CVIndependent

Tue09182018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Jeff Sessions has been confirmed as the attorney general along party lines, with no Republicans opposing his appointment and only one Democrat in favor. While this understandably makes the cannabis industry a little jittery, thanks to the prospect of the resumption of federal enforcement efforts, there may be some cause for cautious optimism—at least that’s the message put forth in a statement released by the nation’s largest cannabis policy group, the Marijuana Policy Project.

“We remain cautiously optimistic that the Trump administration will refrain from interfering in state marijuana laws,” said the Feb. 9 statement. “When asked about his plans for marijuana enforcement, Attorney General Sessions said he ‘echo(es)’ the position taken by Loretta Lynch during her confirmation hearings. He repeatedly acknowledged the scarcity of enforcement resources, and he said he would ensure they are used as effectively as possible to stop illicit drugs from being trafficked into the country.

“President Trump has consistently said that states should be able to determine their own marijuana laws, and his spokesperson made it clear that the attorney general will be implementing the Trump agenda. We are hopeful that Mr. Sessions will follow the president’s lead and respect states’ rights on marijuana policy.

“A strong and growing majority of Americans think marijuana should be made legal, and an even stronger majority think(s) the federal government should respect state marijuana laws. Eight states have adopted laws that regulate and tax marijuana for adult use, and 28 states now have laws that regulate marijuana for medical use. It would be shocking if the Trump administration attempted to steamroll the citizens and governments in these states to enforce an increasingly unpopular federal policy.”

The MPP’s view seems to be somewhat optimistic. Sessions’ distaste for legalization is well-documented, and when asked about enforcing the federal ban in states that have legalized weed, he’s said it is not his place to choose which laws to enforce, before adding: “If that’s something that’s not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not much the attorney general’s job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able.” Many took this as an indication that federal enforcement could resume in the absence of action by Congress. However, parts of his oral testimony did indicate that a lack of resources might keep federal enforcement of pot laws in check, and he avoided committing to enforcement in states where marijuana is legal.

On the same day as Sessions’ confirmation, Orange County-area Republican Congressman Dana Rohrabacher reintroduced the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act, H.R. 975. First introduced in April 2013, the Respect State Marijuana Laws Act exempts individuals and entities acting in compliance with state marijuana laws from certain provisions of the Controlled Substances Act. This is the third time Rohrabacher has introduced the bill.

“I happen to believe that the federal government shouldn’t be locking up anyone for making a decision on what he or she should privately consume, whether that person is rich or poor, and we should never be giving people the excuse, especially federal authorities, that they have a right to stop people or intrude into their lives in order to prevent them and prevent others from smoking a weed, consuming something they personally want to consume,” Rohrabacher said during his speech introducing the bill. A solid Trump supporter and devout state’s rights advocate, Rohrabacher added: “My bill would then make sure that federal law is aligned with the states’ (laws), and the people in those states’ desires, so that the residents and businesses wouldn’t have to worry about federal prosecution. For those few states that have thus far maintained a policy of strict prohibition, my bill would change nothing. I think that this is a reasonable compromise that places the primary responsibility of police powers back in the states and the local communities that are most directly affected.”

Not surprisingly, the MPP supports the bill.

“Nine out of 10 Americans now live in states that have rejected federal marijuana prohibition by adopting some sort of marijuana policy reform,” said Robert Capecchi, director of federal policies for the Marijuana Policy Project. “This legislation would ease the tension between state and federal laws to ensure these state-level reforms are successful. It would also help states address the public health and safety priorities shared by state and federal authorities.”

The last time the bill was introduced in 2015, it received neither a hearing nor a vote, so it’s still a big maybe in a GOP-controlled Congress. Therefore, legal-weed proponents have much to fear—and are not taking “maybe” for an answer.

Washington, one of the first states to legalize adult recreational use of cannabis, is leading the resistance against federal interference. State Sen. Reuven Carlyle, a Seattle Democrat, has been involved with shaping Washington state’s cannabis policy since legalization in 2012.

