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Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

The final few weeks of this year’s session of the California State Legislature are here—and the fates of some important cannabis-related bills hang in the balance.

There are 17 cannabis-related bills, in fact, which must be decided on by the Aug. 31 adjournment, covering everything from after-school program funding to the veterinary use of cannabis. As this new industry continues to evolve, it’s important to pay attention—and speak up to ensure lawmakers in Sacramento know what the people of California think.

Here’s a list of those bills, and where they stand as of this posting on Aug. 14. Click the links to each bill to go to the Legislature’s website for up-to-date information.

AB 1744: This bill would mandate that cannabis-tax revenues be used to fund after-school education and safety programs—specifically programs that encourage healthy choices and improve school retention.

This bill is currently in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee. It should be a no-brainer; it passed the Assembly 73-0 and has sailed through two Senate committees so far.

AB 1793: This is a social justice bill, requiring the California Department of Justice to review all convictions that are potentially eligible for resentencing under the Adult Use of Marijuana Act of 2016 and Proposition 64.

This bill would go a long way toward addressing the historical use of marijuana convictions to punish communities of color, although it is a far cry from general amnesty. This bill passed the Assembly in a 43-28 vote and is also in the hands of the Senate Appropriations Committee. Legislators should show the wisdom and compassion to address these historic wrongs.

AB 1863: This would personal income-tax deductions for licensed cannabis businesses. It, too, is waiting for a hearing in the Senate Appropriations Committee after passing the Assembly in a 64-11 vote.

“Canna-preneurs” should have the same tax advantages as any other business owner. This is particularly important for small business owners.

AB 1996: This would create a cannabis research program here in California.

Using cannabis taxes to study cannabis seems perfectly reasonable—especially considering federal prohibition has created a vacuum of research. Without a thorough understanding of cannabis, how can we make informed decisions around its usage?

It is currently making its way through the Senate after a 73-0 vote in the Assembly.

AB 2020 and AB 2641: The former bill would authorize temporary event licenses, while the latter would allow for onsite sales at those events. Both easily passed through the Assembly and are in the hands of the Senate.

Last April, High Times magazine’s Cannabis Cup event in San Bernardino was denied permits for sales … meaning the nation’s largest cannabis convention was held without any cannabis. These bills will hopefully eliminate this sort of snafu in the future.

AB 2215: This bill is a bit confusing. The California Veterinary Medical Board currently does not allow doctors to discuss or prescribe cannabis—and can revoke their license for doing so.

The good news: This bill would prohibit the board from punishing vets for discussing cannabis. The band news: It would still be illegal for veterinarians to prescribe cannabis for pets, while the Veterinary Medical Board comes up with guidelines.

This bill passed the Assembly, 60-10, and is working its way through the Senate

AB 2255: This proposed law would prohibit licensed distributors from transporting amounts of cannabis that exceed the amount on the shipping manifest. It unanimously passed in the Assembly and is expected to easily pass in the Senate.

AB 2402: The bill would prohibit marijuana businesses from sharing your personal information without your consent—and would prohibit them from denying you service for withholding consent. It passed the Assembly unanimously and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2555: This is a “cleanup” bill that would create definitions for terms in state marijuana codes, including “immature cannabis plant,” “mature cannabis plant” and “plant.” It’s in the Senate’s hands after unanimously passing in the Assembly.

AB 2899: This is also a “cleanup” bill that would prohibit businesses with suspended licenses from advertising. It, too, passed unanimously in the Assembly and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2914: I have mixed feelings about this one. It prohibits cannabis licensees from producing or selling alcoholic beverages containing cannabis, and would stop alcoholic-beverage licensees from selling or providing cannabis products.

I have had wine with cannabis in it … and let’s just say a little goes a long way. This bill may prevent lots of Californians from getting the spins … but does seem a bit “nanny state.”

It passed through the Assembly unanimously and is working its way through the Senate.

AB 2980: This would allow two or more licensed marijuana business to share common-use areas. Office and warehouse space is expensive, especially for small businesses, as long as they are complying with the law, why should they be treated differently from any other businesses?

It passed the Assembly in a 48-21 vote and is in the Senate’s hands.

