CVIndependent

Tue09182018

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Boy, this has been an ugly election cycle. The candidates and their supporters have been dragging some pretty dark parts of our society into the spotlight, and it has not been pretty.

But for me, there is at least one shining green light to be seen: Both parties appear ready to be getting ready to accept cannabis into our “legitimate” society in one form or another—although there are still some fairly stark differences in their stances.

So, with the California primary coming up in June, let’s look at where the remaining presidential candidates stand on cannabis.

The Red Team

A Republican administration is generally viewed as a setback to the legalization movement. But even the Red Team is getting on board with a wider acceptance of cannabis.

GOP front-runner Donald Trump is typically vague regarding marijuana, and has changed his publicly stated views on legalization several times over the years. In 1990, he said that all drugs should be legalized and regulated to end the failed War on Drugs. Now that he’s the GOP Golden Boy (Orange Boy?), he’s hedging his bets regarding legalization for recreational use. In a recent interview with Bill O’Reilly, when pressed on the issue, the closest Trump would come to supporting legalization was to say that “there are some good things about” it. However, Trump did not hesitate to assert his complete support of medical marijuana.

Running a distant second in the GOP race is Texas Sen. Ted Cruz. At the 2015 Conservative Political Action Conference, Cruz said he was opposed to legalization for adult recreational use. But earlier this year, he said he would not roll back the laws enacted in Colorado and Washington, so he appears to be softening a little on the topic. He told radio talk-show host Hugh Hewitt: “When it comes to a question of legalizing marijuana, I don’t support legalizing marijuana. If it were on the ballot in the state of Texas, I would vote no. But I also believe that’s a legitimate question for the states to make a determination. And the citizens of Colorado and Washington state have come to a different conclusion.” Cruz also says states should regulate medicinal use without federal interference: “I think it is appropriate for the federal government to recognize that the citizens of those states have made that decision.”

The GOP’s longest lasting also-ran, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, has been completely opposed to cannabis, even for medical use. But even he appears to be loosening up a little. While still generally opposed to legalizing marijuana for recreational use, he said at a town hall in Hollis, N.H., “Medical marijuana, I think we can look at it.” Kasich, who has admitted using marijuana himself several times, recently discussed the topic on The Late Show With Stephen Colbert. While he opposes incarceration in favor of treatment for drug-abusers across the board, he explained his opposition to legalization thusly: “The problem with marijuana is this: We don't want to tell our kids, ‘Don’t do drugs, but by the way, this drug’s OK.’”

Colbert fired back with a wry: “Isn't that what alcohol is?”

You can watch the exchange here.

The Blue Team

A Democratic White House is the great green hope for the legalization movement, with Bernie Sanders being wholly in favor of a complete end to the War on Drugs, and Hillary Clinton now stating 100 percent support for medical cannabis.

Clinton’s position is in an evolutionary phase. In 2011, she opposed complete legalization in favor of decriminalizing the possession of small amounts of marijuana. But on March 24 of this year, she told Jimmy Kimmel: “I think what the states are doing right now needs to be supported, and I absolutely support all the states that are moving toward medical marijuana, moving toward—absolutely—legalizing it for recreational use.” She continued: “Let’s take it off … Schedule I and put it on a lower schedule so that we can actually do research about it.”

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is the only candidate to receive an “A” rating from the Marijuana Policy Project. Sanders has long expressed support for allowing states to make decisions regarding cannabis legalization, even going so far as to say that he, personally, would vote in favor of legalization in his state. On a national level, he staunchly supports marijuana decriminalization and medicinal use.

While other issues in the election cycle are causing wide rifts, it appears that marijuana’s time has come at last. It’s a new day for cannabis, America!

In Other News

• With California barreling toward expected legalization, the county of Los Angeles is giving itself a time-out, of sorts, to figure out how to handle cultivation in unincorporated areas. The county has banned dispensaries from operating on county land since 2011, and has temporarily banned all cultivation—even by patients. The current ban is in place for 45 days to let the county assess the best way to approach cultivation, including environmental impacts and possible criminal activity. Coupled with the long-standing ban on dispensaries, the ban leaves few options for patient access. The ban can be extended for a year if deemed necessary by the county Board of Supervisors.

• On the lighter side, pizza-delivery app Push for Pizza has teamed with Nikolas Gregory Studio in Queens, N.Y., to produce a pizza box than can be used to make a pot pipe. The brain-child of 25-year-old Nikolas Gregory, the box features a perforated cutout that serves as the body of the pipe. And, y’know that miniature plastic table thing that supports the middle of the box? Well, they’re making it a ceramic bowl that slides into the cardboard body from the box top.