“It is extremely difficult for anyone to pretend we can predict what the Trump administration is going to do,” Carlyle told The News Tribune in Tacoma.

Washington is preparing for the worst with a bill that would prevent local officials from cooperating with the feds in enforcement of marijuana laws that contradict state law. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee said he would do anything he can to sway White House opinion in favor of at least allowing states to continue down their own paths without federal interference.

“I think it would be a really big mistake for them to pick this fight, and I hope it will not occur,” Inslee said in that aforementioned article in The News Tribune.


Cannabis sprouts in Coachella

Del-Gro, the city of Coachella’s first commercial cannabis-cultivation facility, held a groundbreaking ceremony on Thursday, Feb. 9. The facility rents turn-key grow spaces to growers, and will provide cannabis-business support including extract production, financial services, consulting, lab testing and onsite distribution.

“Opening the first cultivation operation in Coachella is an incredible opportunity for us and our partner cultivators”, said Ben Levine, founder and CEO of Del-Gro, in a news release. “We forecast that our operation will ultimately bring in over $100 million in annual revenue for us and the independent growers we work with. But greater than that, we’re thrilled that the residents of Coachella have trusted us to be industry trailblazers in their city.”

All available spaces have been rented, and Del-Gro will be open for business later this year on the property that used to be the home Ajax Auto Wrecking. Del-Gro estimates the facility could produce $3 million in annual tax revenue for the city of Coachella.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

After the November election, 28 states have now legalized marijuana in one way or another. Public opinion has never been stronger in favor of legalization—and this even includes a vast majority of police, according to a new Pew Research Center survey. (More on this in a bit.)

Unfortunately, presumptive Attorney General Jeff Sessions does not agree—and that could pose a serious problem for weed.

Of course, we know Sessions’ views on racial matters have been troubling, at best, over the years. A black assistant U.S. attorney named Thomas Figures once testified that, in addition to calling him “boy” on several occasions, Sessions thought Ku Klux Klan members were “OK, until (he learned) that they smoked marijuana.”

Let that sink in: The probable head of the Department of Justice once said the only problem he has with the KKK is that they smoke weed.

While it’s debatable whether Sessions’ views on race issues have improved over the years, it seems clear that Sessions remains firmly in the anti-marijuana camp.

"I think one obvious concern is that the United States Congress made the possession of marijuana in every state and the distribution of it an illegal act," Sessions said during his confirmation hearings. “If that's something that's not desired any longer, Congress should pass a law to change the rule. It is not much the attorney general's job to decide what laws to enforce. We should do our job and enforce laws effectively as we are able."

Seems like a pretty innocuous answer at first … but just what does "enforce laws effectively as we are able" mean? Many are taking this as an indication that he will enforce the federal ban until federal laws say otherwise.

This means the good done by the Cole memo may be in jeopardy. The Cole memo, the key Obama-era concession to state-legalization laws, was authored by then-Deputy Attorney General James Cole and issued by the DOJ on Aug. 29, 2013. It set different priorities for federal prosecutors that dictated a hands-off policy on prosecuting federal cannabis laws where local jurisdictions had legalized and regulated the plant. This effectively ended federal raids and interference in state-legal businesses.

In a quixotic quest to enforce an antiquated and wildly unpopular federal ban, and prop up a beloved-but-lost War on Drugs, Attorney General Sessions would have the power—and apparently the will—to reverse the Cole memo. Federal raids could resume, hamstringing a burgeoning industry. This is serious: Small businessmen could be jailed, with jobs lost and millions of dollars taken from municipal and state coffers. Large-scale grows like those approved in Desert Hot Springs, Coachella and soon Palm Springs would be prime targets. Cannabis businesses would again be subject to asset forfeiture (where authorities can seize property tied to a crime). The Drug Enforcement Administration’s insistence on keeping cannabis in the Schedule 1 club (making funds non-FDIC-insurable) has made investors nervous already. Under threat of asset forfeiture, big investors will quickly head north into Canada’s cannabis-loving arms. Cash-strapped cities like Desert Hot Springs would be left wondering what the hell happened.


