Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

June 30, 2010
Eight Chico dispensaries raided in Butte County pot shop probe

Authorities in Chico and Butte County raided eight dispensaries today in a criminal probe into whether the pot shops were illegally doling out marijuana to people lacking proper medical recommendations.

Chico Police Chief Mike Maloney said more than 100 officers from two dozen agencies served 19 search warrants on the dispensaries and private residences. One man was arrested at a local residence on a charge of being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The raids were an apparent response to the appearance of the eight dispensaries in the county within the last several months. Officials in both Chico and Butte County say local zoning laws don't permit marijuana outlets.

"These places literally sprang up overnight," Maloney said in an interview today. "And almost immediately, we started to receive complaints -- and not over just the mere existence of the places."

Maloney said a judge authorized search warrants after people claiming to be medical marijuana patients told authorities the dispensaries weren't properly verifying customers' physicians' recommendations for medical pot or "weren't even asking if they had one."

Authorities seized marijuana, computers, business records and cash at multiple locations. The operation targeted the Cascade Wellness Center, Doctor's Orders Cooperative, Mountainside Patient Collective, Scripts Only Services, North Valley Holistic Health, Citizen Patient Collective, Northern California Herbal Collective, and California Harm Reduction Cooperative.

"This is an evidence gathering mission," Maloney said. "We have enough information at this point to have a judge (in approving search warrants) make a finding that criminality occurred. Our next step is to evaluate that and look at what violations are alleged to have taken place."

He said authorities are investigating charges, including illegal possession of marijuana for sale, and will refer evidence to the Butte County district attorney.

Meanwhile, authorities are preserving the seized marijuana.

In cases where no charges are filed, Maloney said, "We fully recognize we may end up having to return it to the people from whom we seized it."

June 30, 2010
Fish & Game video offers grim view of destructive pot fields

A new video produced by the California Department of Fish and Game highlights a major challenge for game wardens in state woodlands - illegal marijuana growing operations endangering officers, wildlife and the environment.

The video, focusing on encounters by state game wardens with illicit pot fields believed planted for Mexican trafficking networks, describes growers killing deer and bears and dumping pesticides and other pollutants in state forests and public lands.

"We're seeing poaching, pollution and habitat destruction," state Fish and Game warden Patrick Foy said in an interview.

The agency video, describing "illegal cultivation on a grand scale," said state wildlife officers have run into armed suspects in back country areas frequented by hikers or anglers. Four times since 2005, state game wardens have found themselves exchanging fire with pot growers.

The video said the illegal plantations, often involving tree cutting, stream water diversion and an infusion of toxic substances into the natural environment, destroy 10 acres of habitat for each acre of pot cultivation.

Though the video only focuses on growing operations tied to Mexican-run networks, Foy said game wardens also encounter pollution problems from California residents - some claiming to be medical cultivators - who plant vast outdoor marijuana gardens in the wild.

"I've investigated some that use copious quantities of pesticides and fertilizers," Foy said. "They look you in the eye and say they run an organic operation. But you can see the pesticide residues."

The Fish and Game agency video can be viewed below.

June 29, 2010
Report: African-Americans disproportionately targeted for pot

An analysis of arrest data in major California counties shows that African-Americans are far more likely to be booked for marijuana possession - even though pot use is lower among blacks than whites.

Those are the results of a study by the Drug Policy Alliance, an advocacy group seeking alternatives to the drug war.

In a Sacramento press conference today, which accompanied the California state NAACP's endorsement of the November initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use, the group revealed stark disparities in the racial breakdown in pot arrests.

In Sacramento and San Francisco Counties, black residents were arrested for marijuana possession four times as often as white residents. In Los Angeles County, the disparity was more than three to one, according to the analysis of California arrest data from 2004 through 2008.

"These racially-biased (arrests for) marijuana offenses are a statewide phenomenon...in nearly every county and every police department in this state," said Stephen Gutwillig, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance.

Gutwillig said marijuana possession arrests are the only California crime category in which arrests increased from 1990 to 2008. During that period, rape arrests were down by 67 percent, murder arrests were down by 63 percent and overall arrests were down 40 percent. But marijuana possession arrests went up by 127 percent, he said.