AB 924: This would create the Cannabis Regulatory Enforcement Act for Tribal Entities, forming a process through which the state can interact with sovereign tribes that are producing cannabis products.

It unanimously passed through the Assembly and is awaiting word from the Senate Appropriations Committee.

SB 1459: This would allow county agricultural commissioners to include cannabis in its reporting process to the State Secretary of Food and Agriculture.

It unanimously passed through the Senate and is working its way through the Assembly.

SB 829: This bill would establish compassionate-care licenses for donors of medical use cannabis products to patients who are in need.

It was passed unanimously by the Senate and is now working its way through the Assembly.

SB 930: This is probably the piece of legislation that would do the most to reform the cannabis industry, making things better for the legal market and negatively impacting the illegal market.

This bill would create a state-sponsored credit union for licensed marijuana businesses to use. Because of federal prohibition, cannabis businesses can’t use the banking system, meaning most cannabis business deal with vast amounts of cash, making them vulnerable to crime. I have heard of bud-tenders being paid with stacks of $5 bills, landlords receiving thousands of dollars of rent in cash, and so on.

It passed the Senate on a 32-6 vote and is working its way through the Assembly.

It’s great to see so much work being done in Sacramento to reform and strengthen California’s cannabis industry. However, it’s disappointing that not one of these 17 bills was introduced by a Coachella Valley legislator. Considering the blooming importance of cannabis to our economy, it’s disappointing that these state legislators seem indifferent to the needs of their constituents.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The passage of Proposition 64 not only decriminalized the adult use of marijuana; the Adult Use of Marijuana Act created a path for people to have prior pot convictions reduced—or entirely cleared from their records.

The legislation specifies that people can initiate this process on their own, but in some counties—most notably San Francisco and San Diego—district attorneys have taken it upon themselves to review cases and reduce or dismiss convictions.

Those who oppose relief from prior convictions often say that since a crime was committed—marijuana was illegal then, after all—people need to face the consequences. But this same argument did not hold water for alcohol Prohibition—and should people continue to pay for a crime that was the result of misguided government policies?

This is a social-justice issue—one that all of us who care about our democracy should pay attention to. Why? People of color were much more likely to be arrested and convicted under the old laws. In fact, recent studies have shown that although whites and people of color use marijuana at about the same rate, black people are almost four times as likely, and Latinos two to three times as likely, to have faced arrest—even for possession of a small amount of marijuana. An old pot conviction can negatively impact a person’s ability to vote, get a job, rent an apartment and get student loans—and it can affect child-custody and immigration decisions. Therefore, it is particularly important for the government to ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law.

Prop 64 makes it clear that not everyone is eligible for conviction reductions or dismissals: The law specifies that this relief is reserved for those with relatively low-level offenses. A person with a history of violence, multiple convictions or convictions for selling to minors is not eligible to have his or her records expunged or reduced. In other words, hard-core drug dealers and people working for drug cartels are unlikely to somehow be set free.

Here’s hoping that other district attorneys around the state choose to follow the lead of San Diego and San Francisco counties and review old convictions—because it can be expensive and intimidating for people to initiate the process on their own. If someone can’t get a job or student loans because of a past marijuana conviction, it’s unlikely that person can afford a lawyer. The Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations are hosting free expungement clinics, where lawyers and paralegals are present to help, but they tend to happen in and around larger cities—with none planned here in the Coachella Valley that I could find. (If you know of any, please let us know.) That means someone from here would need to drive into Los Angeles on the chance they might get to speak to a lawyer about possibly having an old conviction reduced. Also: This is not the most well-known piece of the law, and the government is unlikely to publicize this information—so spread the word.

San Diego has already reduced the records of more than 700 people, and has identified more than 4,000 people who may be able to access this relief—yet Riverside County so far has reminded silent. Although a great number of people in the county have applied to have their records reduced or cleared, as of this writing, the office of District Attorney Mike Hestrin has made no public comment, nor did anyone from the office respond to my inquiries about plans to relive this burden. As a community that prides itself on progressive values, it’s incumbent upon us to put pressure on our local elected officials.