Genius!

Published in Cannabis in the CV

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

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

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

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

Highlights of the AUMA:

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

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

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

Other Cannabis News

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

The Internet and social media have, in many ways, broadened communication and given us all other venues for self-expression—but the stigma still attached to cannabis can hamper a marijuana enthusiast’s online activity.

Case in point: Facebook has long had a ban on cannabis advertising—and as of Feb. 6, began shutting down dispensary pages.

Pot-smokers have often thought of themselves as their own society, so why shouldn’t we have our own social media? Here are a few apps that have answered that question with: “We agree! Here you go!”

Weedmaps

www.weedwaps.com; IOS, Android

Weedmaps got into the cannabis social-media game early, and has been the go-to solution for smokers to find cannabis, and for dispensaries to promote their wares. Users can also post reviews of dispensaries. Basically, it’s like Yelp for cannabis.

The app/website lists thousands of dispensaries across the country. The app and the website both offer geolocation services to tell you the nearest place to pick up some smoke, along with reviews and menus of dispensaries’ current offerings and deals. Launched in 2008, the site now boasts more than 2 million visitors per month.

Leafly

www.leafly.com; IOS, Android

Weedmaps spent many years alone at the top of the 420-app heap, but Leafly is now giving Weedmaps some competition. Leafly has the same dispensary-locating functionality, but focuses much more on specific strains of cannabis: The site includes many strain reviews, and the database includes thousands of strains, searchable by category, flavor, effects, a patient’s symptoms and known conditions. Users can read and post reviews, and find out if a strain is available nearby.

Another very cool feature is the State of the Leaf interactive map: Click on any state, and get the current status of that state’s cannabis laws. Leafly also includes a section of cannabis-related news and articles on topics like current legislation, health and lifestyle.

Duby

www.duby.co; IOS, Android

With Facebook prohibiting more and more cannabis content, there has been a definite gap in social-media options for cannabis enthusiasts. How many times have you tried a really outstanding strain, and just wanted to shout it out to the world (i.e., you know, post it on Facebook)? Enter Duby. Posts are referred to as “dubys.” Like a duby? Pass it by swiping right! Don’t like it? Swipe left to “put it out.” Cute.

Duby is the most-popular online community for potheads, offering all the features of FB without the judgment and prying eyes of those who have not seen the light.

MassRoots

www.massroots.com; IOS, Android

If Duby is the Facebook of cannabis culture, MassRoots is its Instagram. The interface is exactly what you’d expect from something known as the Instagram of weed—filled with pictures of cannabis, and your boss isn’t your “bud.” (That’s MassRoots’ term for connections.)

The result of a marijuana-infused brainstorm between the two founders in 2013, MassRoots has enjoyed amazing growth. The community now boasts more than 775,000 users—more than double the membership six months ago. Founders expect to reach 1 million by 4/20.

Said MassRoots CEO Isaac Dietrich in a news release: “The weeks leading up to 4/20 are the cannabis industry’s holiday season—a period where millions of cannabis enthusiasts make purchases, buy tickets, and make plans for marijuana’s official holiday. Historically, during the weeks leading up to 4/20, we have experienced significantly higher growth and visibility.”

MassRoots will only benefit from Facebook’s move to further restrict marijuana-related pages, and is becoming a valuable advertising alternative to Facebook for weed businesses. MassRoots also made history as the first marijuana-tech company to go public, in April 2015. According to the MassRoots website, the business hopes to uplist to NASDAQ or the NYSE before the end of 2016.

I’m buying stock tomorrow!

The next time you’re looking for a dispensary, or you just want to show off a favorite strain, your garden or a new bubbler—without your great aunt putting on her Judgy McJudge hat—post away! There are entire online societies just for our tribe!


On a Sad Note

The Coachella Valley cannabis community lost a treasured member on Feb. 15 when Steven Cooley—cannabis evangelist, budtender extraordinaire and manager of PSA Organica in Palm Springs—passed away suddenly while dining with friends.

Steven radiated positive energy like a bright light, and has helped countless people find the correct strain or medication for what ails them. A long-time HIV patient and stroke survivor, Steven attributed his continued existence on this plane to his use of cannabis in its many forms.

