Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

March 10, 2011
As L.A. looks to shutter dispensaries, voters choose to cash in

As the city council in California's largest city seeks to shutter scores of medical marijuana dispensaries, Los Angeles voters just issued a resounding declaration: If you can't close 'em, tax 'em.

Fifty-nine percent of voters approved Los Angeles' "'M' for marijuana" Measure M, allowing the city to impose a five percent tax on gross dispensary receipts - on top of sales taxes they must pay to the state.

While pot taxes have been endorsed by many dispensaries and medical marijuana advocates as a path to political legitimacy, Measure M was fought by an L.A. dispensary association and strongly opposed by Americans for Safe Access, a leading medical marijuana patients advocacy group.

"We are in times when cash-strapped local governments are seeking creative and inventive ways to create local revenues," said Kris Hermes, an ASA spokesman. "But it's really unfortunate that it is on the back of our most vulnerable, the patients."

Meanwhile, as reported in the Sacramento Bee today, the state of California is aggressively pursuing sales taxes due from a medical marijuana industry that handles hundreds of millions of dollars in marijuana transactions. And cities are passing ordinances for new local taxes.

Los Angeles City Council member Janice Hahn said the city hopes to take in as much as $10 million from its new dispensary tax, even as it seeks to cap its number of dispensaries at 100 - down from as many as 800 at the wild L.A. market's peak last year.

In Oakland, where voters in November increased local dispensary taxes from 1.8 percent to 5 percent, the city is expecting an increase in medical pot revenues from $434,000 last year to $1.4 million this year. Sacramento is due to impose a four percent voter-approved medical pot tax on July 1.

Eleven California cities now have local medical marijuana taxes. San Jose, which has seen a boom in local cannabis clubs, has voter approval to impose taxes of up to 10 percent. Rancho Cordova, which doesn't permit dispensaries, has approval to impose a 12 to 15 percent tax, just in case some future City Council allows medicinal pot clubs to open in town.

A local news report on the L.A. pot tax and dispensary debate may be viewed below.

March 3, 2011
Partners of 'Wal-Mart of weed' file claims for unpaid services

20110226_AOC_weGrow_052w.JPGIn Sacramento, the first national franchise for weGrow, a cavernous hydroponics store marketing itself as a retail outlet for people growing marijuana for personal medicinal use, opened to fragrant fanfare Feb. 26.

But back in Oakland, where the parent store opened as iGrow in January 2010, some angry former partners are charging that they weren't paid for services there.

In e-mails to The Sacramento Bee, Amy Peterson, says her firm, Your Girl Friday Interiors, had to take weGrow in Oakland to small claims court because it didn't pay her for "branding concepts" and "marketing ideas" for the firms' plans to open weGrow franchise stores.

Edward Piatt e-mailed that he is owed payment for architectural services for the Oakland store, which is now a non-retail products distribution center. "I was never paid for my services and my hard work," Piatt said.

Dhar Mann, who founded iGrow and has been championing the launch of weGrow franchises in Sacramento and several cities to come, said in an interview that the claims are the result of a failed business partnership with a former associate, Derek Peterson, whom Mann said is married to Amy Peterson. He denied that he owes his former associates anything, declaring: "This is all going to be litigated over the next few weeks...We're going to defend these cases."

The East Bay Express reported that small claims actions were filed in Alameda County Feb. 22 on behalf of contractors and partners who charged they weren't paid for products or services.

The Sacramento weGrow store operates as an independent franchise. Mann has said other weGrow franchises are due to open this spring in Arizona, Colorado, New Jersey and Oregon.

Pictured: The budding nutrients product line at the weGrow store in Sacramento. Autumn Cruz/acruz@sacbee.com

February 22, 2011
Ammiano bill seeks to keep marijuana cultivators out of prison

ha_john_a_perez2922.JPGAssemblyman Tom Ammiano has introduced legislation to keep Californians convicted of illegal marijuana cultivation out of state prison.

Ammiano's Assembly Bill 1017 seeks to set a maximum sentence of one year in county jail for people convicted of illegal cultivation. Current California law treats illegal pot growing as a felony allowing up to three years in state prison, with stiffer sentences if the cultivation is connected to illegal sales or trafficking.

