CVIndependent

Wed11222017

Last updateWed, 27 Sep 2017 1pm

I lived in Washington state in 2012 when voters passed Initiative 502, making Washington one of the first states to legalize the recreational use of marijuana for people 21 and older.

Although the process took a year, Washington was able to implement a well-thought-out system to fairly tax recreational users, ensure public safety and create distribution methods.

Three years later, I moved to Southern California, where recreational prohibition was the law of the land—even though anyone with access to the Internet, $45 or so, a California state driver’s license and the ability to say the words “trouble sleeping” could easily obtain a medical diagnosis via what amounts to a Skype call.

While marijuana does have numerous medical benefits, I find it difficult to believe it is the panacea that many of its proponents suggest it is—and the medical dispensaries don’t do much to maintain the illusion that they are anything like pharmacies. Imagine going to a drugstore … with a happy hour? Would you get 2-for-1 antibiotics to help clear up that rash?

I was relieved when California voters last year followed the lead of Washington (and, by then, three other states) and passed Proposition 64. As a person who tries to lead an honest life, it pained me to participate in this fiction. When Prop 64 fully takes effect on Jan. 1, 2018, California will join the ranks of Washington, Oregon, Colorado, Alaska and the District of Columbia in acknowledging that marijuana is as safe, if not safer, than alcohol when used by adults.

Of course, California has been at the center of unlawful or semi-lawful marijuana cultivation for decades, and bringing the growers into the legal market will help control quality, eventually bring down prices, take power away from the gangs and cartels, and help influence the movement to end prohibition entirely on a national scale. (Of course, given the state of our federal government as of now, that last part may be delayed a bit.)

California cities have a great deal of leeway in deciding where pot can be sold, and how many licenses to issue. Palm Springs, for instance, is currently expecting to have approximately six shops—the same number of legal medical dispensaries that are now operating in the city; during season, I’m sure this will give locals yet another chance to talk about how long the lines are. (Remember: Wednesday is our slow day here, so you may want to plan your recreational shopping trips accordingly.) The city of Palm Springs also just passed a law that will allow Amsterdam-style cafes. This is particularly important, given the number of tourists we attract; it’s also important for renters, as most hotels and apartments have strict “no smoking” policies. Remember: It is still illegal to smoke in bars and restaurants.

Palm Desert only recently lifted its ban on any sort of dispensaries—and will be even be allowing one recreational shop in the tony El Paseo shopping district. On the other end of the spectrum, the city of Coachella maintains an outright ban on the sale of marijuana, although cultivation is OK, and there are at least two churches where congregants can go and, for a donation, receive the sacrament in either brownie, flower or vape form.

Tourists and nonmedical users will need to be aware of a few things before showing up at one of the new recreational shops. Most importantly: As with alcohol, driving while under the influence will be illegal, and if you have anything in the car, it must be in a closed container. The best practice would be to keep it in the trunk so there can be no doubt if you are pulled over.

Also of note is that adults over the age of 21 can carry up to an ounce of marijuana flower, or eight grams of concentrate. That is a lot of pot to have on you. Private citizens can also grow up to six mature plants for their own use; although it will be illegal to sell the pot you grow without a license, you are welcome to give it to friends or perhaps your favorite Independent marijuana columnist. 

Initially, at least, prices will probably rise. Although commercial growers are eagerly preparing for the first post-legalization harvest, demand may surpass supply in those first few months, if what happened in other states is any indication. Also: An additional 15 percent state tax combined with local taxes and other fees virtually ensures that prices will be higher at first. However, as growers get a handle on demand, we should see prices drop.

Marijuana is still illegal under federal law, and our current attorney general, Jeff Sessions (at least he is as of this writing … you never know with the Trump administration) has vowed to crack down on enforcement, so bringing pot into national parks could land you in some real trouble: State and local law enforcement will no longer assist the feds, but you still need to be careful if you want to bring a joint along with you when you, say, go hike in Joshua Tree. Plus, with our long history of drought here in Southern California, you don’t want to risk being responsible for the next round of wild fires. Try vaping or a brownie instead.

Come Jan. 1, nearly a quarter of the U.S. population will be able to use pot in much the same way they currently enjoy a glass of wine or cocktail—and as states and municipalities wrestle with the implications of this brave new world, the Coachella Valley Independent will continue to be here with news, reviews and stories to help you make good, responsible decisions around marijuana use.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The National Conference of State Legislatures, citing the wave of legalization and the explosion of a new industry in its wake, on Aug. 7 passed a resolution urging the federal government to remove cannabis from Controlled Substances Act scheduling completely.

Marijuana’s Schedule I status prohibits marijuana-based businesses from having access to the standard banking practices afforded all other businesses, because FDIC-insured banks can face federal penalties for dealing with businesses related to Schedule I substances. This has resulted in a multi-billion dollar industry that operates almost completely in cash. Aside from the obvious security concerns caused by keeping a ton of cash around, it also means shops can’t take credit debit or credit cards; they can’t have normal real estate mortgages; and they have no access to small business loans. Oh, and state tax collectors are continually faced with cartoonish bags of cash.

The NCSL resolution recognizes this problem with the fifth “whereas.” The important part:

“Now, therefore, be it resolved, that the National Conference of State Legislatures believes that the Controlled Substances Act should be amended to remove cannabis from scheduling, thus enabling financial institutions the ability to provide banking services to cannabis related businesses; and be it further resolved, that the National Conference of State Legislatures acknowledges that each of its members will have differing and sometimes conflicting views of cannabis and how to regulate it, but in allowing each state to craft its own regulations, we may increase transparency, public safety, and economic development where it is wanted.”

To nobody’s surprise, the Marijuana Policy Project applauded the move.

“State legislators and the vast majority of voters agree that marijuana policy should be left to the states,” said Karen O’Keefe, director of state policies for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a press release. “Legitimate, taxpaying marijuana businesses should not have to face the difficulties of operating on a cash-only basis. Allowing banks to offer them financial services will be good for the industry and benefit public safety. Even more so, states should not have to worry about the federal government interfering with their marijuana policy choices.”

Upon hearing news of the resolution, Attorney General Jeff Sessions reportedly dropped to the ground, pounded his fists, kicked his feet and wailed: “NO! NO! NO! Marijuana BAD BAD BAD!” (OK, not really, but it would not surprise us if that really happened.)


California Growers Prove It’s Possible to Have Too Much Weed

Flying in the face of centuries of pothead orthodoxy, California growers are proving there is indeed such a thing as having too much weed.

With medical marijuana sales on the rise, and the sale of cannabis for recreational use coming to fruition in January, California growers have increased production in preparation for a huge increase in demand. After all, Nevada was completely unprepared for recreational sales, and the whole state ran out of weed. But now it’s coming to light that California growers may have overcompensated just a bit.

Depending on whom you ask, California growers are growing an estimated three to 12 times more bud than California needs, based on current demand and projections. Even the conservative end of the spectrum equates to a ton of extra bud. Add to that further restrictions (and enforcement) on interstate marijuana commerce going into effect Jan. 1, and people in the industry are starting to wonder what to do with all that weed. 

"We are producing too much," said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers' Association, according to the Los Angeles Times. “(Growers) are going to have to scale back. We are on a painful downsizing curve.”

Allen delivered his assessment to the Sacramento Press Club as part of a panel discussion. The panel also included Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s shiny new Bureau of Medical Cannabis Regulation, and Joseph Devlin, chief of Cannabis Policy and Enforcement for city of Sacramento.

This will surely lead to prices dropping across the Golden State. While this is great for the retail customer, it does not bode well for the massive mega-grows popping up around the Coachella Valley and elsewhere. With operations like Sunniva’s Cathedral City campus hoping to produce 90 tons of product in 2018, and Desert Hot Springs licensing millions of square feet for cultivation, let’s hope interstate cannabis commerce can become a reality sooner than later.

Otherwise we’re all going to need to start doing our part to get rid of all that weed, somehow. … Got a light?


Palm Springs Sends Cannabis Tax Measure to Voters

Palm Springs has a pension crisis looming, and the City Council is scrambling to make sure the city’s debts are covered.

In November, not only is the city asking voters for a half-cent sales-tax increase; the City Council voted unanimously to send a marijuana tax measure to ballot.

The measure sets the annual tax for cultivation facilities at $10 per square foot. In preparation for recreational sales going live in January, it would also put a tax structure in place for recreation retail businesses.

Dispensaries and other marijuana businesses would be taxed at a rate of 15 cents per $1 (or 15 percent). This rate would apply to recreational and medical retail sales alike. The City Council could vote to lower this rate, but would require approval of four-fifths of the council to increase the rate.

Drug-prevention programs and public safety are mentioned in the ballot measure, but it doesn’t take a huge stretch of the imagination to see the city channeling these funds to help out with the pension crisis on the horizon.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Legalizing marijuana, California voters were told last year, would create a “safe, legal and comprehensive system” allowing adults to consume the drug while keeping it out of the hands of children.

Marijuana would be sold in highly regulated stores, the Proposition 64 campaign promised, and California would gain new tax revenue by bringing the cannabis marketplace “out into the open.”

Voters overwhelmingly bought the message, with 57 percent approving Proposition 64. But as state regulators prepare to begin offering licenses to marijuana businesses on Jan. 1, it turns out that a huge portion of the state’s weed is likely to remain on the black market.

That’s because California grows a lot more pot than its residents consume, and Prop 64 only makes marijuana legal within the state’s borders. It also didn’t give an automatic seal of approval to every cannabis grower: Those who want to sell legally must be licensed by the state and comply with detailed rules that require testing plants, labeling packages and tracking marijuana as it moves from farm to bong.

Exactly how much cannabis circulates in California is unknown, because most marijuana grows—and purchases—have been illegal for so long. But economists hired by the state government estimate that California farms produce about 13.5 million pounds of cannabis each year, while state residents annually consume about 2.5 million pounds. That leaves 11 million pounds of pot that likely flows out of California illegally, according to the economic report commissioned by the California Department of Food and Agriculture, which regulates cannabis farmers. Other analyses have similarly found that roughly 80 percent of California-grown marijuana leaves the state.

Even the 2.5 million pounds of marijuana consumed within California won’t all be purchased through state-sanctioned shops when they open; the economists predict about half of it will probably be sold illegally.

“Those sales opportunities will still be there,” said Hezekiah Allen, executive director of the California Growers Association, which represents more than 1,000 marijuana businesses in the state.

Allen surveyed his members recently and found that 85 percent hope to get a license to sell marijuana legally under Prop 64. But many fear they won’t be able to, because some local governments limit or ban pot businesses, and because prices could drop too low in the regulated market. If they can’t sell weed legally, 40 percent of the respondents to Allen’s survey said they would continue operating the way they always have: on the black market.

Some long-time cannabis growers will likely go out of business, Allen said. But, “at the end of the day, a lot of businesses in general may stay outside of the regulated market.”

That means that despite the passage of Prop 64, California cops will still have plenty of work going after illicit cannabis operations.

“You’re going to see robust enforcement efforts to prevent California from becoming the staging area for drug trafficking nationwide,” said John Lovell, a lobbyist for the California Narcotics Officers Association, which opposed the ballot measure.

A spokesman for the Prop 64 campaign said the measure wasn’t intended to abolish all criminalization of marijuana, but instead to allow opportunities for “operators who want to be responsible and compliant.”

“No one ever promised to completely eliminate the black market—that’s like promising security cameras will completely eliminate shoplifting—but it will be significantly reduced,” spokesman Jason Kinney said by email.

He added that the state’s estimates of marijuana supply and demand are unreliable, because the legal marketplace created by Prop 64 won’t begin to roll out until next year. And he pointed out that some of the tax dollars generated by legal marijuana sales will go toward cracking down on illicit operations.

State officials said they are encouraging marijuana businesses to follow the rules and become part of the regulated system, while also planning how to go after those that remain in the black market.

“We are developing a formal complaint system that will allow anyone to report illegal grows or other concerns, and then we will forward those potential issues to the appropriate (law enforcement) agencies,” said Rebecca Forée, a spokeswoman for the state’s cannabis cultivation licensing office within the Department of Food and Agriculture.

Lori Ajax, chief of the state’s Bureau of Cannabis Control, said her agency is trying to entice marijuana businesses to go legit by crafting rules that aren’t too difficult for them to live by.

“It’s making sure that for those people who want to be in the regulated market … we have made a path for them; we’re not making our regulations so difficult and hard to comply with that you’re discouraging people,” Ajax said.

“First, we’ve got to get those folks in there and … then see what comes after that with enforcement.”

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics. For more analysis by Laurel Rosenhall, go to calmatters.org/articles/category/california/politics.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

If you care about protecting clean water, endangered species and public health, then you might want to consider supporting the legalization of marijuana for recreational use.

That's because so much of the stuff is now being grown illegally on our public lands in places dubbed "trespass grows." These secretive and often well-guarded farms do enormous environmental damage and place a huge burden on federal agencies. In California in 2013, the Forest Service discovered about 1 million plants within public forests on nearly 400 sites. Thousands of trees had been logged to make way for marijuana plants.

Growers also divert millions of gallons of water from forest streams to pot plantations, drenching a single plant with as much as six gallons of water daily. Perhaps even more destructively, they dump untold amounts of pesticides into the watershed. In 2012, for example, at least 19,000 pounds of pesticides were confiscated from trespass grow sites here in California, which probably has the most illegal pot farms in the nation. For rare forest species like the Pacific fisher, a candidate for the endangered species list, pot farms can be killing farms. The animals are dying at alarming rates, many poisoned by growers employing illegal rodenticides.

Wayne Spencer of the Conservation Biology Institute, who develops management plans to protect fishers, recently announced that he personally supports legalization of marijuana, both for the sake of the forest and the fragile species that depend on natural areas.

Policing trespass grows also takes up a huge amount of federal agencies' time, energy and money. The California district of the U.S. Forest Service says the majority of its law enforcement workload is now trespass-grow investigations—"a major distraction for the mission of the Forest Service."

Rick Fleming, director of the High Sierra Volunteer Trail Crew, says that his volunteers have worked hundreds of trespass grow cleanups, the only type of volunteer work where they partner with law enforcement.

In a time when our culture is increasingly conscious of where our goods come from as well as of the impact of our consumer choices, marijuana is largely left out of the equation. We buy fair-trade-certified, rainforest-safe coffee, because it benefits both ecosystems and coffee farmers. We demand organic food because we want fewer pesticides on the land and in our bodies. We seek local produce to support local farmers. Shouldn't we have the same concerns about marijuana?

Unfortunately, the prevailing attitude still seems to be stuck in the 1970s: That any marijuana from California is clean, green and hippie-grown. But as Mother Jones magazine recently pointed out, the reality is that the industrial farming of pot is probably closer to the dirty days of the meatpacking industry, as described in Upton Sinclair's The Jungle. As trail crew leader Fleming puts it, Illegal pot growers "don't give a damn about anything. They either eat it, kill it or poison it."

Spencer describes a recent outreach event on trespass grows that ended with a well meaning person asking, "Can't we just educate illegal growers?" Fleming's response: "These are bad men. They will kill anything that gets between them and their profits."

Legalizing marijuana at the federal level could nip all this in the bud. A high-profit criminal industry would be washed away by a flood of small farmers willing to try their hand at growing cannabis and selling it on a regulated market. Of course, that requires delisting marijuana as a Schedule I substance, as 18 members of Congress recently petitioned President Obama to do

It's nonsensical that pot continues to be treated as if it's more dangerous than methamphetamines or cocaine. Washington and Colorado are already regulating marijuana for recreational use at the state level. They allow companies to grow and sell marijuana at retail, effectively removing smokers' motivation to source it illegally, and capturing state revenues from the market—roughly $2 million in tax revenue in the first month of sales in Colorado alone.

At least Attorney General Eric Holder has said he won't prosecute Coloradans and Washingtonians who comply with their states' marijuana regulations, even though they conflict with federal law. More recently, he reassured banks that his office plans to make it safe for them to open accounts with state-approved marijuana suppliers. But Holder has given no more than his word that smokers, growers and bankers won't be prosecuted; meanwhile, the GOP-controlled House passed a bill recently to pressure the attorney general into cracking down. This has happened before: In 2011, in Mendocino County, Calif., the federal Drug Enforcement Agency closed down a model program that monitored legal marijuana cultivation and used revenues to fight trespass grows.

This contradictory, irrational policy needs to end. Our public lands need a break from ruthless industrialization, and the West's wild creatures need their home back.

Christi Turner is a contributor to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News.

Published in Community Voices

On this week's economic Independent comics page: The K Chronicles drinks in college; Jen Sorenson ponders the plight of the super-rich; Red Meat suffers an existential crisis during a romantic comedy; and The City inherits a fortune.

Published in Comics