Steven was a true believer, a great friend and a wonderful human being. You will be truly and sorely missed, my friend.

In lieu of flowers or cards, please make a donation in Steven’s name to the Desert AIDS Project.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

The legalization of cannabis for medicinal and now recreational use is crashing across the country like a bong-water tsunami. That means herb is in the news lately—a lot.

Here in California, some of that news is not good.

Assembly Bill 243—part of the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), which was signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in October—is causing many cities to clamp down on cannabis businesses. While the bill contains a lot of good, it has a problem: The MMRSA requires local governments to develop regulations for the cultivation and delivery of medical cannabis by March 1. Otherwise, the authority is relinquished to the state. Not wanting to give up that authority, dozens of cities around the state have been enacting all-out bans, denying their patients convenient access to prescribed medications.

This is unfortunate, especially since the provision was never meant to be included in the final legislation.

“It was never our intention to place such a short timeline on local lawmakers,” said Democratic Assemblyman Jim Wood, one of the bill’s proponents, in a news release. “The current deadline gives jurisdictions just 65 more days to consult stakeholders, learn about the industry, and write good policy; that is not nearly enough time.”

Wood is now one of the sponsors of Assembly Bill 21, which is currently in committee but is expected to pass and be signed into law without issue. AB 21 strikes the March 1 deadline, allowing local jurisdictions to regulate and enact their own laws at their own pace. “We have widespread support for this fix, including bi-partisan support from both houses, stakeholders and the governor’s office. I am hoping that AB 21 will be on the governor’s desk before the end of the month, and local lawmakers will give this complicated issue the time it deserves,” said Wood.

Despite the impending fix, the League of California Cities is recommending mass hysteria. Because, you know, caution.

“In an abundance of caution, we have been advising our member cities to enact cultivation ordinances—in this case, a ban—to make sure they preserve their regulatory authority whether the cleanup bill goes through or not,” said Tim Cromartie, the legislative representative for the League of California Cities, to the Los Angeles Times. “A ban is the quickest and cleanest way.”

Great.

So how has that affected the Coachella Valley? While some of our valley cities have been working toward their own marijuana regulations diligently for years, others believed the hype and have reacted with fear and rejection.

Palm Springs, being one of the more progressive areas in the valley, has historically been at the forefront of the cannabis movement. The city recently approved a sixth dispensary permit, and council members have said they’d be open to increasing this number in the future as public need and opinion dictate. Recent City Council meetings have also included the discussion of permitting for commercial grows, edible production and extract production. The council members made it clear they want to be prepared to reap the financial rewards of legalization of recreational use statewide—which most people believe is inevitable, perhaps as soon as this year’s election.

Cathedral City is following the example set by Palm Springs, and has issued several permits in recent months. Indicative of the hurdles involved with this emerging industry, the first dispensary in Cathedral City opened its doors in October, more than a year after the council approved the permit allowing them to operate in the city.

If Palm Springs is the tortoise in this race—carefully planning next steps and moving along at an organic pace—cash-strapped Desert Hot Springs is surely the hare: DHS wants to be a mecca of marijuana production and cultivation. It is the first city in the state to approve massive industrial-grow operations, including a recently approved 380,000-square-foot facility that will generate an estimated $3.8 million in annual tax revenues for the city. Grows of this magnitude are expected to be a rarity in the wake of AB 243’s canopy limit of 10,000 square feet for most facilities.

While Palm Springs, Cathedral City and Desert Hot Springs are working in anticipation of recreational legalization and the revenue streams that will represent, Rancho Mirage has dug its heels in like a child being dragged to the dentist. However, the city’s resistance to the green rush predates the panic caused by AB 243. The city even has a program to reimburse cannabis patients $25 per month for transportation to buy their cannabis elsewhere. It bears noting that no one has taken them up on the offer since the program’s inception. It’s doubtful any cannabis businesses of any kind will be operating in Rancho Mirage anytime soon, regardless of any state legislation.

In January, Palm Desert looked like it would pass an all-out ban on cannabis cultivation and distribution. Then, after hearing from several residents at the Jan. 14 meeting, the council changed the language to allow delivery services to operate in the city. This is great news for Palm Desert cannabis patients who are unable to travel easily.

Indian Wells doubled down on its rejection of cannabis in January, adding delivery and cultivation to its existing ban on dispensaries in the city.

La Quinta has a similar ban in place, but formed an ad hoc committee in December to examine allowing delivery services to operate in the city.