The bill by the San Francisco Democrat is also intended to make it easier for authorities to charge non-medical pot cultivators with a misdemeanor instead of a felony, said Ammiano's spokesman Quintin Mecke. "It will make everything a wobbler," he said.

Mecke said Ammiano is considering revising the bill language to consider reduced penalties for marijuana sales and transportation.

Meanwhile, Ammiano has promised to introduce what he calls an "omnibus cannabis bill" to regulate California's medical marijuana industry from seeds to sales.

Medical marijuana interests are working with him to craft language to clarify financial rules for medical marijuana dispensaries that must operate as non-profits under state law.

Though some activists have discussed whether California should consider rules similar to Colorado - which allows dispensaries to operate for profit - the Ammiano bill will retain the non-profit requirement, advocates say. The non-profit requirement is backed by the California Cannabis Association, a group representing numerous medical marijuana providers.

Ammiano has said broad legislation is needed to clarify the operating rules for medical marijuana outlets after a series of police raids investigating alleged illegal profiteering at dispensaries.

Pictured: Tom Ammiano, D-San Francisco, is plotting an active legislative session for marijuana bills.Sacramento Bee file/Hector Amezcua

February 1, 2011
Leno bill aims to protect working medical marijuana patients

In 2008, then-state Assemblyman Mark Leno got a bill passed in both houses of the California Legislature to prohibit employees from firing workers simply because they were medical marijuana patients.

A little more than two years after the bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, Leno, now a Democratic state senator from San Francisco, has introduced similar legislation.

Leno's Senate Bill 129 would prohibit employers from discriminating against workers with medical marijuana recommendations in hiring or firing decisions or in their rights to participate in the workplace.

The bill would allow employers to fire workers for impairment on the job. A summary of the bill said employers in fields, "in which medical cannabis-affected performance could endanger the health and safety of others," would be exempt from the legislation. Those who wouldn't be protected by the bill would include school bus drivers and other transportation workers, operators of heavy equipment and health care providers.

Leno introduced his earlier bill after the California Supreme Court ruled on behalf of employers in a landmark 2008 case on marijuana in the workplace. The court ruled that California's 1996 Proposition 215 medical marijuana law doesn't require employers to make accommodations or waive any workplace rules for legal cannabis users.

The Supreme Court case upheld the firing of a Carmichael man who was dismissed after failing a drug test as a condition of employment at a Sacramento firm, RagingWire Telecommunications. Ross had told his employer that he had a medical recommendation for back pain and spasms from injuries suffered in the U.S. Air Force.

Leno charged that the court's interpretation effectively said that California voters had approved the legal use of medical marijuana only "to benefit unemployed people." He said his bill will put it into law that "a medical marijuana patient has a right to employment in California."

The last time Leno introduced the marijuana employment measure he faced opposition from The California Chamber of Commerce. In an interview with The Sacramento Bee last year, Denise Davis, CalChamber's vice president for media relations said, "An employer's right to maintain a drug-free workplace is critical."

The Chamber later opposed last year's Proposition 19 initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use on grounds that it could subject employers to costly litigation, create a workforce of stoned employees and make it difficult for employers to fire workers without proof of impairment on the job.

Leno argued that improved drug-testing technologies can detect workers' current impairment for marijuana, making it easier for employers to enforce workplace standards.

January 25, 2011
Orangevale pot club goes from anonymity to civic involvement

magnolianew 002.jpgIn early 2010, former building contractor David Spradlin and about a dozen fellow medical marijuana patients opened the Magnolia Wellness Center in Orangevale. They sought to be unobtrusive as possible, initially operating only a private dispensary with a handful of "gardeners" sharing their product amongst themselves.

These days, the Wellness Center underscores the rapid evolution of the medical marijuana market in Sacramento County. Last spring, county officials announced there was no county ordinance to permit an influx of marijuana stores. Since that time, the county's dispensary population has easily more than doubled. And places such as the Magnolia Wellness Center are thriving - and a part of the community fabric, whether they are wanted or not.

Since the dispensary went public and began signing up people with physicians recommendations for marijuana, Magnolia Wellness grew to 7,500 registered members. It joined the chamber of commerce in Orangevale, helped sponsor local blood drives and collected donations for a regional food bank.