OK, SO WE’RE A LITTLE CONFLICTED...

Meanwhile, the opinion of law enforcement at-large is now heavily in favor of legalization.

The day after Congress began the process to confirm Jeff “Good people don’t smoke marijuana” Sessions to the position of Top Cop in the U.S. (and yes, he said exactly that last April), the Pew Research Center released the results of a poll indicating that the majority of American police officers are in favor of some form of legalization.

The survey of 7,917 officers from 54 police and sheriff's departments, conducted from May 19 through Aug. 14, 2016, shows the opinion of Jeff Sessions is completely out of touch with that of the cop on the street.

The really astounding number is that 68 percent of police officers are in favor of legalization for at least medicinal use: 37 percent of officers polled support legalization for medicinal use only, while 32 percent are in favor of both recreational and medicinal legalization. While this isn’t quite as favorable toward cannabis as overall public opinion (49 percent for recreational and medicinal, and 32 percent for medicinal only), it’s a huge shift in a positive direction. Only 30 percent of police officers believe the plant should remain illegal, but that’s double the 15 percent of the general public. As with the public, support for legalization is stronger among younger officers.

This support for weed hasn’t stopped police from enforcing marijuana laws: In 2015, police made more arrests for marijuana possession than for all violent crimes combined.

If Sen. Jeff Sessions is indeed confirmed as attorney general of the United States, he could create a disaster that cripples the growth of an industry expected to triple in the next few years, with the new addition of California and other states to the legal market. He is a just-say-no-era anachronism who is completely out of touch with 21st century America.

All we can do at this point is hope Trump is a single-term president, and that four years isn’t enough time to do too much damage to a legalization movement that is finally finding real success and acceptance after so many decades of marginalization.

Tell the Senate to reject Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Find an online petition here.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

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

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.

OK, sure, there are one or two issues more important than cannabis legalization. Maybe three. And while the idea of making America great again seems horribly ironic to many right now, cannabis legalization scored unprecedented victories across the country this November.

On the medicinal front: A stunning 63.8 percent of North Dakota voters legalized medicinal use. The state has 90 days from the election to implement the law statewide.

However, Arkansas was the big surprise, as it became the first Bible Belt state to legalize cannabis for medicinal use. Arkansas’ governor, former Drug Enforcement Administration chief and outspoken cannabis opponent Asa Hutchinson, has indicated he will accept the will of the people and allow the law to go into effect without interference.

After failing in 2014 (even though a majority of voters said yes; a 60 percent supermajority was required), Florida voted overwhelmingly to legalize medicinal weed: 71 percent of voters were in favor, but much remains to be seen regarding how Gov. Rick Scott’s administration will implement the law.

As for recreational marijuana, Nevada was a big question mark heading into Election Day, but despite casino mogul Sheldon Adelson’s best efforts (he supplied 97 percent of the opposition funding), 54 percent of Silver State voters ended up in favor of legalization. Nevada was already ahead of the cannabis-tourism game by accepting medical recommendations from other states, and recreational use will surely be a further boon for the travel industry. The personal use and possession components of the law go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017. However, lighting up in public will still get you a $600 fine. Also: Don’t expect pot shops to start popping up on The Strip anytime soon. The state is not expecting to start taking license applications until the beginning of 2018.

Some 54 percent of Massachusetts voters thought legalizing was a good idea, too. Once the law goes into effect in December of this year, adults 21 and older can possess up to 10 ounces of cannabis at home, and 1 ounce in public.

Maine approved legalization in a real nail-biter of an election. The measure passed by just more than 2,600 votes—less than 1 percent. Opponents of the law have already demanded a recount, and anti-pot crusader Gov. Paul LePage has indicated he may challenge the law.