Indio has had a ban on dispensaries in place since 2007, and recently expanded that ban to cultivation. Because, you know, Indio has a reputation to uphold. The City Council is, however, considering regulations for delivery services to operate there.

Coachella recently broke from its long-time ban on all marijuana businesses by approving cultivation in areas of the city that are zoned for auto-wrecking. The approval is seen as a fairly cynical way for the city to reap the tax benefits of the cash crop, and nothing more, because the ban on delivery and storefront dispensaries remains.

AB 243 was meant to stabilize the cannabis industry in California, yet it ended up severely handicapping the cannabis movement with its errant March 1 deadline. Hopefully cities will be as willing to enact meaningful, well-planned regulation once the threat of that deadline has been removed by AB 21.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

Maybe you’re sitting on the couch right now, reading this as you light up a joint. Maybe you’re in one of the states where what you’re doing is no longer a crime, so you’re feeling pretty good, because your leisure activity will no longer lure the police into your home.

Sorry to harsh your buzz, but that marijuana, legal or not, probably sucked up a lot of electricity during its cultivation. One study estimates that it takes as much energy to produce 18 pints of beer as it does just one joint (and that doesn’t factor in the energy used to make the three Sara Lee cheesecakes thawing in the fridge for when the munchies kick in). That “green” you’re smoking isn’t all that green after all.

With medicinal and/or recreational marijuana legal in most of the West, utilities and grid operators are a bit worried about the impacts these energy-hogs will bring to their grids, and excited about the profits they’ll bring to their bottom line. The issue is pressing enough that it got its own session—“The Straight Dope on Energy and the Marijuana Industry”—at the Nov. 11 annual meeting of the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners in Austin, Texas.

Attendees learned that Xcel Energy, which serves most of urban Colorado, sells some 300 gigawatt hours of electricity to pot-growers per year, or enough to power some 35,000 homes. The U.S. marijuana-growing industry could soon buy as much as $11 billion per year in electricity.

These statistics are alarming, and will only get more so as legalization spreads. But legalization, if approached correctly, also opens doors of opportunity. The biggest guzzlers of electricity also hold the most potential for realizing gains via efficiency.

Back in 2011, a California energy and environmental systems analyst, Evan Mills, published a paper quantifying the carbon footprint of indoor cannabis production. That footprint, he discovered, was huge. His findings included:

• While the U.S. pharmaceutical sector uses $1 billion per year in energy, indoor cannabis cultivation uses $6 billion.

• Indoor cannabis production consumes 3 percent of California’s total electricity, 9 percent of its household electricity, and 1 percent of total U.S. electricity (equivalent to 2 million U.S. homes per year).

• U.S. cannabis production results in 15 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year, or the same as emitted by 3 million cars.

• Cannabis production uses eight times as much energy per square foot as other commercial buildings, and 18 times more than an average home.

Mills’ paper generated a flurry of media coverage, much of it sensationalist, which was then used to point out that pot-smokers are hypocritical (based on the incorrect assumption that pot-smokers are necessarily environmentalists). Some pundits even used the findings—along with some dubious math—to justify other carbon-intensive activities, such as mining Alberta’s tar sands.

But Mills wasn’t picking on pot, per se. He was focused only on indoor cultivation. And he made sure to point out that a lot of marijuana’s energy use is actually energy waste. Many growers, for example, use diesel generators to power their operations to avoid suspicious electric bills. They grow in places where there are no windows, without the benefit of sunlight, relying entirely on artificial lighting (which is extremely bright and energy intensive). When greenhouses are used, they tend to be of bad and inefficient design.

Most of this wastefulness occurs not because dope farmers are gluttonous slobs, but because they need to stay hidden in order to stay out of jail. So by simply legalizing and legitimizing the trade, some states have taken the first step in taking a bite out of cannabis’ energy footprint. For one thing, legalization allows farmers to move their crops outdoors, where it takes no more energy to grow a pot plant than it does a carrot or tomato (though yields and, some say, potency are far lower than growing pot indoors). It allows them to ditch the dirty, wasteful generators and hook up to the grid. (And to actually pay for the power they use: Electricity theft by pot producers is said to total as much as $100 million per year.) It also allows utilities and farmers to work together on maximizing efficiency.

The Northwest Power and Conservation Council, for example, has found that huge savings could be realized if farmers switched to efficient greenhouses and to LED lighting, and their yields would increase. In his paper, Mills suggests implementing energy-efficiency incentives as well as energy-conscious construction codes for grow operations. There’s also tremendous potential for using all the pot-growers on a single grid together as a demand-response resource.