"We really kept our head down for the first year to be mindful of the local community," Spradlin said. "We wanted to make sure we established a track record before we put the flag up."

Now impatient county officials, who long ago ordered Magnolia Wellness to close and denied its appeal to stay in operation, wants the Orangevale store and dozens of other dispensaries to go away.

Spradlin suggests the dispensary has proven itself as a legitimate operation and argues the demands of the local medical marijuana market makes the case for a new county ordinance, similar to that of the City of Sacramento, to permit the pot stores to stay open.

"I think the fact that we've accumulated over 7,500 patient members discredits the county's stance and says there is an absolute need for access" to medical marijuana, Spradlin said of his suburban establishment. "People don't want to drive all the way to Sacramento."

In Orangevale, there are now four marijuana dispensaries, including Magnolia Wellness, Gaia's Gift, Enso Wellness and Nature's Own Healing Center. All are on near Greenback Lane, Orangevale's central boulevard.

Their presence is irksome to the local county supervisor, Roberta MacGlashan.

"I've driven by them," she said. "It's hard not to see them. This is a conservative community. People ask how can you allow this to happen?"

The issue, covered in Sunday's Sacramento Bee, underscores the dilemma for county officials who have long insisted current zoning laws - which don't permit pot stores - are sufficient to keep them out.

For now, the continuing influx seems to be rendering a different verdict. It appears to leave the county - and a newly formed committee studying the issue - grappling over whether to accept them or find a more effective means to keep them out.

In the video below, Ryan Hudson, manager of The Reserve dispensary on bustling Fulton Avenue Sacramento, argues for the services his establishment provides.

Meanwhile, a mortgage loan processor from Citrus Heights who stopped in recently at the Magnolia Wellness Center, complained that she didn't want the local local club driven out. The woman, who didn't want her name used, said she regularly uses a marijuana vaporizer to treat her asthma and stress. She turned to Spradlin, adding: "He's close by when I'm stressed out."

Pictured above - David Spradlin at the Magnolia Wellness dispensary. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com. Video below - Ryan Hudson at The Reserve.

December 23, 2010
Dapper lobbyist schmoozes the cause for marijuana businesses

LS MAX DEL REAL.JPGIn early March, the tension among the crowd at Cesar Chavez Park ran thicker than the wafting marijuana smoke. Medical pot patients protested across the street from the old Sacramento City Hall building, decrying a plan to close dozens of dispensaries and impose strict rules on a handful of cannabis stores that might survive.

Before suspicious eyes, Max Del Real stepped onto a stage in one of his signature designer black suits.

"As soon as I got to the microphone," he recalls, "somebody yelled, 'Capitalist! Get him off the stage!"

Del Real pleaded for an opportunity. "I'm a cannabis lobbyist," he explained.

In public and behind-the-scenes negotiations, Del Real would go on to help forge a compromise with city officials that promised new tax revenues for the capital city and gave Sacramento's 38-registered marijuana dispensaries a path to stay in business.

The smooth-talking Del Real, a product of Sacramento's Jesuit High School who graduated from UC Berkeley with an English degree and a specialty in rhetoric, also emerged as perhaps California's best known marijuana industry lobbyist.

Del Real, 35, who runs California Capitol Solutions in Sacramento, is hardly a grizzled cannabis crusader. The advocate for medical pot entities isn't a marijuana patient. The well-coiffed pot businesses-to-policy makers negotiator prefers his Jameson Irish Whiskey - with a splash of ginger ale - to his cannabis clients' Northern Lights Blueberry or Granddaddy Purple.

Del Real is the lobbyist for Sacramento Alliance of Collectives, an association for 14 local dispensaries. He also represents pot shop interests seeking permission to operate under proposed medical marijuana ordinances in Chico and Fresno.

He clients have included Statewide Insurance Services, which offered the first specialized coverage for cannabis businesses. He previously worked with the Green Door Dispensary in San Francisco, where he sought the blessings of activist Dennis Peron, a renowned author of California's 1996 medical marijuana law, to win entree to the city's medicinal pot community.

Most recently, Del Real ventured to Humboldt County and the long-illicit heart of California's marijuana culture. At a public forum, he tried to rally support for a local marijuana farmers' association effort to convince the county to license and tax outdoor gardens for the medicinal trade.

