. This is not only great news for the cannabis industry; it’s great news for the state’s coffers. In addition to the 2.9 percent sales tax in the state, Colorado collects an additional 10 percent sales tax on cannabis and a 15 percent excise tax that is designated for school construction.

The population of Colorado is a little more than 5.4 million, and the state is doing a billion a year in cannabis sales. Try to imagine what those figures will be in California when recreational use becomes legal. According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, 15.09 percent of Colorado residents use cannabis. That’s around 814,860 tokers. Compare that to the 12.88 percent of California’s 39,144,818 residents who light up—a total of 5,041,852 Golden State smokers. There are 1,623 dispensaries registered with the California Board of Equalization. In 2014, California medical-marijuana dispensaries reported $570 million in taxable income. That meant $49.5 million in taxes paid to the state, and recreational use is still to come.

Any way you pose it, California has a huge financial boon coming with legalization.


A Dose of Irony From Coalinga

The Claremont Custody Center in the Central California city of Coalinga had a capacity of more than 500 state inmates until it was shuttered by the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation in 2011, and has been sitting unused since.

Now Ocean Grown Extracts has struck a deal with the city to purchase the former prison for $4.1 million. (Timely, since the city is $3.8 million in debt.) The plan is to convert the former prison into a marijuana-extracts production center.

“It’s like the Grateful Dead said: ‘What a long, strange trip it’s been,’” Coalinga Mayor Pro Tem Patrick Keough said to The Fresno Bee after he and council members approved the plan in a 4-1 vote. “We listened to the citizens and created a package that was reflective of our population.”

The re-purposed building will be a natural fit for a business that requires strict security and 24-hour surveillance. The new facility is expected to bring 100 new jobs to the town.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Before Mike Pence was bestowed the responsibility of being governor of Indiana in 2013, he served six terms in Congress, from 2001-2013.

As the head of the state of Indiana, his political viewpoints have been blindly thrown onto the state within the past few years. (Most notable was his championing of a controversial “religious objections” bill in 2015 that would have allowed discrimination against LGBT individuals.) However, his congressional record contains even more information about his views—and now that Pence is Donald Trump’s vice presidential pick, it’s a good time to take a look at exactly who Mike Pence is, and how he’s voted.

As a Republican member of Congress, Pence strongly opposed the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) and worked to decrease tax hikes. He worked to strongly limit reproductive rights, advocated for conservatism in traditional marriage, voted no on government bailouts and stimulus packages, and voted no for additional federal funding for education, among many other things.

During his time in Congress, Pence worked hard to push a far-right agenda and was known to frequently bring his religious agenda into his political positions.

Regarding marriage, at the 2008 Conservative Political Action Conference, Pence said: “The future of conservatism demands that we stand for the traditional definition of marriage. Marriage was ordained by God and instituted in law. It is the glue of the American family and the safest harbor to raise children. Conservatives must defend traditional marriage by passing the Federal Marriage Amendment.”

Pence voted yes on a constitutional amendment to make same-sex marriage illegal, no on a prohibition of job discrimination based on sexual orientation, and no on enforcing laws against anti-gay hate crimes. The Human Rights Campaign has given him a 0 percent rating due to his anti-gay-rights stances.

Time and again, Pence voted against measures to increase government funding for those living in poverty and on welfare. He voted against providing additional funding for Section 8 Vouchers, increasing the minimum wage, expanding Medicare, expanding State Children’s Health Insurance Program eligibility and funding, and $84 million in grants for colleges where the majority of the student population lives below the poverty line.

Environmentally, Pence’s congressional track record leans far to the right as well. He strongly opposed replacing coal and oil with alternatives, and opposes Environmental Protection Agency regulations of greenhouse gases. Pence voted no on tax incentives for renewable energy, yes on the authorization of the construction of new oil refineries, and yes on the drilling of the outer continental shelf.

On the issue of immigration, Pence worked in Congress to end birthright citizenship, championing a proposal that aimed to deny children automatic citizenship if they were born in the U.S. to illegal immigrant parents. He also supported an effort to build a fence on the Mexican border. He voted yes on reporting aliens who receive hospital treatment.

Pence is a big advocate for Second Amendment rights and has been given the grade of an A+ by the NRA.

Meanwhile, Mike Pence has a 7 percent rating from the American Civil Liberties Union and a 22 percent rating by the NAACP.

How well do Trump and Pence go together? This statement from Pence says it all: “More than anything else, let me be clear: We need to be willing to fight for freedom, and free markets, and traditional moral values. That’s what the American people want to see this movement and this party return to.”

No one can sum up Mike Pence other than himself: “I'm a Christian, a conservative and a Republican, in that order.”

This piece originally appeared in NUVO, the alternative newsweekly in Indianapolis.

Published in Politics