"That's got to tell you something about the efforts of law enforcement - where the resources are going, and where the energy is going," said Neil Franklin, a former police officer from Baltimore who is executive director of a pro-marijuana legalization group, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

To read the Drug Policy Alliance report, click here.

June 28, 2010
Pot humorist finds profitable punch line as magazine publisher

IMG_0372.JPGSacramento resident Ngaio Bealum says he loves to cut up on stage about "weed and sex." But this stand-up comic-activist-journalist-entrepreneur says he also aims to change "the stoner paradigm."

"It's not about sitting around and doing nothing," says the editor and publisher of West Coast Cannabis, a monthly pot lifestyles publication that bills itself as the Sunset magazine of weed. "My thing is I like to smoke a joint and go do something."

And so Bealum, 42, a San Francisco native born in 1968 to Black Panther Party members, plays a multifaceted role in the California marijuana movement.

He is an activist who has worked with Americans for Safe Access and the Greater Los Angeles Caregivers Alliance, groups advocating for medical marijuana users and lobbying cities to permit regulated pot dispensaries.

He is a former anchor for Cannabis Planet TV and a comedian whose pot humor - a less-dazed antidote to Cheech and Chong - lights up California comedy club circuits. He is among comedians due to appear Tuesday night at the Comedy Spot in Sacramento in a benefit for the family of a young man recently killed in Sacramento's Midtown.

In 2008, with start-up funds from Oakland medical marijuana entrepreneur and legalization advocate Richard Lee, he launched West Coast Cannabis.

The free magazine, distributed at marijuana businesses in California, Washington, Colorado and other states, ballooned in size and circulation from 20,000 copies and 40 pages to 50,000 copies and 92 pages.

Featuring cultivation tips, weed reviews and pot culture and activism news, it was a money-maker by its second year - jammed with advertisements for dispensaries, hydroponic growing suppliers, pot doctors, lawyers and advocates.

"It's aimed at the West Coast lifestyle and at people who enjoy cannabis - from connoisseurs to growers to those who use it medicinally, recreationally or spiritually," he says.

Recently, the magazine has taken a hit of the downer kind. A strict new Los Angeles dispensary ordinance, forcing the closure of hundreds of dispensaries, cost the mag dearly in advertising. He expects to drop to 70 pages for his July issue.

"We've lost 25 percent of our Los Angeles ads - a fairly huge chunk," said Bealum, whose magazine deployed two of its three ad sales people in Southern California to tap into L.A.'s burgeoning dispensary market. "It's been a pinch for sure."

Bealum, an advocate for the November ballot initiative to legalize recreational marijuana use for California adults over 21, figures his mag's fortunes may rise anew.

Meanwhile, the veteran stand-up maintains his sense of humor and stoner-on-a-mission vibe. He says he rocks with "an urban mind expansion band." And his comic bits light up YouTube with clips including recent comedy club appearances in Los Angeles, San Francisco and Sacramento and at the 2009 Seattle Hempfest.

There is also this early-career stand-up video from Comedy Central, in which he muses over the hazy origins of his name and makes light of growing up as "the Lord of the Geeks."

See it below.

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Photo (top): Bealum with editions of West Coast Cannabis. Peter Hecht/phecht@sacbee.com

June 25, 2010
Pro-legalization judge doubts initiative will trigger federal raids

Retired Orange County Judge Jim Gray, a vocal proponent for the campaign to legalize marijuana for recreational use, doesn't believe federal drug agents will descend on California if voters approve the November pot initiative.

"I cannot conceive that the Obama administration, facing an election year, would thumb its nose at the voters of the state of California. It just is not going to happen," Gray said in an interview after a recent Sacramento debate on the ballot initiative.

Last year, Attorney General Eric Holder signaled that U.S. Justice Department wouldn't target legitimate medical marijuana operations in California and 13 other states where medicinal use is legal.

But some legal observers wonder whether the feds' enforcement truce with the state will be upended if California voters approve the measure to legalize marijuana for adults over 21, allow small residential cultivation and permit cities to tax and regulate pot sales.

Under federal law, marijuana remains illegal and is considered a narcotic with no medical benefits.

The 1996 Proposition 215 Compassionate Use Act, which made California the first state to legalize medical marijuana use, was followed in ensuing years by scores of federal drug raids targeting California pot clubs, cultivators and activists.