"The revolution is starting here," Del Real proclaimed. "Let's recognize the greatest cannabis in the world is growing outdoors under the Humboldt sun."

His presentation drew as many hisses as cheers.

Kim Nelson, a mustachioed, shaggy haired pot tender and member of a Humboldt medical marijuana association, had concerns over the details of Del Real's pitch. But he looked on with begrudging approval. "I kind of like that guy," he said.

Max Del Real, the cannabis lobbyist, had another connection.

Pictured: Max Del Real visits with Caleb Counts, president of the Sacramento Alliance of Collectives, at Counts' Fruitridge Health and Wellness dispensary. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

December 16, 2010
Best of pot winners proud but shy at Mendocino's Emerald Cup

158076_132354766809406_3093169_n.jpgFor three inspired weeks, judges at the 7th annual Emerald Cup in Mendocino sampled the finest marijuana cultivars, examining the textures of the buds, discerning the tastes, the aromas and - perhaps most of all - the medicinal effects.

And finally last weekend, in a crowning event of a two-day only-in-Mendo cultural festival, they announced the winners of the 2010 Emerald Cup for the best outdoor grown marijuana.

In California weed country, the winners' awards - trophies and signature-edition bongs - amounted to pot growers' equivalent of coveted California State Fair blue ribbons for wine-making.

The difference was that many Emerald Cup winners were just a big shy when it came to publicity.

"Call me T. Beezle," said the winner of the prize for the Best Hash of 2010. The 25-year-old grower from Mendocino County, who didn't want his real name publicized, said the moniker would at least let the pot-growing locals know of his triumph.

The Emerald Cup, a festival featuring 22 bands and judging of 140 marijuana samples, awarded its first-place prize for the best marijuana strain to a Mendo-grown weed called - in the edited version - "Sour Best...Ever." For pot aficionados, it was a marijuana strain bred from "Old School Laotian" and "Sage."

While some of the contestants may have shied from attention, the event drew more than 1,000 people to the Area 101 retreat in Laytonville. It was an overt celebration of Mendocino County's marijuana culture. There were joint rolling contests, a quiz game, "Guess the Roaches in the Jar," and a medicinal version of trivial pursuit called "Guess the Old-School Strains."

"We grow the world's best medicine and we're very proud of what we do," said Laura Hamburg, a Ukiah writer and a publicist for the event. "When we have a big party to celebrate marijuana, we're looking at each other and saying we're proud. And we're saying to the community, 'Let's empower this economic engine.'"

One winner who didn't mind some public attention was Chad Rea, 50, a seasoned pot-grower and medical marijuana patient who has found relief in pot since suffering burns from a car engine fire. He won a second place award for the best marijuana pot strain. Rea bred his special "Cheese" strain in memory - and from the plants - of a pot-growing neighbor who died earlier this year.

"I put his mother plant outside and took clones and started a new mother," he said.

Rea, who provides medical marijuana to a San Francisco dispensary, said his Emerald Cup prize will surely move his product to the top shelf of featured dispensary brands.

And "T. Bezzle," whose "Pure Blueberry Hash" wowed the judges, celebrated his prize - "a museum quality bong" - and his place as the year's best producer of a "cannabis concentrate."

"I was very euphoric to hear I've reached this level," he said. "Most of the judges were enthralled with what I could do."

December 1, 2010
California pot activist gets 'freedom fighter' prize in Amsterdam

IMG_6276Dale@Altar2.JPGSo it's not exactly the Nobel Peace Prize. But then again, when it comes to weed activism, maybe it is.

Veteran California marijuana author and advocate Dale Gieringer was honored in Amsterdam Nov. 25 as the High Times magazine "Freedom Fighter of the Year."

Gieringer has been the California director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws since 1987. He is a co-author of the Marijuana Medical Handbook, billed as a "practical guide to the therapeutic uses of marijuana." He was also a leading supporter of the Proposition 19 measure - to legalize marijuana for recreational use - that was defeated by California voters Nov. 2.

Weeks later, Gieringer, took a bow before a cannabis altar in Amsterdam, accepting his award at the High Times' international Cannabis Cup.

While Proposition 19 supporters hailed economic prospects for California pot tourism had the initiative passed, Gieringer scolded the Dutch in his acceptance speed for a proposal to ban foreigners from its famous cannabis coffee houses. Government officials have complained of congestion and crime from a glut of international weed seekers.