Arizona’s failed Proposition 205 was the low point of the state elections; it was the only cannabis-related state initiative to fail, receiving just 48.5 percent of the vote.

Here in California, Proposition 64 passed by a comfortable margin—surprising no one. The home cultivation, possession and consumption components went into effect immediately.

What’s allowed:

  • Consumption of cannabis in private homes.
  • Possession of up to an ounce of flower and up to 8 grams of concentrate.
  • Growing up to six cannabis plants and keeping the harvested product in a private home. (Product harvested from your own grow is exempt from the one ounce limit.)
  • Giving up to an ounce of flower and up to eight grams of concentrate to another adult.

The first commercial-permit applications are expected around the beginning of 2018, with stores opening a couple of months later. If the Washington and Colorado examples hold true, demand will skyrocket, while newly licensed commercial growers get up and running, resulting in a temporary shortage.

Prop 64 removes virtually all penalties for those 21 and older, and replaces criminal charges with drug education for those younger than 18. You can get busted for smoking in public, and you can still get fired for failing a drug test. In a weird loophole … if you’re 18-20 years old, you got screwed: Possession of more than an ounce can now mean 6 months in jail. If an adult shares cannabis with someone younger than 21, he or she could face six months behind bars and a $500 fine. Something to think about the next time you’re passing a joint around at a concert …

California is the sixth-largest economy in the world, so Prop 64 passing is the brass ring for the legalization movement.

In Colorado, the push toward further legalization received a boost when Denver passed Initiative 300, which allows businesses to permit social consumption of cannabis on their premises. This opens the door to smoking weed in bars, cafes and other public spaces.

While the news regarding legalization was great on the state and local levels (outside of Arizona, that is), the national results were not quite as encouraging: With election of The Donald and Republicans in control of both houses of Congress, don’t expect federal prohibition to end any time soon. While Trump himself has indicated he would defer to the states to set medicinal cannabis law, Vice President-elect Mike Pence’s influence remains to be seen. Pence is a long-time proponent of the War on Drugs and believes in jail time for minimal possession. Pence’s role in leading Trump’s transition team indicates he will have an active role in the administration. This also means the DEA will be under no pressure to remove marijuana from Schedule 1 for at least the next four years—which will complicate cannabis-industry banking and deter major investment in the industry for the foreseeable future due to a continued lack of Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation coverage.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness …

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The public-opinion news just keeps getting better for the legalization movement.

A recent Pew Research Center poll revealed that 57 percent of Americans favor the legalization of the use of marijuana, while only 37 percent still think it should be illegal. This is fairly amazing, considering that a mere 10 years ago, those numbers were pretty much reversed, with 32 percent in favor of legalization, and 60 percent opposed.

Weed, you’ve come a long way, baby!

Not surprisingly, the youth vote is where the strongest support for legalization is. A whopping 76 percent of millennials (ages 18-35 in 2016) are in favor. That’s up from 34 percent just a decade ago. Baby Boomers and GenXers are showing increasing support as well: Boomers are 56 percent in favor of legalization, up from just 17 percent in 1990, while Generation X sits at 57 percent in favor, up from 21 percent in 1990.

How does this break down across party lines? Predictably: 66 percent of Democrats are in favor of legalization, with just 30 percent opposed, while most Republicans (55 percent) oppose legalization.

Here in California, the numbers tell a similar tale. A recent poll showed that 58 percent of Golden State voters favor Proposition 64, which, if approved in November, would legalize marijuana for some recreational use. The poll (conducted by USC Dornsife and the Los Angeles Times) also showed that support for legalization was strong across “most lines of age, race, income and gender,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

This shift in public opinion all but guarantees passage of Prop 64, which is backed by former Facebook president Sean Parker and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, despite blowback from pro-marijuana skeptics who think the law doesn’t do enough to protect smaller growers and the rights of medical patients.