But Gray said he doesn't expect a similar response by the Justice Department if the state extends marijuana legalization beyond current medicinal use.

"They will probably say, 'Oh, this is silly.' 'Oh, we shouldn't do it.' 'Oh, California voters were duped. Let them do it.'" Gray said.

He added: "Then the rest of the states will see that this is working. The rest of the states, like with medical marijuana, will follow our lead, and it will sweep the country."

Initiative opponents argue that wider legalization in California will position the Golden State as the major marijuana supplier to other states -- even more so than it already is today.

"It might. People will try to take advantage of the system. Are you shocked?" Gray said. "That's what is going on today with some of the marijuana dispensaries. So I say, if people are violating the laws of other states, prosecute. But don't throw out an entire initiative on the off chance that people might abuse it. Just prosecute the abusers."

June 24, 2010
Dragonfly, the 'Weedly World Traveler,' reviews the high life

Her weed reviews for West Coast Cannabis, a California magazine covering the marijuana industry and community, are called "Getting High with Dragonfly."

The writer, Dragonfly de la Luz, also vividly details her medicinal experiences for a Canada-based on-line publication, Cannabis Culture Magazine. And she is a roving marijuana correspondent known as "Ganja Girl" and the "Weedly World Traveler."

De la Luz, who lives in California when she's not away on global ganja assignments, definitely has a stimulating line of work. She maintains a stoked legion of on-line followers. They read her marijuana reviews and share their pot questions and experimental enthusiasm in missives sent to her e-mail address, ganjaprincess@hotmail.com.

As California brims with dispensaries - purportedly purely serving people with medical needs - and ponders legalizing recreational use for all adults over 21, Dragonfly isn't one merely to write about how pot can help with glaucoma or lower back pain.

She is a passionate voice on the side of recreational marijuana in all its psychoactive glory.

Here's a teaser from her Cannabis Culture review of "Dr. Walker's Daze," a pot strain from the cannabis sativa plant:

"Dr. Walker's Daze left an impression from the dry hit alone. Participants who had been chatting suddenly interrupted their conversations to comment on the pungent, unique, spicy taste before the joint had even been blazed. And when we blazed, we were dazed and amazed.

"...Whatever your initial frame of mind, puff, puff, pass and you'll be giddy with giggles, stuck with a case of the warm fuzzies, basking in the sunshine of euphoria. This uplifting sativa strain turns rainy days into rainbows, and has a distinctly energetic effect."

She penned this for West Coast Cannabis on "Blue Dream," a sought-after California dispensary product:

"Blue Dream is fast becoming a new favorite...It completely takes over your senses. All you see, smell, taste and feel is Blue Dream. It's bluish-purple hue with frosty sparkles makes it look like it got blasted to Earth from some intergalactic candy land. It's high crystal content delights your sense of touch, teasing your fingers with its resinous stickiness."

She also went to Argentina last year to cover "the fledgling but thriving ganga culture" in South America and reported back: "Growers here are well informed and stand in solidarity with the pro-marijuana movement in California."

Just another stop on the flying high journey of Dragonfly.

June 22, 2010
Sacramento sheriff, retired OC judge spar over legal marijuana

Retired Orange County Superior Court Judge Jim Gray said California will save hundreds of millions of dollars in law enforcement costs by legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

Sacramento County Sheriff John McGinness said public agencies will lose untold millions in federal grant money and private employees will face difficult workplace challenges if pot goes legal.

The two law enforcement figures offered competing views today in a Sacramento debate over the November initiative to legalize marijuana beyond current medical use, allow small residential cultivation and permit local governments to tax and regulate pot sales.

"I'm convinced when we pass this and actually control and regulate marijuana, literally taxpayers of California will save hundreds of millions of dollars in what is now being spent in a futile effort to eradicate marijuana, the largest cash crop in the state," Gray told the Sacramento gathering.

While the retired judge cited a state Board of Equalization estimate that legal pot sales could generate $1.3 billion in total tax revenues in California, McGinness argued that the initiative is flawed and may actually create new black market for untaxed marijuana.

"I think the revenue to be gained is likely negligible," the McGinness said.

The sheriff argued that the measure could cause law enforcement and other public agencies to lose federal grants because legal pot could violate federal "drug-free workplace" rules.