"I thanked the city of Amsterdam for its hospitality and called on the world to protest the Dutch government's recent proposal to ban foreigners from coffee shops," he said.

Banning pot tourists, he said, "is sheer lunacy from an economic, moral, or public health sense."

Pictured: Gieringer at the cannabis altar in Amsterdam. Courtesy Dale Gieringer.

November 29, 2010
Accidental pot grower ponders the future in Humboldt County

Humboldt 003.JPGLelehnia Du Bois spent her early childhood amid the marijuana fields of California's northern coast. And yet growing pot is the last thing she expected to wind up doing.

"It's pretty scary," says Du Bois, a former fashion model and department store buyer from Southern California who saw her life come full circle. "I'm used to the real business world. And this isn't it."

Du Bois, 40, one of many local residents who shared their stories in Sunday's Sacramento Bee article on challenges for the pot culture of Humboldt County, came to her craft after some compelling life chapters.

Her mother, Carole Du Bois, moved her young daughters to neighboring Trinity County in the 1970s. She immersed them in a lifestyle of growing organic corn, beans, peas, tomatoes and peppers.

Soon after their arrival, her mother broke her back and a younger sister died in horrific car accident after a tumbling boulder caused the vehicle to flip into a river. Du Bois remembers escaping the wreckage and crawling up a rocky slope to summon help.

Her family endured after the tragedy. She took to the rustic setting. Du Bois recalls learning to trim plants in a neighbor's garden - a pot field - when she was 9. And she remembers her mom easing her back pain in the tub at night by smoking a joint.

Du Bois later moved on. She finished growing up in San Diego, where her father lived. She became a model and worked in the fashion retail industry before dabbling in restaurant management and a school of dance.

In 1994, with her mother, then a Humboldt resident, in failing health, Du Bois returned to California's north coast. She studied nursing at the College of the Redwoods and went to work in a seniors care facility while completing her registered nursing studies.

In 1999, she caught a falling patient and ruptured her spine. The accident put her on disability and, for an extended time, in a wheelchair. After years of treatment and pharmaceutical remedies, Du Bois returned to the regional art - growing marijuana - to help ease her pain.

Eventually, the medical marijuana patient was providing some of her perfected "Sweet God" and "Afghani Goo" strains to a former Eureka dispensary, the Hummingbird Healing Center.

Now Humboldt County ponders ways to generate tax revenue and preserve its renowned weed economy by licensing medicinal growers to compete in a thriving, competitive California medical marijuana market. Debate centers over whether the push to compete will favor major growing operations and alter the regional character.

Du Bois personally doesn't see a significant personal future as a pot purveyor. But she hopes the county finds a means for small growers such as herself to pass on their product - and even pay their taxes - on income from legal medical pot cultivation.

"It provides for my medicine," she says of her rediscovered craft. "And I know I'm getting some good medicine."

Pictured: Lelehnia Du Bois with fruits of her harvest. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

November 15, 2010
Pot shop operator must move, thankful for 'bumps on the road'

At Sacramento's A Therapeutic Alternative dispensary, Buddy, an aging Jack Russell Terrier with a bum leg, is a soothing prop for pet therapy sessions for medical marijuana users suffering from mental illnesses.

But now Buddy is going to have to find new working quarters - and so is his master - under a new Sacramento medical marijuana ordinance, reported on in Sunday's Sacramento Bee. It will allow up to 38 pot clubs to survive in the capital city, but put strict rules on their operations, and force at least a half a dozen to relocate.

While as many as 32 existing marijuana stores were exempted from rules forbidding dispensaries from near schools, parks or drug treatment centers, any pot shop not already in an area zoned for commercial or industrial uses will have to move - and find a new spot that meets the new guidelines.

Buddy's master, dispensary operator Jeanne Larsson, 44, says it's highly unlikely she will find a new location near their existing perch at H and 30th Street. The area, on the border of Sacramento's Midtown district, is zoned for residences and offices and was recently deemed unfit by the City Council for pot clubs. "It will be virtually impossible for me to stay in Midtown," she says.

But Larsson praises the new city ordinance for preserving the capital's medical pot industry even while she fears "I can't afford the fees and I can't afford to move."