Demand response works like this: Demand on the grid spikes, perhaps because everyone turns on their energy-sucking flat screen televisions to watch the football game all at once. The utility needs to meet that demand by putting more power into the grid. The conventional way of doing this is to fire up a power plant, usually natural gas-fired, which is expensive and polluting.

But in demand response, the new power needs are met by curtailing the power use of a bunch of customers by, say, telling their hot water heaters to shut down for an hour or so, via smart meters. This has the same effect as injecting more power into the grid to meet the increased demand. In other words, the consumers, collectively, become a sort of backup power plant.

A more rudimentary form of demand response is for the utilities to coordinate with the growers to shut down the power-sucking devices during peak load hours, such as when everyone else is cranking their air-conditioners, and turn them on during off-peak hours, like in the middle of the night. If the growers are on time-of-use electricity rates, that would be the most cost-effective way to go, anyway.

Unfortunately, many utilities are slow to seize the opportunities legalization presents. Xcel Energy’s representative at the Austin meeting said that the company has been wary of working with growers on efficiency, because it might look like they’re promoting drug production. And the Bonneville Power Administration, the massive federal utility in the Pacific Northwest, doesn’t allow any of its efficiency incentives to go to cannabis cultivators, because growing marijuana is still against federal law.

Even the best efficiency measures, however, won’t make ganja growing entirely green, as is clear from this anecdote from the Austin meeting, as reported by SNL Financial:

Driving that point home, John Morris, policy and regulatory affairs director for energy efficiency consultant CLEAResult, reported that one pot grower in the West is converting a 90,000-square-foot warehouse to produce the plant, and that despite installing energy efficient lighting and other devices, including a $2 million solar panel on the roof, that grower still expects to pay around $1 million a month for electricity.

Yes, you read that right: $1 million a month. For electricity.

Jonathan Thompson is a senior editor of High Country News, where this story originally appeared.

Published in Environment

I began smoking marijuana in the 1960s, when my memory says it was cheaper, purer and more fun.

Of course, we know what pot does to one’s memory.

Pot-smokers tend to know other pot-smokers, so even when you move to a new area, you manage to find each other. When I returned to the Coachella Valley in 2007, after seven years away to attend law school in San Diego, I had a local friend who, likewise, had a friend. I sometimes cadged from a pal in Los Angeles. In spite of the difficulty of getting pot, I resisted even thinking about getting a “license.” Then I talked to someone who had one—and I realized I was being silly. (Besides, I don’t plan on ever running for public office again.)

This is not a rah-rah endorsement of smoking pot. It’s not natural for lungs, and it can impair driving. Like liquor or voting, it should be restricted by age. It can lead to harder drugs in those who have a propensity toward addiction—but such people will find what they’re looking for regardless, whether it’s via glue or aerosols.

While I can understand wanting to zone pot stores—much like “adult” bookstores and bars are not allowed near schools or churches—many people fear that dispensaries will bring criminal behavior, and they use that to justify taking a stand against pot outlets in their locale.

Let’s establish some reality here: Legalization reduces youth-crime rates, since simple possession is then considered a misdemeanor, similar in severity to a speeding ticket. Fears about a link between adult crime and cannabis use are overblown. A study done by the University of Texas at Dallas found that “legalization of medical marijuana is not an indicator of increased crime. It actually may be related to reductions in certain types of violent crime … namely homicide and assault."  If you know pot-smokers, you know this is true. Statistics also show that traffic deaths go down with legalization, as do with alcohol purchases. 

California was the first state to allow medical marijuana use in 1996. Currently, a total of 23 states, plus D.C. and Guam, allow legalized use of medical marijuana. Colorado and Washington passed ballot measures legalizing recreational use in 2012. Alaska and Oregon voters also approved recreational use in laws slated to become effective this year. A D.C. ballot initiative legalizing marijuana was overwhelmingly approved by voters, but is still subject to congressional review, since D.C. is run by Congress.

It may be true that almost anyone can justify a “medical” reason to use cannabis products—but how do you measure the relief experienced by those undergoing chemotherapy, or someone whose lowered anxiety level may prevent a stroke?

I began my journey into local cannabis culture by calling a local doctor, who was referred by a friend. He’s a formerly retired M.D. who wanted to get out of the house and needed the money. His routine is comprehensive; he documents everything you say in response to very specific questions about your health, and he makes sure that the state rules are followed to the letter. He is personable, supportive, nonjudgmental and professional.