He said private employers could also face challenges from legal pot because "people can possess and use immediately before and after work.

"It's very difficult to make a determination as to whether or not they're under the influence at any given time," he said.

In ruling on California's current medical marijuana law, the California Supreme Court has said legal marijuana use doesn't supersede workplace rules. It has ruled that employees can be fired or disciplined for pot use even if they are legal marijuana patients.

The Gray-McGinness debate took place at the Sol Collective in Sacramento. Despite its name - similar to those of marijuana dispensaries - the site has no ties to the pot business. It is a local art gallery and community center.

June 21, 2010
Pot shops threaten suit over proposed San Jose 'barter' system

Medical marijuana advocates in California's high tech Silicon Valley are furious over what they interpret as a demand for a "barter" system for transactions at pot dispensaries in San Jose.

The city, which is brimming with nearly 70 pot shops, is considering a proposal to cap the number of dispensaries at 10 and ask local voters to approve a 3 percent tax on pot businesses per $1,000 in gross receipts.

But an organization representing numerous dispensaries is particularly irked by language in a city staff memorandum suggesting that no cash sales are allowed at pot shops. Despite the recommendation for a gross receipts tax, the proposed ordinance suggests that dispensaries accept only "bartered-for exchanges" or "in-kind contributions" for medicinal marijuana.

For its part, the state Board of Equalization, which issues sellers permits and collects sales taxes in California, doesn't care what pot dispensary transactions are called. They are all considered taxable sales.

In a letter to Mayor Check Reed and the City Council, San Jose's Medical Cannabis Collectives Coalition also protested a proposed recommendation to ban residents from being members of more than one dispensary or medical marijuana collective. The group called that "an unconstitutional infringement on a patient's right to associate."

With the city due to take up its marijuana ordinance Tuesday, lawsuits are threatened.

"We will litigate to defend our rights," Jim Roberts, an attorney for several local dispensaries, said in a statement.

June 18, 2010
Weed connoisseurs stoked for California 'Medical Cannabis Cup'

California has long been known for its award-winning wines, honored at exquisite tastings for the finest Cabernet Sauvignon, Zinfandel or Syrah.

Soon it may be known for its prize-winning marijuana.

This weekend, High Times magazine is sponsoring the first California "Medical Cannabis Cup" in San Francisco to select the best full-bodied marijuana strains from Blue Dream to Purple Kush to Hashberry.

The Saturday-Sunday fest at the Terra gallery in San Francisco will include blind tasting of products from scores of California pot dispensaries.

A web announcement for the event declares, "The first annual High Times Medical Cannabis Cup...will include prizes for the best...medicinal cannabis, hashish and edibles from California's legal marijuana dispensaries."

The prizes will be given Sunday by a panel led by Jorge Cervantes, a renowned marijuana advocate and author of books including "Marijuana Horticulture - The Indoor/Outdoor Medical Grower's Bible."

For a video on the event, see below.

June 17, 2010
Unions see opportunities in marijuana industry, ballot measure

California's marijuana movement is picking up the union label.

Last month, the United Food and Commercial Workers, Local 5, in Oakland announced that it would represent 100 employees working in local medical cannabis industries.

Now Communications Workers of America Local 9415, which represents 1,800 members in California, Nevada and Hawaii, is endorsing the November initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use in California and allow local communities to tax and regulate pot sales.

In an campaign statement for initiative proponents, the union said it was backing the measure to help save public sector jobs through taxes on legalized pot.

In an interview, Local 9415 executive vice-president Christina Huggins said unions also see opportunities for new jobs and members in a California marijuana market expanded beyond current legal medical use.

"There's a potential for a lot of jobs," Huggins said. "When beer and alcohol was legalized, those were unionized jobs. We feel the people working in the upcoming industry should have good benefits and good pay and justice on the job."

Public Safety First, the campaign committee for legalization opponents, has support from law enforcement groups including the California Peace Officers Association, the California District Attorneys Association and the California Narcotics Officers Association. The "no" campaign is also backed by the California Bus Association and the CoachAmerica bus service.

June 17, 2010
Ex-New Mexico governor advocates California pot legalization

Former New Mexico governor Gary Johnson says the first time he tried marijuana he knew "the government lied" about its dangers and the need to commit resources to keep it illegal.