JV_SACPOT 114.JPGSince it opened in 2009, A Therapeutic Alternative has attracted a clientel of patients mostly 35 and over, including many over 50 with serious health issues. "The 18 to 25 year olds are not bursting down my doors," Larsson says.

Besides its pot strains from Mendo Purps to Green Crack and its marijuana edibles and cannabis-enhanced Kush Town Cola offerings, the dispensary has yoga classes for clients ranging from H.I.V. patients to people treating back injuries from car accidents.

Despite her anxieties, Larson expects to eventually find a new location and win city approval to stay somewhere else in Sacramento.

In dealing with medical marijuana patients, she says hears enough about other people's troubles that she's not so worried about her own.

"I get to go home at night being thankful for my problems," she says. "And I'm thankful for the little bumps on the road."

Pictured: Above - Jeanne Larsson at A Therapeutic Alternative. Below - On back deck with Buddy the therapy dog. Jose Luis Villegas/jvillegas@sacbee.com

November 4, 2010
Authorities find massive border tunnel funneling pot to state

Meanwhile, back to the real weed wars.

A day after California voters rejected the Proposition 19 measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use, authorities announced the discovery of a massive tunnel - six football fields long - used to smuggle tons of pot across the border from Mexico.

Read the Associated Press report here and see the video from Reuters below.

November 4, 2010
LIVE CHAT: The Bee's political experts on the election

Join The Bee's team of political experts today beginning at 10 a.m. to recap the local, state and national elections. Be part of the live chat and share your comments or questions.
10 a.m.: Sacramento City Council with Ryan Lillis
10:30 a.m.: Sacramento County sheriff with Sam Stanton
11 a.m.: Arden-Arcade cityhood with Rob Lewis
11:30 a.m.: Governor with Jack Chang
12:30 p.m.: Proposition 19, marijuana, with Peter Hecht
1:30 p.m.: California races with Torey Van Oot
2-3 p.m.: National races with our Head-to-Head team of Pia Lopez and Ben Boychuk

November 3, 2010
It may get very expensive to grow weed in Rancho Cordova

Rancho Cordova's Measure O might as well be Measure Oh No! for local residents who grow their own pot at home.

City voters Tuesday night passed the measure to impose taxes of up to $600 to $900 per square foot on personal marijuana cultivation. The tax means that a medical marijuana user who grows weed in a five-foot by five-foot indoor space could be required to pay an annual local levy of $15,000.

Already marijuana advocates are threatening suit.

"Nobody is going to pay that tax," said Dale Gieringer, California director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws. "And if they try to collect the tax, they're going to end up with a court suit on their hands and I think they'll lose."

He said his organization and medical marijuana groups believe Measure O isn't allowed under Proposition 215, the medical marijuana law passed by voters in 1996.

Rancho Cordova Mayor Ken Cooley said before the election that the city was protecting its interests should California voters approve Proposition 19, which would allowed any Californian over 21 to grow marijuana for personal recreational use.

Cooley said the city was already seeing "problems caused in neighborhoods by growing marijuana" under the existing medical pot law.

November 3, 2010
California communities reject Prop 19, but approve pot taxes

Across California Tuesday night, residents of the Golden State voted overwhelmingly to tax and regulate marijuana.

Even as they rejected Proposition 19, voters in at least nine cities passed more than a dozen measures authorizing taxes on local marijuana establishments.

Several measures, such as Long Beach's approval of a 15 percent tax on recreational marijuana businesses, won't take effect due to the defeat of Proposition 19. One local proposition - Rancho Cordova's vote to impose heavy taxes on personal marijuana cultivation - is inspiring threats of lawsuits from medical marijuana activists.

But many other local marijuana taxes will stand.

In Sacramento, more than 70 percent of voters approved Measure C to permit the City Council to levy taxes of up to four percent on medical marijuana dispensaries in the capital. Measure C's proposed 10 percent tax on recreational marijuana won't take effect due to Proposition 19's defeat.

In Rancho Cordova, where the City Council has disallowed medical marijuana dispensaries, 67 percent of voters approved Measure H to impose 12 to 15 percent taxes should any pot outlets open in the future.

Fifty-six percent of local voters approved Rancho Cordova's controversial Measure 0 - which would impose taxes of $600 to $900 a square foot on private marijuana cultivation.