After a 30-minute consultation, I received my officially stamped document that allows access to a dispensary—and proves to a policeman that I’m not criminally in possession, at least not by California rules. Cannabis is still listed federally under the Controlled Substances Act as a Schedule I drug—considered “highly addictive and having no medical value.” 

By the way, when’s the last time a doctor spent 30 minutes with you?

As I was leaving the doc’s office, I asked if he knew where I could get local help for purchases. “Oh, sure,” he said. “There are business cards out on the counter.” I grabbed three and zeroed in on the one that delivers.

Having pot products delivered is way cool. When I called for my first delivery, I was asked to show my license, and then a display of about 20 cannabis varieties was unveiled, each labeled with a creative name: Purple Crack, Girl Scout Cookies, Blue Kush, Martian Green. (I have no idea what the names mean or who chooses them, but they are definitely inventive.) My delivery guy even brought me laced chocolate for Easter!

Once I decided to visit a dispensary in Palm Springs, I walked into a large waiting room, decently furnished, with three other waiting people. I walked up to the window and gave them my picture ID and my pot license. Those items were copied and returned to me, and I was asked to wait.

As I sat down, a man who was also waiting said, “You’re not by any chance the lady on the radio, are you?”

“Yes,” I said. “How did you know that?”

“I recognized your voice—I listen to your show.” What a place to be recognized as a local celebrity!

When my name was called, I was admitted through a locked door into a small anteroom, where I waited while a beefy guy locked the first door and then unlocked a second door, leading into a large room with a long counter behind which three other people were waiting on other customers.

The array of products available was astounding, including food items. Imagine—pot butter! I asked questions and got detailed answers about whether strains were indica, sativa or blends. Prices vary somewhat, but are not outrageous when compared to buying in the underground marketplace. The employees were courteous and helpful, and the atmosphere among the customers was cordial and friendly. “Oh, that one’s good!” said another customer, trying to be helpful. The other customers were far from seedy—quite the contrary. They were neatly dressed, of varying ages, and basically looked just like any of my neighbors.

If you oppose legalization, or resist the idea of medical marijuana, you are way behind the times. We’re no longer in the dark ages of Reefer Madness, the 1936 movie made to frighten people about the “evil weed,” in which drug-dealers lead innocent teenagers toward hopeless addiction, suicide, hallucinations and madness.

By comparison, the third-leading cause of death in the U.S is legal access to alcohol, responsible for over 75,000 deaths yearly. Alcohol destroys families, foments violence and costs society greatly in public health and safety.

I’ve never known anyone on pot who got violent. Did some of my friends get lazy? Some were pretty laid back anyway, but they were also lawyers, business executives and good parents. Pot made us laugh, nosh, groove and generally live in the moment. Pot also alleviates nausea, stimulates appetite and diminishes symptoms of anxiety that accompany many medical conditions. Of course we need restrictions and oversight, but marijuana is not something to fear.

The Coachella Valley has a thriving cannabis culture, including your law-abiding neighbors—like my 91-year old friend whose granddaughter gives her pot brownies to control cancer symptoms. The times, they are a-changin’. 

Published in Know Your Neighbors

Coachella Valley residents who use medical marijuana must currently travel to one of a small handful of dispensaries in Palm Springs—the only valley city which has allowed dispensaries to operate.

However, two other local cities will soon let dispensaries open their doors. Last year, both the Desert Hot Springs City Council and the city’s voters OK’d dispensaries, while Cathedral City’s City Council narrowly voted in favor of allowing them.

Desert Hot Springs will initially allow up to three permits to be issued for dispensaries, with the possibility of adding more after an evaluation. Currently, 19 applications have been submitted, but there is a list of three applications that have received the highest score.

Cathedral City will allow two permits to be issued; so far, the city has rejected four applications and approved one. City Manager Charlie McClendon explained the criteria the applicants must meet.

“The ordinance laid out some fairly strict guidelines that they had to meet to qualify in terms of what zoning district they could be in, how close they could be to a school, how close they could be to a residential neighborhood, how close they could be to each other, how close they could be to a park, and things like that,” McClendon said. “So, it’s a two-pronged process. (Applications) go before our planning commission to judge that, and the first step is a test: Is the application complete? Does it meet those spacing guidelines? Did they submit all the material? If the planning commission determines that, yes, the application is complete, then they can have an open public hearing for a conditional use permit on that application. If they determine that the application is not complete, then it’s rejected.”