Cannabis-industry trade groups like the California Growers Association are deeply divided on the issue. Only 31 percent of the 750 member growers of the CGA are in favor of the bill, while 31 percent are opposed, and 38 percent are undecided. The resistance stems from potentially costly environmental regulations (said to cost around $20,000 to $100,000 per farm), and a lack of long-term protections from an industry takeover by out-of-state interests.

Allowing Big Agriculture into the game is the biggest concern of growers. Some of these growers have been waiting decades for legalization, and now they fear being cut out of the industry they helped create. Prop 64 gives growers five years to establish market dominance in the state before corporate mega-grows can be approved, but many in the industry say this is not enough time, will take industry accessibility away from smaller operations, and will result in a lower-quality product.

The possibility of a lower-quality product is one of the many arguments coming from the medical-marijuana camp. One such voice of dissent is Dennis Peron, a co-author of Proposition 215, which opened the door for medical marijuana in the state back in 1996. He believes cannabis patients will be victimized by law enforcement and the tax code as they are lumped in with recreational users.

“I want the voters to be aware of the situation at hand,” Peron told The Cannabist. “Prop 64 is not legalization. If it were legalizing, that would imply that marijuana is illegal, and it’s not. This law would mean the displacement of cannabis farms in Humboldt. It essentially empowers profit instead of people.”

While these concerns are indeed valid, Prop 64 will most likely become law in our fair state. Even if Prop 64 fails, not much would change; most of the regulations it puts into effect were passed in last year’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, which is now law.

Only time will determine how things shake out. In a strange little twist, the Drug Enforcement Administration may actually help smaller California growers stay in business by refusing to reclassify marijuana from Schedule 1: Until the federal prohibition is lifted, large investors will want to place their money where it can be federally insured, like Canada.


‘High Times’ Launches Marijuana-Themed Clothing Line

Back in 1974, a group of pothead pranksters headed by a publisher named Thomas King Forcade thought a one-off spoof of Playboy Magazine that featured buds instead of babes would be a pretty funny thing to do. That first issue sold more than anyone expected, and the public demanded more.

High Times magazine was born. Since then, the magazine has become the voice of the industry, movement and subculture that is marijuana.

The roller-coaster ride to legalization is finally coming to fruition, and weed subculture has been thrust into the limelight. Stoners across the land are more and more open about their love of cannabis, and cannabis culture is booming. Therefore, High Times has introduced a line of clothing that pays tribute to these connoisseurs, patients, activists and advocates—as well as to their maverick founder.

"The fashion trend in general is about retro and vintage. … You can see it at any show you go to. At the same time, what you’re seeing is this recognition of the legalization of cannabis," says Larry Linietsky, chief operating officer of High Times. "It's a way to support the movement by wearing the clothing. We think it's well-timed. (It’s) vintage, counterculture and authentic."

With the line’s launch, “High Times recognizes the need to celebrate these street soldiers worldwide by giving them banners to fly.” This would be pretty haughty talk for anyone other than High Times … but would you question Rolling Stone magazine’s place in rock ’n’ roll history? Playboy’s place in pinup culture? No, you would not.

The line is available now at shop.hightimes.com.

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

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

While Desert Pot Springs is garnering national attention with its charge into the cannabis industry, the other end of the valley is starting to steal a little of that green spotlight: Irvine-based Cultivation Technologies has plans to open an 88,000-square-foot cannabis-production compound in Coachella.

“We saw an opportunity in the city of Coachella—an agricultural community desperately in need of economic development,” said Justin Beck, the president of Cultivation Technologies, to the OC Weekly. “After much discussion, the city said they wanted to participate, but essentially didn’t know where to start. So we helped them create an ordinance that fully aligns with (California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act, three bills which became law last year) in advance of its final implementation. We now have six acres of real estate in Coachella that we’re dedicating to the legal cultivation of marijuana for our Coachella-branded cannabis.”

Yes, Cultivation Technologies is naming its product after the city where it will be produced—a city which also shares its name with that really big music festival.

The Coachella-branded operation will be unique in the fact that it will include every part of the production process, including cultivation, manufacturing, on-site lab testing and distribution. The company also plans to work with other local growers to produce extracts.

“We will also act as a third-party service provider of extracts from local producers of cannabis. We’ll also then test, distribute and transport it from our site,” said Beck.

Richard Probst, the chief operating officer of Cultivation Technologies, boasted in a news release that the Coachella operation will be unparalleled.

"Our first six acres could rank among the most state-of-the-art cannabis facilities in the world,” he said. “With our proprietary LED technology and vertical grow systems, we believe our brand will resonate with patients who want the highest quality medicine available in California."

The city of Coachella’s cannabis green zone is the area east of Dillon Road along Avenue 48, an area that is also the city’s auto-wreckage zone.

While Desert Hot Springs is rising to fame for allowing large-scale cultivation, Coachella has gone much further by allowing not only cultivation, but also permitting extract and edible manufacturing and distribution.

The six-acre facility is scheduled to open in November of this year.


Backers of Bill Proposing a Steep Tax on Cannabis Show a Little Mercy

Introduced by Marin state Sen. Mike McGuire, Senate Bill 987 would have tacked an astronomical 15 percent “user fee” onto all retail cannabis purchases in California. (McGuire also introduced SB 643, one of last year’s three aforementioned regulatory bills that made up the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act.)

Americans for Safe Access has voiced strong opposition to the bill, arguing that the bill unfairly targets cannabis patients. “We do not assess ‘user fees’ on insulin, heart medications or chemotherapy,” read a recent newsletter sent by the group.

“Imposing additional tax will be bad for public safety,” said Don Duncan, ASA’s California director. “Inflating the cost of legal medical cannabis will force some patients to buy less-expensive cannabis from the unregulated illicit market—where there are no safety standards or oversight. That is the opposite of what regulations are supposed to accomplish.”

In response to pressure from the ASA and other patient advocates, lawmakers have now amended the bill, dropping the rate from 15 percent to 10 percent, and adding an exemption for patients with a state medical cannabis ID card who can prove their income is less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

These changes will indeed reduce the impact on lower-income patients, but the fee will still take unjust advantage of many patients. The state of California mandates a $66 fee for the medical cannabis ID card, but counties are free to add to this fee at will. Riverside County charges a $153 application fee for the card.

The bill has passed the Senate and is scheduled for consideration by the Assembly Revenue and Taxation Committee on Monday, June 20. Patient-advocate groups are asking cannabis patients and members of the public contact the committee in opposition of the fee.

Committee staff requests that letters regarding the bill be faxed (!) to 916-319-2198.


Where Is It Legal to Smoke in California?

I overheard a conversation between two people in a bar the other night about how great it is that cannabis is finally becoming legal and more socially accepted. But they also touched on a subject on which I was not clear on myself: Where, exactly, am I allowed to smoke my medication in California?

It seems people smoke everywhere these days, but what’s legal? Surely these bar patrons and I couldn’t be the only tokers in Cali wondering about this. Therefore, I did some research.

As with any law, it’s more about what you can’t do. According to SB420, Section 11362.79., medical cannabis users can light up anywhere but these places:

  • Any place where smoking is prohibited by law.
  • In or within 1,000 feet of the grounds of a school, recreation center, or youth center, unless the medical use occurs within a residence.
  • On a school bus.
  • While in a motor vehicle that is being operated.
  • While operating a boat.

The bill also states: “Except as authorized by law, every person who possesses not more than 28.5 grams of marijuana is guilty of an infraction punishable by a fine not more than $100.”

I haven’t smoked on a school bus since high school anyway. I can feel my prohibition-era paranoia easing already.

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

On this week's day-after-4/20 special edition weekly Independent comics page: Jen Sorenson looks at the phenomenon that is Ted Cruz; The K Chronicles makes a surprising yet welcome discovery; This Modern World examines yet more primary-election phenomena; and Red Meat finds someone sleeping naked in the yard yet again.

Published in Comics

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