These days, Johnson says he doesn't smoke pot and never drinks. And his public policy group, Our America - The Gary Johnson Initiative - advocates drug abstinence.

Yet since his days as New Mexico governor, elected in 1994 and again in '98, Johnson has been a fierce advocate for legalization of marijuana and alternatives to the drug war.

Now he is in California, supporting the state's November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use, allow small residential cultivation and permit local governments to tax and regulate pot sales.

"I'm here to promote it in any way I can," he said in an interview outside the Capitol in Sacramento. "I liken it to the domino effect. This might be what brings rational drug policy to the rest of the country."

The former Republican governor met with state Assembly and Senate Republicans on Tuesday and Wednesday and scheduled interviews with reporters before heading off to San Francisco to tout the California pot measure in the Bay Area.

As New Mexico governor, Johnson said he was "the highest profile politician in the United States...espousing legalization of marijuana."

"That's the good news," he says. The bad? He laments that other political figures - particularly those still seeking elective office - are loathe to join him in advocating legal weed.

"No politicians touch this," Johnson said.

His "Our America" policy group advocates national legalization and taxation of marijuana.

Though he doesn't support legalization of other drugs, Johnson argues that misguided marijuana policy is at the heart of a costly and harmful war on drugs.

"Ninety percent of the drug problem is prohibition-related, not use-related," said Johnson, whose organization estimates national drug enforcement costs at $70 billion, including law enforcement, courts and prisons.

"And to what end?" he asks.

Johnson said the California initiative is a test of changing public attitudes on marijuana. Ultimately, he said, change will be inspired by voters - not elected officials.

"I think this is a tipping point that happens without the politicians," he said.

Johnson has been getting significant national attention for his marijuana legalization push.

See him articulate his views (below) during his appearance on The Colbert Report, after host Stephen Colbert asks him, "Are you high right now?"

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June 16, 2010
'Crusader' for medical marijuana patients opposes legalization

PK_MONEY 0193.JPGThe co-founder of one of Sacramento's original medical marijuana dispensaries isn't high on the notion of legalizing marijuana for recreational use in California.

With her husband, Bryan Davies, Lanette Davies founded the Canna Care dispensary, a medical cannabis outlet with a Christian theme.

Davies now heads an advocacy group for medical marijuana patients called Crusaders for Patients' Rights.

Under the group's name, she is writing voter pamphlets, urging "no" votes on the November initiative to legalize marijuana beyond medical use and allow local governments to tax and regulate pot sales.

Davies takes issue with proponents' arguments that marijuana should be taxed and regulated like alcohol.

"Doctors do not write recommendations because they know cannabis is safer than booze as suggested by the TaxCannabis 2010 office," she writes. "Doctors write recommendations for Cannabis because they care that people are suffering from illness and disease, they know cannabis is safer than conventional synthetic pharmaceuticals.

"Help us stop the bigotry and prejudice against patients. Medicine is not a vice."

She also argues that the initiative does nothing to reform practices of cities and counties that aggressively exclude medical marijuana establishments.

She questions: "Do honestly think that cities and counties that will not allow a patient to obtain cannabis are going to open the door to recreational use when this measure expressly states they DON'T have to?"

While Davies argues the legalization measure may appear to disrespect the work of physicians currently recommending marijuana, initiative proponents on June 9 released endorsements from 10 prominent physicians, psychiatrists and medical researchers in California, Washington, New York and Pennsylvania.

"It makes no sense for law enforcement to spend thousands of hours and millions of dollars a year arresting non-violent people who consume cannabis," Dr. Larry Bedard of Sausalito, a former president of the American College of Emergency Physicians, said in a statement released by the tax cannabis campaign.

Pictured: Lanette Davies, in 2009 photo, at Canna Care dispensary. Paul Kitagaki Jr./pkitagaki@sacbee.com

June 15, 2010
Tehama looks to curb cultivation, draws suit over medical rights

RCB_2010515_POTGROWER_ 007.JPGTucked in the upper reaches of California's Central Valley, Tehama County extends westward into mountainous terrain bordering Mendocino and Trinity counties - two-thirds of California's legendary Emerald Triangle.

Including Humboldt County, the three Emerald Triangle counties are known for two things: their thick curtains of coastal redwoods and their renown as America's prime growing region for marijuana.

But recently, the Tehama County Board of Supervisors essentially declared that they wanted no part of an Emerald Quadrangle.

The supervisors on April 6 passed a strict marijuana cultivation ordinance, directly challenging the growing rights of medical marijuana patients and vowing to keep Tehama from becoming an unchecked plantation for medicinal weed.

The county effort is now drawing a legal challenge from a group of medical pot users and cultivators. They charge the county is violating the state's medical marijuana law by limiting the number of plants patients can grow and banning cultivation within 1,000 feet of a school or 100 feet of a property line.

In passing the marijuana cultivation ordinance, the supervisors declared in a formal "findings" that they were passing the law, "including restrictions on the amount of marijuana that may be individually or cooperatively cultivated, in order to protect the public health, safety and welfare in Tehama County."

The board's findings went on to state: "The limited right of qualified patients and their primary caregivers under state law to cultivate marijuana plants for medical purposes does not confer the right to create or maintain a public nuisance."

The Tehama ordinance allows a maximum of 12 mature plants or 24 immature plants on parcels of 20 acres or less.

But plaintiffs in the lawsuit against the county charge that Tehama supervisors are violating individual property rights and forcing patients who cultivate collectively to accept tighter restrictions on growing than they are allowed under state law.

"The ordinance is an affront to property rights as well as patients' rights," one of the Tehama plantiffs, Jason Browne, said in a statement.

California law allows individual medical users to cultivate six mature or 12 immature plants and to possess eight ounces of dried marijuana. The limits are accepted by most local jurisdictions. Some cities and counties have voted to allow higher levels of growing.

The patients' lawsuit, supported by the California chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the Tehama County law creates hardships for patients who routinely cultivate collectively on single parcels.

For example, a half dozen medical users could cultivate a combined 36 mature marijuana plants under state law, three times what they are allowed to have on a parcel 20 acres or less in Tehama. The county ordinance does allow up 99 plants on properties of 160 acres or more.

The Tehama law comes months after the California Supreme Court ruled that patients cannot be convicted of a crime simply for exceeding state's plant limit. The court ruled that patients can possess any amount of marijuana related to their medical needs.

The lawsuit filed on behalf of 10 Tehama medical marijuana users declared that the county ordinance is "unconstitutional on its face" in limiting "the cultivation of marijuana for medical purposes."

The suit said California's 1996 Proposition 215 medical marijuana law "did not place any limits on the location where qualified patients, and/or their primary caregivers may cultivate marijuana plants."

"The right to cultivate is fundamental to Prop 215's mandate," said California NORML director Dale Gieringer, one of the initiative authors.

To see the Tehama lawsuit, click here.

Pictured: Tehama County is seeking to limit the number of pot plants large and small on local parcels. Renee C. Byer/rbyer@sacbee.com

June 9, 2010
Resolution tells feds to keep hands off California medical pot

Much has happened since state Sen. Mark Leno, a San Francisco Democrat, drafted a proposed resolution last year to tell the federal government to leave California's medical marijuana industry alone.

For starters, attorney general Eric Holder later announced that federal authorities wouldn't target medical cannabis operations and patients in California and other states were medicinal use is legal.

And California cities sprouted with an abundance of new marijuana dispensaries.

The surge is underscored by Los Angeles' efforts this week to shutter hundreds of pot shops, while allowing as many as 186 to stay open under an city ordinance passed this year.

Many of the clubs ordered to close had blossomed in town amid perceptions that they were safe from federal raids.

But Leno is pushing on with Senate Joint Resolution 14 - a measure urging President Barack Obama and Congress "to move quickly to end federal raids, intimidation and interference with state medical marijuana law."

The resolution, first introduced June 9, 2009, is due to be heard next Tuesday by the California Assembly health committee.

It also urges the president and Congress to approve "advanced clinical research trials into the therapeutic use of marijuana" and to "create a comprehensive federal medical marijuana policy that ensures safe and legal access to any patient that would benefit."

June 8, 2010
Two Democratic marijuana bills advance, divide constituencies

Democratic lawmaker Mark Leno of San Francisco wants to make possession of less than an ounce of marijuana an infraction and take it out of the reach of the criminal courts.

Democratic lawmaker Joan Buchanan of Alamo wants to ban medical marijuana dispensaries from operating near schools.

Their two bills, stirring different constituencies in the marijuana debate, each passed their respective houses and will now move forward in the Legislature.

Leno's bill, Senate Bill 1449, cleared the Senate and is now headed to the Assembly -- with cheers from marijuana activists and some jeers from Law enforcement.

Buchanan's bill, Assembly Bill 2650, cleared the Assembly and is now headed to the Senate - with strong support of police groups and school administrators and skepticism from marijuana advocates.

Leno's bill would stop simple marijuana possession from being considered a misdemeanor under the law. People stopped with small amounts of pot already face a penalty akin to an infraction - a fine of $100 - but must go to court as misdemeanor defendants.

Leno argues that passage of SB 1449 would unclog California's courts and potentially stop tens of thousands of marijuana arrests. But opponent John Lovell, a lobbyist for state narcotics offices and police associations, says the bill would dry up incentives for drug treatment - often negotiated in court plea bargains.

Aaron Smith, state policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group supporting marijuana legalization, said advocates are "are quite hopeful" Leno's bill will pass. He considers it a natural stepping stone to the November ballot initiative to tax and regulate marijuana for recreational use.

But the Marijuana Policy Project and other advocacy groups are wary of Buchanan's bill.

Originally, Buchanan had sought to ban dispensaries within 1,000 feet of all schools. But pot advocates pointed out that would even ban pot shops from near Oaksterdam University, Oakland's famed marijuana trade academy.

The bill was amended to cut the distance to 600 feet and specify that it apply to K-12 schools.

Smith argues that local governments are already imposing restrictions under local zoning laws for locating pot shops. "The reality is that there are a lot of issues that the Legislature needs to deal with concerning medical marijuana," he said. "This is not one of them."

He charged that the Buchanan bill amounts to little more than "fiddling in the margins" at the behest of law enforcement groups opposed to medical marijuana.

Buchanan says her bill is a "common sense measure" supported by schools and "sought by law enforcement."

She argues for the legislation in an Assembly video below.

June 7, 2010
Anti-drug war group finds little to like in California candidates

The Drug Policy Forum of California, a group advocating alternatives to the war on drugs, has put out an election guide for tomorrow's state primary. And it is largely unhappy with what the candidates have to offer.

In appraising major gubernatorial candidates, Republicans Meg Whitman and Steve Poizner and Democrat Jerry Brown, the organization reports: "Neither party offers a significant choice."

It takes Whitman to task for her declaration that she is "absolutely, 100 percent not in favor of legalizing marijuana for any reason" and signals out Poizner for his vow to "fight all efforts to legalize marijuana.

And while it credits Brown with signing a 1976 law as governor to decriminalize possession of less than an ounce of marijuana, the group says Brown has done "little to advance drug reform" since.

The group, part of a national policy organization, DrugSense, isn't at all happy with Democratic Sen. Barbara Boxer.

It says she has "done nothing to recommend herself to marijuana supporters in her 18 years in the Senate, backing tough drug sentencing laws and opposing Prop 215," California's medical marijuana law.

But it suggests that Republican Tom Campbell, "a fiscal conservative with liberal views on social issues," may gather some support from the "medical marijuana community."

The group signals out Los Angeles District Attorney Steve Cooley, the leading Republican contender for attorney general, as "extremely dangerous" and suggests that the Democratic A.G. candidates lack courage on marijuana issues.

One candidate the Drug Policy Forum seems to like is state Board of Equalization member Betty Yee. The board chairwoman famously declared that a taxed, regulated pot trade could bring in $1.3 billion for California.

"Lee has repeatedly argued that legal marijuana, medical or otherwise, offers a promising source of tax revenue," the group declares.

June 4, 2010
Views of Humboldt pot pollution cite problems indoors and out

Marijuana may be the renowned cash crop in Humboldt County. But two reports in recent months suggest it is bad medicine for the regional environment.

In an article in the North Coast Journal, two research engineers at the Schatz Energy Research Center at Humboldt State University took issue with excessive energy use of thriving indoor marijuana grow rooms.

"There are environmental consequences of what we're doing," wrote Peter Lehman and Peter Johnstone. They suggested that Humboldt pot rooms use enough electricity to power "13,000 typical homes" and put "20,000 metric tons of CO2 into the atmosphere."

"And that's without considering the energy and environmental costs of using chemical fertilizers, which are significant," they wrote.

Lehman and Johnstone instead endorsed environmentally sustainable practices of conscientious outdoor cultivators that "grow marijuana in the sunshine, where it is meant to be grown with no pesticides, fungicides or artificial fertilizers." They also suggested that any greenhouse operations be solar powered.

Meanwhile, a recent video report produced by UC Berkeley graduate student Kate McLean offered a grim - and grimy - view on pollution from abundant, often haphazard outdoor marijuana growing operations.

McLean's report, for University of California Television and CNS News, described fuel spills and environmental contamination from illicit outdoor growing - often from illegal networks coming into the county - and remote, "off-the-grid" grow houses.

Her report can be seen below.

Pot farms and pollution from Kate McLean on Vimeo.

June 3, 2010
November initiative tests a big voting block: marijuana smokers

California's November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use may well ride on a potent voting block - people who currently smoke marijuana or have used pot in the past.

All told, past and present pot smokers comprise 37 percent of registered voters in California, according to a recent poll undertaken by the University of Southern California College of Letters, Arts, & Sciences and the Los Angeles Times.

That's well more than the number of registered Republicans (31 percent) and independent voters (20 percent) and within striking distance of the number of Democrats (just under 45 percent.)

The significance is that pot smokers overwhelmingly support the November initiative to legalize recreational use for Californians over 21, allow small residential cultivation and permit local governments to tax and regulate marijuana.

"It is a very identifiable and easily targeted voter group," said Dan Schnur, director of USC's Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics. "It's very clear that individuals who have used marijuana either medicinally or for recreation are a lot more likely to vote for the initiative.

"Short of giving out free baggies at the polling place, the smartest thing for the 'yes' side to do is motivate that base to turn out on election day."

Yet Dan Newman, a strategist from the Tax Cannabis 2010 campaign, said there will be no bring-the-smokers-to-the-polls election push.

"There won't be any sophisticated, fancy pants micro-targeting," Newman insisted. "We simply don't need it. We have truth, justice and common sense on our side."

In the USC/L.A. Times statewide poll conducted May 19-26, eleven percent of registered voters reported using marijuana in the past year. Of those, 82 percent favored the legalization initiative.

Twenty-six percent of registered voters said they have smoked pot in the past - and 61 percent favored the measure. Overall, 68 percent of current and former marijuana smokers backed legalization.

Voters who never used marijuana opposed legalization by a lesser margin, 53 to 36 percent, according to the poll.

And indications are pot smoking voters will be motivated -- and not too medicated -- to cast their ballots.

Some 88 percent of registered voters who have used marijuana in the past told pollsters they were "almost certain" to vote in 2010 and another seven percent said they would "probably" vote. Seventy-five percent of voters who smoked in the past year reported they were extremely likely to vote and another 14 percent said they would probably cast ballots.

Newman, who promotes the pot measure as an important source of tax revenues for
California communities, predicted the initiative will bring out both smoker-voters and others newly discovering where their local polling places are located.

"There are going to be people showing up at the polls who don't vote in every election because this is on the ballot," Newman said.

But Wayne Johnson, lead campaign consultant for Public Safety First, which opposes the legalization, said voters' marijuana use will prove to be irrelevant. Public Safety First, a coalition of law enforcement, transportation and religious organizations, attacks the initiative as promoting a drug that causes physical impairment and presents a safety risk.

"We're going to win both of those groups (pot users and non-users) before this is over - because it's not about marijuana," Johnson said. "People who have driven under the influence are certainly not going to vote for driving under the influence. I don't think the fact that somebody is or isn't a marijuana user takes away from that notion of the public good."

June 1, 2010
View from Sacramento's Midtown: Voices on medical marijuana

The Bee's Andy Alfaro is putting his video camera to work to gather the voices of Sacramento's medical marijuana dispensary debate.

With 39 registered dispensaries in town and the City Council pondering limiting the number of local pot outlets in town, Alfaro recently trained his camera on Joel Marshall, who runs the Delta Health and Wellness dispensary, Sara Sinclair of SaraJane Cooperative Inc. and Rob Kerth of the Midtown Business Association.

See a short clip of his work below.