McClendon explained that one applicant has been approved so far, a company called Green Cross Pharma. He said most of the other applicants have been rejected due to location issues.

“There’s a provision in the ordinance that a dispensary cannot be 200 feet from Highway 111/East Palm Canyon Road, and one was rejected because it was less than that distance from the road,” he said.

Some people worry that dispensaries will attract crime to the areas where they’re located, but according to studies by RAND Corporation and California NORML, dispensaries do not raise or lower crime rates. McClendon said these studies have been taken into consideration.

“It remains to be seen as to whether or not it makes a difference here,” he said. “You can read competing evidence on that from other jurisdictions, but we have no direct experience with that ourselves.”

As for revenue, McClendon said the tax on medical marijuana that voters in Cathedral City approved will generate some money for city coffers.

“That’s a question that went to the voters, and they authorized a tax on the proceeds of the marijuana sales of up to 15 percent. It remains to be seen how much that actually generates, because we have no history yet. Based on the experience of Palm Springs, we believe there will be some revenue.”

Nicholas Longo, a licensed grower who used to live in Desert Hot Springs and who provides marijuana to dispensaries, was elated when the cities took steps to allow new dispensaries to open.

“I started growing about five years ago,” said Longo, who began using marijuana to help him with epilepsy. “At first, it was for the purpose of having the stuff on me at all times, but then it changed more into helping people than anything. I sell to the dispensaries—but what I do is make clones. I pretty much concentrate my focus on creating clones, so genetics is my thing. … You need to make sure you have good genetics.”

Longo grows about 25 plants per week that he can turn into sellable product for the dispensaries. “Every week, you put in about 25, and the ninth or 10th week, you’re harvesting.”

On Jan. 20, in Desert Hot Springs, Jason Elsasser opened up a center on Pierson Boulevard as part of his Medical Marijuana Resource Group, which based in Yucca Valley. It offers consultations and recommendations for medical marijuana cards. He said that patients don’t necessarily have safe access to medical marijuana.

“In 2013, the California Supreme Court ruled that county municipalities can zone out dispensaries,” Elsasser said. “In essence, a town can say, ‘We don’t want it!’ They can impose codes and zoning restrictions that won’t allow it. … It’s kind of like the stuff they do to strip clubs, massage parlors or tattoo parlors.”

After the market collapsed and destroyed his real estate business, Elsasser went into the medical-marijuana industry.

“I’m the one who created the situation in Yucca Valley,” he said. “In Yucca Valley, they voted in 2013 to shut down the only dispensary that was operating in town. It was left to operate kind of through a loophole. They had approved a legal dispensary back in 2008, and then some people opened a ballet studio next to it, and all of a sudden, there was a bunch of negative press about it. They pushed it to the far outskirts of town and implemented a moratorium on medical marijuana. The City Council (then) voted … to shut down the only dispensary. I said, ‘Enough is enough,’ and since I had a real estate background, I started the Yucca Valley Medical Marijuana Resource Group. I wanted to use it as a springboard to educate the town. I hired an attorney to write an ordinance and to start a voter referendum.”

Elsasser said that referendum should appear before Yucca Valley voters sometime in 2015. “We will win. I’m very confident because we have the support of the community, and we will win based on that.”

Elsasser said he believes medical-marijuana dispensaries will have a positive effect on Desert Hot Springs.

“We want to help the community,” he said. “These shops that are opening can do a lot of good for the community, and my business is just one of the businesses that are a product of these dispensaries opening. I just got my business license for my evaluation center, and we wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the three (coming) dispensaries. It’s good for the economy; it’s improving the area; and we’re excited about being down here in Desert Hot Springs.”

Below: Jason Elsasser opened a medical-marijuana evaluation center in Desert Hot Springs in January. “We wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for the three (coming) dispensaries,” he said. PHOTO BY BRIAN BLUESKYE

Published in Local Issues

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

Although sexual orientation and dirty-trick campaigning have dominated the headlines regarding the Rancho Mirage City Council election, to my mind, there is a more interesting issue that has emerged: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents?

Councilmember Dana Hobart recently made that assertion, casting Councilmember Scott Hines as “younger … (with) just ambition.”

Hines attended the Air Force Academy, earning a degree in political science in 1992, and then master’s degrees in public management from the University of Maryland, and organizational management from George Washington University. With more than 20 years of business and entrepreneurial experience, he is hardly a kid.

Hobart served in the Air Force for four years, then graduated from California State University and earned a juris doctorate from the USC School of Law in 1963. In addition to a long legal career and positions of prestige within the legal community, he successfully argued a case before the United States Supreme Court in 1976. 

Assuming these are both honorable men who want to serve their community, why would age even be a factor? Do older residents only want to see people their own age elected?

Here’s what I’m wondering: Is it time for the younger generations to take over? Remember that old saying, “Never trust anyone over 30”?

Although Hines is well beyond millennial age, a recent poll by Pew Research Center sheds some light on the ongoing conflicts between the generations. 

“Millennials,” defined as people between the ages of 18 and 33 by Pew, have very different views of traditional cultural norms and institutions. The underlying struggle to redefine our society is taking place throughout the country at all levels.

A recent column in The New York Times by Charles M. Blow, discussing the Pew findings, got me thinking. Yes, there is value in the wisdom we hope to have developed over many years of experience, but there is also value in accepting that society’s norms have already changed in important ways, and public policies must adjust to reflect those changes.

For example, 69 percent of millennials believe that marijuana use should be made legal, while only 32 percent of the so-called “silent generation” (those 68 and older) support legalization (although even that number has almost doubled since 2002). On the issue of whether gays and lesbians should be allowed to marry, 68 percent of millennials support such rights, compared to only 38 percent of the silent generation.

Millennials also largely believe that abortion should be legal in all or most cases (68 percent), and that immigrants in the country illegally should be allowed to stay and eventually apply to become citizens (55 percent). 

In the Coachella Valley, particularly the western and central parts, we tend to think of the local population as made up of many retirees. However, according to the Coachella Valley Economic Partnership (CVEP), in 2011, only about 30 percent of valley residents were 55 or older.

Does that mean almost 70 percent of our residents are not having their interests represented when elected officials are from older generations?  Not necessarily. For example, in Rancho Mirage, more than half of the population is 60 or older. Yet, it is worth considering that elected officials are supposed to not only manage current realities, but plan for the future viability of their communities. That may require attitudes and philosophies that encompass the cultural changes we are already experiencing.

Local officials have to consider policy approaches that are necessary for their communities to be seen as welcoming to younger generations. At the national level, “the young-old partisan voting gaps in 2008 and 2012 were among the largest in the modern era,” said Blow. So if Rancho Mirage is largely made up of older people, does that mean their City Council representatives should disdain appealing to younger people? Not if they want their city to survive.

When I first moved to the Coachella Valley in 1985, I remember thinking that all the service employees who worked in local cities—waiting tables, cleaning hotel rooms, maintaining golf courses, working in sales, etc.—could not possibly afford to live in the cities where they were employed, and thus had less invested in making those cities sustainable. I remember when, in 1988, Indian Wells, which then boasted one of the highest per-capita incomes in the state, sought an exemption from having affordable housing built within their city’s borders. Thankfully, they lost that battle, thanks to a veto by the then-Republican governor.

The Pew poll showed that millennials are more racially diverse and less disapproving of government services. They are experiencing higher student loan debt, poverty and unemployment, and lower levels of wealth and personal income. However, they are the future, and we need to incorporate their attitudes and needs if we hope to sustain our communities.

So, the question remains: Should only older and more-experienced individuals be elected to represent the city’s residents? Should age trump “ambition”? When Hobart was younger, wasn’t he ambitious?

As Blow puts it: “One might argue that millennials simply haven’t lived long enough to hit the triggers that might engender more conservatism … but it could just as well be that this group of young people is fundamentally different.” 

Is it perhaps time that older folks recognize that younger generations have something to offer as a balance, with a new approach to “the way we’ve always done it.” Our future will be as different from today as today is from the “traditional values” of a mere 50 years ago—a time that some in the older generation still cling to as what should be “normal.” Without that balance, and those new ways of looking at our culture and our institutions, we are only stalling the inevitable.

Maybe it’s time for older folks, myself included, to just get out of the way. Those with experience should teach, mentor and advise—but let younger generations lead.

Published in Know Your Neighbors

On this week's Independent comics page: The City tackles a ban on bare breasts; Roland and Cid tweet from the grave; speaking of graves, Red Meat can't find a body; and Jen Sorenson compares sugary sodas to marijuana.

Published in Comics

Page 4 of 4