Elsewhere in California, voters in Oakland - which last year became the first city in America to impose marijuana taxes - raised the city levy on local medical dispensaries from 1.8 percent to 5 percent.

Berkeley voters approved a measure to issue local permits for industrial marijuana cultivation and also approved a 2.5 percent tax on medical pot dispensaries. Stockton approved the same tax rate for medical pot. San Jose voters opted for a tax of up to 10 percent of pot businesses, medical or otherwise.

Voters in two cities, Santa Barbara and Morro Bay, rejected local ballot measures that would have banned medical marijuana shops.

Proposition 19, which would have legalized marijuana for recreational use, would have permitted local governments to impose taxes on retail pot sales - but didn't spell out what the taxes would be.

Dale Gieringer, California director of the National Organization for Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the "yes" votes on local showed that voters like the idea of taxing pot when shown the numbers.

"It doesn't surprise me," he said. "We know it's popular to tax cannabis."

November 3, 2010
Oakland pot entrepreneur vows new California marijuana vote

MC.POT.SECOND.JPGOakland marijuana entrepreneur Richard Lee said today that his bankroll is depleted and the next California pot legalization measure may have to depend on other donors.

But in an interview, Lee said he is determined that marijuana will be on the California ballot again in 2012 despite the defeat of Proposition 19.

Lee, who founded Oakland's renowned pot trades school, Oaksterdam University, and heads a network including a medical marijuana dispensary, nursery and media company, donated $1.3 million to qualify Proposition 19 for the ballot and another $200,000 to the election campaign.

"We just need to do some research and see why people voted 'no,'" Lee said after the initiative lost by a 54 to 46 percent just weeks after polls showed California voters poised to legalize marijuana for recreational use. "We did get more votes than (gubernatorial candidate) Meg Whitman. And she spent more than $140 million. We need to look at the bright side."

Lee said Proposition 19 showed that Californians increasingly support legalizing marijuana but "just didn't like the details of the initiative."

Proposition 19 would have legalized possession of an once or more of marijuana and permitted small household cultivation for adults over 21. It would have allowed cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales - but specified no taxes. Yet while Prop 19 went down to defeat, voters approved more than a dozen local California measures calling for marijuana taxes.

In a statement he put out on election night, Lee vowed that "we will be coming back, stronger than ever" with a redrafted pot legalization measure in 2012.

He notably credited the early momentum of the Proposition 19 campaign for convincing Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to sign legislation that reduced simple marijuana possession from a misdemeanor to an infraction with a $100 fine. "It was a clear concession to the power of the legalization movement and a recognition of the obvious failure of our marijuana laws," Lee said in his statement.

This morning, he said Proposition 19 was "a great building point" for the next California marijuana legalization campaign. Lee said said the effort - which received a late $1 million contribution this year from billionaire fund manager and philanthropist George Soros - won't have to wait for donors the next time around.

As for Lee and his marijuana enterprises, he doesn't figure to be writing the same volume of checks.

"That was our savings for many years," he said. "We don't have the same nest egg to spend."

Pictured: Lee, with the product at Oaksterdam University, vows his movement will grow to vote another day. Manny Crisostomo/mcrisostomo@sacbee.com

November 2, 2010
Local pot tax measures soaring as Proposition 19 tumbles

Though the Proposition 19 California marijuana legalization and taxation initiative is going down to defeat, voters in two local cities are overwhelmingly approving local measures to tax marijuana sales.

In Sacramento, more than 70 percent of voters are approving Measure C with more than one half of voter precincts reporting. Measure C will allow the city to impose taxes of up to 5 percent on existing medical marijuana dispensaries. It also would allow a 10 percent tax on any recreational pot businesses that could have opened under Proposition 19.

In Rancho Cordova, where the City Council has expressly forbidden marijuana shops, medical or otherwise, 70 percent of voters are backing Measure H. It would impose taxes of up to 15 percent on any pot outlets that open in the city in the future.

Meanwhile, Rancho Cordova's Measure O - which would impose steep taxes on personal marijuana cultivation - is winning with more than 60 percent of the vote.

November 2, 2010
California voters reject Proposition 19 marijuana initiative

California, which 14 years ago became the first state to legalize marijuana for medical use, has decided it isn't going to sanction pot use for recreation.