Legislative help may be on the way: Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Alameda, introduced Assembly Bill 1793 in January to “to allow automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction,” but the legislative process is a slow one. The bill went through its first reading in early January, and there has been no movement since. One possible reason for inaction: The Legislature would also need to provide financial resources to assist the counties in doing this work.

Real people continue to be harmed by old laws that the voters of the state of California have thrown out. Old felony convictions that today would be, at worst, misdemeanors—and possibly not even worthy of arrest—are keeping a disproportionate number of African Americans and Mexican Americans from fully participating in our democracy. After all, a right delayed is a right denied.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

On Jan. 1, weed aficionados in California were finally able to do what they say they’ve always wanted—legally buy marijuana, no prescription required.

But small farmers who had been selling on the black market were not uniformly delighted by the change.

For decades, the illegal-weed industry has been lucrative. Then came increasing legalization that created its own boom: In the United States, the total medical and recreational market for pot is expected to hit $2.6 billion in revenue this year, reports the Financial Times. Nine states have now legalized recreational sales, and 29 states have legalized medical marijuana. Colorado alone recorded nearly $4.5 billion in sales since recreational stores opened on Jan 1, 2014.

But many small farmers in California worry about this new world of legal pot. They’ve been the backbone of the industry through the drug-war years of heavy enforcement and heavy penalties, and they know all too well what it’s like to live as outlaws. They now fear that big agriculture will take over the industry that some of them pioneered and worked in for generations.

Under Proposition 64, also called the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, after Jan. 1, 2023, there will be no state cap in California on the size or production amount of marijuana farms. David Bienenstock, former editor of High Times Magazine, fears this lack of a size limit invites consolidation by corporations with deep pockets. What he’d much rather see are “as many small, sustainable, eco-friendly farms as possible.”

Right now, there are an estimated 50,000 cannabis farms in the state of California. These farms are run by everything from multi-generation families who have worked the same land for decades, to recently formed groups of tech-industry dropouts. It’s no secret that people have flocked to the California hills over the last decade to join what is being called the new California “green rush.”

The black market has allowed growers to earn an exorbitant amount of tax-free wages without ever having to build a business profile or work within legal systems. For many, one of the major draws of the marijuana-farming lifestyle has always been its freedom from government oversight and pesky regulations. But going legal now means paying licensing fees and taxes and wading through paperwork—just like any other businessperson.

Jonathan Collier, a director of the California Growers Association, lives in Nevada County, home to more than 4,000 marijuana farms. He’s lobbied hard to get black-market growers in his area to come out of the shadows and capitalize on being legal. He tells small pot farmers that they can do well if they decide to “position themselves in the artisanal market, establishing branding and higher-quality processes.”

But Collier said many successful marijuana farmers don’t want to go legal, because they’ve got “millionaire blinders.” Rather than accept a reasonable income as a legal pot farmer, some want to stay in the background and just keep doing what they’re doing, under cover.

Many of the newly legal growers have joined cooperatives to help process and market their marijuana. The distribution cooperative Alegria, based in Nevada City, north of Sacramento, helps farmers bring their individualized product to consumers. Executive director Michelle Carroll makes this analogy: “People will pay more for craft beer. We go to farmers’ markets in San Francisco twice a month, and we get to deal face-to-face with the consumers (who) want the best product.”

Alegria, which has strict policies against the use of pesticides, has assembled a group of growers who sell direct to a distributor, who then focuses on branding and sales. This allows farmers to concentrate on quality control. “We feel like if we all work together, we will get to a better place,” Carroll said.

“Durban poison,” “strawberry cough” and “super silver haze”—these are a few of the names buyers will find at dispensaries these days. At the moment, organic and inorganic marijuana seem fairly similar in quality. In some dispensaries, organic marijuana is sold for an even lower price than its inorganic counterpart. Most consumers I’ve talked to say they’re interested in smoking designer, high-end strains; they don’t particularly care about sourcing and growing practices. But this may change as big agriculture starts to move into the business.

As more states legalize the weed industry, and corporate consolidation changes the market, only knowledgeable consumers will be able to keep small, boutique farms alive. That means the once-illegal folks on heritage farms have the chance to change the future of cannabis—if they can step out of the black-market they grew up in.

Desdemona Dallas is a contributor to Writers on the Range, the opinion service of High Country News. A writer and photographer based in Brooklyn, N.Y., she learned about the cannabis industry while living in Nevada City, Calif.

Published in Community Voices

Earlier this month, the 2016 Marijuana Business Factbook estimated the retail cannabis market would more than triple by 2010—becoming a $44 billion industry.

That will amount to a huge economic boost to the states that are legalizing weed. But which states will collect on the green rush first? And how will this all go down here in California?

Here's a look at what legalization may look like here in the Golden State, along with a breakdown of the states that are pretty much slam dunks to legalize this year.

California was first to legalize marijuana for medicinal use in 1996, when voters said yes to Proposition 215. Now, 20 years later, voters may very well legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults. There are more than a dozen initiatives vying for the attention of California voters, but the one expected to get the job done is the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Backed by venture capitalist and former Facebook executive Sean Parker, the act boasts the support of Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the California Medical Association, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the California Cannabis Industry Association, Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform and Students for Sensible Drug Policy.

Highlights of the AUMA:

  • Adults 21 and older can possess an ounce of flower and 4 grams of concentrates.
  • Localities may ban your personal outdoor grow, but not your indoor grow. However, your landlord can still prohibit indoor grows. Personal grows are limited to six plants per residence (not per adult).
  • Lighting up in public would still be illegal, well, just about everywhere. Except …
  • Localities can allow on-site cannabis use in designated public places (marijuana lounges!), possibly including private limos and buses.
  • The law preserves the right of employers to drug-test their employees if they desire.
  • The bill gets interesting when it comes to licensing: Cannabis-business licensing in California would begin Jan. 1, 2018. The bill puts safeguards in place to protect small businesses and artisanal growers: Cultivation licenses are tiered by square feet of canopy, and large-scale grows of more than 22,000 square feet are banned for five years in an effort to keep major corporate interests at bay. Also, anybody who was not a California resident as of 2015 would be ineligible for any kind of permit until 2020.
  • There is also a special licensing class for “microbusinesses,” meant for small artisanal operations that want to stay vertical with cultivation, extracts, distribution and retail.
  • Cannabis products will carry a 15 percent excise tax. The cultivation tax is $9.25 per ounce of flower, and $2.75 per ounce on leaves, plus any state and local sales taxes. Subject to ballot approval, counties have the option to impose an additional tax.
  • Other highlights include consumer protections including lab testing and organic certification standards; parental-rights protections for medical marijuana patients; and the expungement of marijuana crimes if the crimes would now be considered legal or misdemeanors.

Nevada and Vermont are also expected to legalize marijuana for recreational use this year, while legalization initiatives in Arizona, Connecticut, Michigan, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Maine, Missouri and Ohio face tougher odds.

Regardless of the outcomes in these tougher battlegrounds, legalization is gaining momentum. The appearance of these initiatives on this many state ballots is a clear sign that national opinion and public policy are embracing legalization and the opportunities it presents.

Other Cannabis News

  • Pennsylvania is on track to become the 24th state to legalize cannabis for medicinal use, with the state House voting 149-43 in favor. As of this writing, the bill was moving to the state’s Senate—which passed a similar bill in 2015 by a comfortable margin.
  • Unionization is spreading through the cannabis world, offering protections for workers in this emerging and sometimes unpredictable industry. South Coast Safe Access in Santa Ana recently became the first dispensary in Orange County to unionize, as workers entered into an agreement with the United Food and Commercial Workers Union Local 324. The UFCW seems to be looking to bolster its ranks by representing cannabis workers is all states where the plant is legal.
  • Three-time Duke all-American and former Chicago Bulls guard Jay Williams is calling for the NBA and other sports leagues to loosen up where cannabis is concerned, claiming that 75-80 percent of NBA players use cannabis. Williams told FoxBusiness.com: "I’m not condoning for anyone under 18 to use cannabis or marijuana, but from a medical perspective, it’s about time some of these brands like the NBA and MLB become a little bit more progressive and start thinking forward instead of being held captive in the past."
Published in Cannabis in the CV