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On March 15, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, while addressing a law enforcement conference in Richmond, Va., said: “I realize this may be an unfashionable belief in a time of growing tolerance of drug use, but too many lives are at stake to worry about being fashionable. I reject the idea that America will be a better place if marijuana is sold in every corner store, and I am astonished to hear people suggest that we can solve our heroin crisis by legalizing marijuana—so people can trade one life-wrecking dependency for another that’s only slightly less awful.”

Yes, the attorney general of the United States just said marijuana is “only slightly less awful” than heroin.

This isn’t a question of being “unfashionable,” but of the AG being factually wrong about the effects of two very different drugs. While some cannabis industry and advocacy groups have forced a smile and tried to paint a green-tinted picture of states’ rights, Trump likes medical cannabis, it’ll all be OK, yadda yadda yadda, how can we not see a difficult future ahead for cannabis when America’s top cop is so glaringly ignorant in his crusade against it?

“With over 600,000 arrests a year, the only thing life-wrecking about marijuana is its prohibition,” said Erik Altieri, NORML’s executive director, in a statement the day of Sessions’ speech.

Sessions spoke with reporters after his speech in Richmond.

“I think medical marijuana has been hyped, maybe too much,” Sessions said, according to various media sources. “Dosages can be constructed in a way that might be beneficial, I acknowledge that, but if you smoke marijuana, for example, where you have no idea how much THC you’re getting, it’s probably not a good way to administer a medicinal amount. So forgive me if I’m a bit dubious about that.”

Steph Sherer, executive director of Americans for Safe Access, countered Sessions’ remarks in a statement issued the same day.

“Statements like these from the Attorney General are factually inaccurate,” Sherer said. “In January, the National Academies of Sciences, Medicine, and Engineering released a report that reviewed over 10,000 research articles, which states there is conclusive, moderate, and substantial evidence for benefits of cannabis in several conditions. Sessions needs to stop spreading unfounded, unscientific theories about medical marijuana and take the time to actually meet the millions of Americans that are benefitting from its use before making comments about it being over-hyped.”

President Trump said he was “100 percent” in favor of medical marijuana during the campaign. But White House press secretary Sean Spicer recently clarified that the president sees a “big difference” between medical and recreational use.

As we’ve seen in the days since the inauguration, things are moving fast on all fronts in the Trump era. Those wishing to preserve and even further legalization must not be reactionary in their activism. There is too much at stake to take a wait-and-see position.

One productive way to be proactive in the defense and progress of legalization is to participate in and support the organizations that have been fighting this battle for decades—and will be on the front lines in the coming years.

National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws

norml.org

Keith Stroup was smoking with Ralph Nader’s legal team in 1970 when someone suggested he ask Hugh Hefner’s Playboy Foundation for a grant to fund his fledgling pro-pot organization. Hefner approved a grant of $5,000, and NORML was born. By the mid-1970s, Hef was donating $100,000 a year to NORML. It was this support that helped make NORML the premier pro-pot organization.

NORML now boasts 135 chapters and a network of more than 500 lawyers. With legalization becoming more of a reality, NORML has edited its mission to “move public opinion sufficiently to legalize the responsible use of marijuana by adults, and to serve as an advocate for consumers to assure they have access to high quality marijuana that is safe, convenient and affordable.”

Americans for Safe Access

www.safeaccessnow.org

The ASA is a medical marijuana advocacy group founded in 2002 by medi-pot patient Steph Sherer. The mission is “to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis (marijuana) for therapeutic use and research.”

ASA is the largest national member-based organization of medical professionals, patients and scientists promoting medical use and research, with more than 100,000 active members in all 50 states.

Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County

www.browniemaryclub.org

If you’re looking for a way to get involved locally, stay informed on the latest developments, and meet like-minded individuals, check out the Brownie Mary Democratic Club of Riverside County. Founded by activist Lanny Swerdlow, it is believed to be the first political-party-affiliated cannabis advocacy group in California. It is named for Mary Jane Rathbun, who got the nickname “Brownie Mary” for illegally baking and distributing cannabis brownies to AIDS patients while volunteering at San Francisco General Hospital.

Meetings are held the first Saturday of every month at 11:30 a.m. at Crystal Fantasy, 268 N. Palm Canyon Drive, in Palm Springs.

Marijuana Policy Project

mpp.org

Founded in 1995, the MPP deals with lobbying and ballot initiatives. The MPP PAC, founded in 2003, donates to key congressional candidates. The mission is to affect federal law, to allow states enact to their own marijuana policies without federal interference, and to regulate marijuana like alcohol nationwide. In terms of budget, members and staff, the Marijuana Policy Project is the largest national organization working specifically on marijuana policy reform.

Drug Policy Alliance

www.drugpolicy.org

The DPA takes an active role in the legislative process, and its goals include rolling back the excessive laws of the War on Drugs, blocking harmful initiatives, and pushing for sensible drug-policy reforms.

Considering the mixed (or worse) signals we’re getting from the current administration, it is clear that the fight for legalization and acceptance is far from over. We must not rest on recent victories. We must remain vigilant, and we must let our representatives know that we support the legalization of cannabis. When the will of the people is ignored in favor of a self-righteous crusade with no base in science or democracy, we must resist. Joining, supporting, and participating in these organizations shows that we are unified—and that we are not going anywhere.

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

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

On this week's buoyant Independent comics page: The City celebrates the free market with White Middle Class Suburban Man; Red Meat frolicks with a makeshift Frisbee; Jen Sorenson gets to know potheads; and The K Chronicles invests in a blow-up doll—for reasons that may surprise you.

Published in Comics