Election Results

By a wide margin, voters defeated Proposition 19. With one-fifth of the vote counted, it is losing by 57 to 43 percent.

A few minutes ago, Proposition 19 proponent Richard Lee, an Oakland marijuana entrepreneur who spent $1.5 million to back the measure, conceded defeat. But he said he will push for another marijuana vote in 2012.

"The fact that millions of Californians voted to legalize marijuana is a tremendous victory," Lee said. "...Prop. 19 has changed the terms of the debate. And that was a major strategic goal...Because of this campaign, millions now understand it's time to develop an exit strategy for the failed war on marijuana."

The pot initiative - which also would have made California the first state to legalize marijuana beyond medical use - drew international attention.

It was cheered on by marijuana advocates, drug war critics and even the California branch of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. It was condemned by the California Chamber of Commerce and most state police organizations.

Most recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder vowed to "vigorously enforce" federal drug laws in California if voters passed the initiative.

Tonight, Roger Salazar, a spokesman for Public Safety First, the No on 19 campaign committee, said Holder's remarks turned the tide against the initiative.

"When the U.S. attorney general talked about the conflict with federal law, that gave people pause," Salazar said. "And I think people really started to take a look at whether it did what it promised. It wouldn't stop drug cartels. And it wouldn't help law enforcement do their job better.

"The proponents of Proposition 19 tried to sell voters on a concept, thinking they would ignore the details."

Proposition 19 would have allowed Californians over 21 to legally possess an ounce of pot and to cultivate small amounts of marijuana at home. It also would have enabled cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales.

November 1, 2010
California initiative gives new boost to 'Hemp for Victory'

America's $350 million hemp products industry is watching the outcome of California's Proposition 19 marijuana initiative with both excitement and trepidation - wondering whether legal cannabis in the Golden State will help or hinder political efforts to legalize hemp cultivation in America.

Saturday's story in The Sacramento Bee
offered some perspective on the challenges and ambitions for the industry as it markets products from soap to rope - all made with imported hemp - and tries to reinforce a distinct identity from its psychoactive cannabis cousin, mariijuana.

The last time hemp cultivation flourished in the United States was during World War II when the U.S. Department of Agriculture produced "Hemp for Victory," a news reel calling on "patriotic farmers" to grow hemp to manufacture clothing and products for the war effort. The old film has been widely circulated on the web in recent years.

View it below:

October 29, 2010
Sports anchor gets a whiff of California: 'People smoking weed'

While the San Francisco Giants left the Texas Rangers dazed and confused after a dual thumping in the first two games of the World Series, Dallas sports anchor Newy Scruggs inadvertently experienced some of California's renowned medicine.

His reactions during stand-up outside AT&T Park, after witnessing Giants fans firing up for the game with Golden State weed, have have gone viral.

Check out his report below:

View more news videos at: http://www.nbcdfw.com/video.

October 29, 2010
Pot backers air Comedy Central ad, dress up for 'Sanity' rally

The Drug Policy Action Committee backing California's Proposition 19 is spending some of the $1 million it just got from George Soros to target legal pot supporters who are devotees of comedians John Stewart and Stephen Colbert.

Jon Stewart - Legalize Pot.JPGThe political action committee, backed by the Drug Policy Alliance, began purchasing spots Thursday on Comedy Central's The Daily Show with John Stewart and The Colbert Report. And Proposition 19 proponents are also seeking to capitalize on Stewart's "Rally to Restore Sanity" in Washington D.C. on Saturday.

Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of Drug Policy Action, said supporters of legalized pot "will march in business suits, not Birkenstocks," to the event on the Washington Mall "to reinforce the message that there is no archetypal marijuana legalization supporter."

An announcement for the group's piggy-back "Rally to Restore Drug Policy Sanity" gathering called for legal weed backers to "wear nice clothes, suits, ties, etc., to maximize impact."

The Stewart-Colbert commercial comes as Public Safety First, the No on 19 campaign, is running a California radio ad that warns of stoned school bus drivers, the potential loss of billions in federal funding and "a jumbled legal nightmare" for the Golden State if it legalizes pot for recreational use.

The pro-legalization commercial running on Comedy Central can be seen below: