CVIndependent

Wed11132019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

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

The pro-cannabis movement has had quite a few recent state-level victories—both here in California and elsewhere—but the anti-prohibition movement and the development of the cannabis industry continue to be crippled at the federal level by the Drug Enforcement Administration, as the agency desperately tries to retain relevancy by preserving the failed War on Drugs—and the revenue that goes with fighting it.

But before we talk about that, let’s look at the good news happening at the state level.

Here in California, the State Assembly passed civil-asset-forfeiture reform legislation by a 69-7 vote on Aug. 15. The legislation—which has gone through numerous amendments, including a previous version which was passed in the Senate—is expected to glide through when it returns to the Senate.

Information from the U.S. Department of Justice and California’s Attorney General’s Office shows that most asset-forfeiture cases involve cash and property valued less than $40,000. Currently, assets can be seized before any criminal conviction. Supported by the ACLU, the Drug Policy Alliance, the Institute for Justice, the Ella Baker Center, and the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles, Senate Bill 443 would require that a conviction be gained in the underlying criminal case before seized cash and money with a value of less than $40,000 can go to bolster law-enforcement coffers.

“If Gov. Brown signs this bill, it will be one of the most far-reaching civil-asset forfeiture reforms in the country and will once again demonstrate that states are taking the lead to protect people’s due process and property rights,” said Lynne Lyman, California state director of the Drug Policy Alliance, in a news release. “This important legislation will drastically reduce the opportunity for police to take money from and otherwise harass poor people, immigrants, people of color, and small businesses that work primarily in cash.”

The bill was delayed last year by law-enforcement lobbyists who claimed the loss of revenue would result in lower standards of crime prevention. The revised bill, now on the way to becoming law, is the result of extensive negotiations between proponents and law-enforcement representatives. Republican Assemblyman Donald Wagner called the effort and resulting bill “the model of lawmaking.”


Excise Tax Shelved by Senate Appropriations Committee

In another cannabis victory here in California, a bill to put a 15 percent excise tax on medical marijuana has been killed by a Senate panel following claims by patient advocates that its passage it would put an undue financial burden on medi-pot patients.

AB 2243 was shelved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, in part because a 15 percent tax on cannabis is part of Proposition 64, to be voted on by Californians on Nov. 8; the ballot question would legalize the recreational use of cannabis in the state if passed.

Authored by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg), the bill would have charged up to $9.25 per ounce of flower product, $2.75 per ounce of leaf and $1.25 per ounce of immature plants.

Wood says the excise tax is needed to cover the costs of enforcing new licensing for the cultivation, transportation and sale of medical cannabis. This seems like a fairly hollow justification for a huge tax burden to fall on patients—in light of how much money law enforcement stands to save by not enforcing draconian cannabis-prohibition laws.

California NORML and Americans for Safe Access were among the opponents to the bill.

These are just a couple California examples of the marijuana progress being made on the state level. Medical cannabis has been legalized in 25 states. Recreational use is now legal in Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and our nation’s capitol, Washington D.C. (Well, it’s sort of legal. Residents have voted for legalization, though Congress—which controls Washington, D.C.’s budget—prohibits retail sale for recreational use there). California, Nevada, Arizona, Massachusetts and Maine will all vote on recreational use this November, and medicinal use will be on the ballot in Arkansas, Florida and Missouri.


Then There Are the Feds …

Back in May, the DEA indicated it would again consider moving cannabis from Schedule 1 to Schedule 2. The move would lead to wider access to marijuana by researchers, and would open traditional banking avenues to cannabis businesses that are now off limits due to federal prohibition.

After months of anticipation, the Drug Enforcement Agency—following (sarcasm alert) what was surely careful and balanced analysis, and consideration of the will of the people—decided to leave Cannabis on Schedule 1, alongside heroin, GHB, bath salts, mescaline and Ecstasy.

The classification indicates the drug has no medicinal purpose, and the DEA stands by this assertion—in spite of hundreds of credible studies and tests proving the plant’s medicinal benefits.

Who cares if marijuana can increase revenues in state coffers, reduce the prison population (We’re No. 1!), increase funding for school construction and budgets, and help with back pain/cerebral palsy/arthritis/social anxiety/PTSD/cancer/insomnia/eating disorder/etc./etc.? So what if state after state is following the will of the people and embracing cannabis?

When will the DEA give up the ghost on cannabis? The time for the agency to take any kind of leadership on the issue has long since passed, and it’s time for the feds to follow the findings of science and the will of the American people—or at least get out of the way.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Cannabis legalization is sweeping the nation quickly by American standards, and industry growth has been rapid in states where cannabis has been legally accepted in one way or another.

The cannabis industry is projected to reach $44 billion per year in revenue by 2025. State budgets are being balanced in part due to tax revenues from the cannabis industry. Jobs are getting created locally, and potential marijuana businesses are looking with hope toward each state-legalization initiative on the horizon.

But even as states line up to reap the financial rewards of legalization, the continuing federal ban on marijuana may leave American startups scrambling to find the investment dollars needed once they get the green light on a state level.

One prime example of how federal foot-dragging on cannabis-law reform is inhibiting industry growth is Section 280E of the U.S. tax code. It prohibits the deduction of expenses related to controlled substances on federal tax returns. The means that cannabis businesses cannot deduct the basic business expenses allowed for any other retail, manufacturing or distribution business—even though the businesses are perfectly legal under state laws. One dispensary owner in Colorado estimates he pays the IRS an extra $600,000 a year because he is not allowed these deductions. That’s not a small chunk of change when you consider the exorbitant taxes already levied on cannabis businesses.

Issues like this, as well as the banking difficulties faced by the cannabis industry—federal law makes it very difficult for a marijuana business to even have a bank account—make the industry look like a less-than-safe investment. Rescheduling marijuana to anything but the Drug Enforcement Administration’s Schedule 1 would eliminate this hurdle, and would allow banking options and Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation coverage to the exploding industry.

Of course, there’s a hashtag for that: #Reschedule420, brought to you by DCMJ.org. That’s the organization that brought a 50-foot joint to the White House on April 2 of this year in protest of the president’s inaction on cannabis reform. (Get it? Reschedule 4/20?)

In a recent letter to Congress, the DEA hinted at rescheduling marijuana or (removing it from the schedules altogether) sometime this summer. We’ve heard that one before, but combine that with the administration’s recent approval of the first official testing for cannabis as a PTSD treatment, as well as massive shifts in public opinion, and there may be a ray of hope this time around. In addition to making cannabis research much more accessible to American companies, a change in DEA cannabis policy would remove most of the remaining hurdles to development of the cannabis industry nationwide: Section 280E would no longer apply to cannabis business, and banks would be able to fling their doors open to all those now-legit former narco dollars.

But in the meantime … here comes Canada.

Justin Trudeau, Canada’s liberal rock-star prime minister, has vowed to legalize recreational cannabis on a federal level in the Great White North—posthaste. This forward thinking provides an opportunity for more secure investment and less restrictive tax policy, and would allow banks to treat cannabis businesses as they do any other legitimate business. This offers cannabis investors another North American option in one of the fastest-growing industries in recent history.

In addition to the obvious business advantages Canada would enjoy over the United States, quick legalization would also put Canada years ahead of the U.S. in medical-cannabis research. This would allow Canadian companies to be first to market with breakthroughs in medical uses of a plant that seems to be effective in treating something new every week. While Canada has yet to legalize, it looks like it will do so on a federal level well before most U.S. states do. If or when that happens, American cannabis startups may find potential investors instead looking north for greener pastures.

One needs only to look at Desert Hot Springs to see how cannabis can help struggling local economies. What has historically been a city with perpetual economic struggles is now being praised as the future center of the cannabis industry in California; you probably saw the huge front-page article in the May 10 Los Angeles Times touting the city as Desert Pot Springs. So much pot will be produced in DHS that people are moving there from pot meccas like Amsterdam to supply those operations, as is the case with Grow Shop Hydroponics. GSH is located in North Palm Springs with easy access to what will be some of the largest commercial grows in the world. Real estate in DHS is now being snatched up for as much as twice the market value—and recreational use in California hasn’t even become law yet.

By dragging its feet, the DEA would send billions in investment dollars and revenue north of the border, and would further hinder the development of the cannabis industry here in the United States. It’s a fact: Legalization will happen in the United States. If we allow our government to delay the inevitable, that hesitation will cost us all dearly economically—and put us in a position of playing a desperate game of catch-up in medical cannabis research.

Published in Cannabis in the CV