Weed Wars

Dispatches from the California Marijuana Front

September 29, 2010
California marijuana vote closely watched south of the border

Some of the most anxious observers of California's November vote to legalize marijuana for recreational use are ineligible to vote because they are located south of the border in Mexico.

Prop 19 proponents argue that the most nervous observers are the Mexican drug cartels, whose operations could be undercut by legal marijuana in the Golden State.

But leading political intellectuals in Mexico are also wondering whether the California vote will open the door to seriously considering legalizing marijuana in Mexico.

Tim Johnson, the Mexico City Bureau Chief for McClatchy Newspapers, including The Sacramento Bee, recently wrote that Proposition 19 is a huge topic of interest in the country ravaged by drug violence.

His recent report described Prop 19 as a bellwether in Mexico as to whether legalizing pot may be seen as an answer to the country's deadly scourge - or perhaps a political affront to the United States.

""If they vote 'yes' to approve the full legalization of marijuana, I think it will have a radical impact in Mexico," Jorge Hernandez Tinajero, a political scientist at the National Autonomous University, told Johnson.

In a recent commentary in The Washington Post, former Mexican foreign minister Jorge G. Castañeda and historian and magazine publisher Héctor Aguilar Camín wrote that the California vote represents "almost the whole enchilada" for how Mexico should shape future policy on marijuana.

"We have believed for some time that Mexico should legalize marijuana and perhaps other drugs," they wrote. "But until now, most discussion of this possibility has foundered because our country's drug problem and the U.S. drug problem are so inextricably linked...As a result, the debate over legalization has inevitably gotten hung up over whether Mexico should wait until the United States is willing and able to do the same."

September 28, 2010
Cato Institute urges 'drug war' savings, avoids stand on Prop 19

A new Cato Institute study, casting the nation's war on drugs in a dim financial light, says California spends nearly $1 billion a year in state costs try to keep people from using marijuana.

And the study by the libertarian think tank says the Golden State could save a total of $6.3 billion a year by legalizing and taxing illicit drugs.

An announcement for Cato study asserts that the "drug criminalization structure" nationally "squanders a total of $88 billion a year - $41.3 billion spent to prosecute the 'war on drugs' and $46.7 billion in lost potential revenue from the taxation of legal drug sales."

The report, entitled "The Budgetary Impact of Ending Drug Prohibition," is authored by Harvard economist Jeffrey A. Miron and Katherine Waldock, a doctoral candidate at the Stern School of Business at New York University.

While the document clearly advocates potential tax benefits of drug legalization, it notably doesn't take sides on the Proposition 19 initiative to legalize marijuana in California for recreational use and allow local governments to tax and regulate pot sales.

Here is an excerpt from the report:

This potential fiscal windfall is of particular interest because California,which is facing a budget shortfall of $19.9 billion for fiscal year 2011, will vote in November 2010 on a ballot initiative that would legalize marijuana under California law. Advocates of the measure have suggested the state could raise "billions" in annual tax revenue from legalized marijuana, in addition to saving criminal justice expenditure or re-allocating this expenditure to more important priorities.

And should the California measure pass and generate the forecast budgetary savings,other states would likely follow suit.

The fact that legalization might generate a fiscal dividend does not, by itself, make it a better policy than prohibition. Legalization would have many effects, and opinions differ on whether these are desirable on net.

To see the full report, click here.

September 27, 2010
Big Tobacco snuffs out rumors of California marijuana interest

Among some determined pot market conspiracy theorists, scattered in marijuana fields of Mendocino or Humboldt or at some urban dispensaries in California cities, one rumor refuses to die:

Big Tobacco is coming - and wants to take over the California weed market.

But Reynolds America Inc, one of America's leading tobacco companies, says it has no interest in going into the pot business - regardless of whether California voters pass Proposition 19 in November to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

In an interview, Frank Lester, spokesman for Reynolds America Inc., seemed almost apologetic for killing the speculation. But he confirmed that the parent company for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, Santa Fe Natural Tobacco and the American Snuff Company won't be adding a marijuana production division.

"Even going back years, I remember hearing that same thing back in the 1970s and 1980s," Lester said of the Big Tobacco pot business rumors. "We are paying attention to the California initiative just as a political situation. But we're not preparing to enter into the marijuana trade at all."

Lester added: "We're a domestic U.S. tobacco company. We're interested in providing the finest tobacco products to adult tobacco consumers. We're not in the trade of selling marijuana, nor will we ever be."

A spokesman for the Altria Group, parent company for Philip Morris USA, America's largest tobacco producer, dismissed an often-repeated rumor about tobacco companies buying land or investing in California in anticipation of going into the pot trade. He said he is aware of no such transactions involving Philip Morris or Altria companies.

"We're not in that business. We're in the business of selling legal tobacco products," said Altria spokesman David Sutton.

But, per company policy on speculating about future plans, Sutton declined to bluntly say that Phillip Morris will never produce marijuana blunts in the future - leaving some rhetorical real estate for pot conspiracy theorists.

"We never speculate on what our future plans may or may not be," Sutton said. "We don't speculate on any future business plans. It doesn't have anything to do whether it's on this (marijuana) or any other topic."

September 27, 2010
'War in the Woods' depicts intensity, violence in illicit pot fields

The protagonist is a California Department Fish and Game officer who definitely isn't your laid-back, outdoorsy game warden of yore.

One one hand, Lt. John Nores Jr. has a mission to protect wildlife habitats, stream beds and water quality in the forests and public lands of California.

On the other, he is on the prowl for illicit marijuana gardens and often armed members of drug-trafficking networks.

In a new book, "War on the Woods - Combating the Marijuana Cartels on America's Public Lands," Nores, an 18-year state Fish and Game warden, describes shootouts with marijuana growers and a dangerous job of finding and eradicating pot fields in California's Sierra Nevada and coastal ranges.

The book, due to be released in October by Lyons Press, is co-authored by James A. Swan, a senior columnist for ESPNOutdoors.com.

Here is an partial excerpt, describing one encounter in the woods:

...With the gunman now "danger close" at only 10 years away, Snake identified us to the suspect, "Police! Stop and put your hands up!" The man's reactions were surreal and unexpected. The grower stopped in his tracks. His eyes widened in shock for just a second before his expression turned vicious. The gunman's brow tightened, his eyes squinted, and the expression on his face turned from shock to anger...The grower swung the shotgun towards our team."

Want more?

Here is a video promotion for the book, with guns, action and a pulsing guitar riff:

September 24, 2010
New state analysis on Prop 19 pot tax revenues: Don't ask us

The state Board of Equalization, which last year famously declared that legalizing marijuana could generate $1.4 billion in new tax revenues for California state coffers, has an updated analysis out for Proposition 19, the November ballot measure to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

This time, the BOE says it can't predict what legal weed can bring in.

Officials also said it may take them months - or years - to implement potentially needed systems for collecting new marijuana taxes that may result from Proposition 19.

In its previous analysis, the BOE heavily based its tax revenues estimate on a $50 per ounce pot tax proposed in state legislation by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. But no such tax is proposed in Proposition 19.

The initiative leaves it up to local governments to tax and regulate retail marijuana operations. Ammiano, D-San Francisco, says he'll likely pick up his statewide pot tax push in the Legislature if Prop. 19 is approved by voters.

But until then, BOE officials say, don't expect them to come up with a state pot revenues estimate.

"Proposition 19 does not contain specific provisions at the state level governing taxation or retail sale (of marijuana)," the BOE analysis says. "Local jurisdictions are free to choose to impose licensing fees or implement differing tax schemes or rates. BOE staff is not able to create estimates of marijuana consumption and price at the local level. BOE staff is not able to estimate the impact that legalization, local regulation and taxation will have..."

The BOE currently collects sales taxes on medical marijuana dispensaries. But its analysis says a system for collecting new taxes on potential retail and commercial operations for recreational pot use may not be easy to implement.

"The BOE would need a minimum of 8 months to implement a new marijuana tax or fee program and a minimum of two years to implement a marijuana tax or fee program requiring the application of a stamp program," the analysis reads, italics included.

To read the new report, click here.

September 22, 2010
Advocates warn cities federal law can't stop marijuana shops

Hinting at potential legal actions to come, an advocacy group for medical marijuana users is warning California cities and counties that they cannot ban pot stores on grounds that state and federal marijuana laws are conflict.

Americans for Safe Access, the Oakland-headquartered organization representing marijuana patients, has sent letters to 134 California cities and nine counties, urging them to lift local bans on marijuana dispensaries as a result of an August state appeals court ruling.

In a closely watched case challenging a dispensary ban in the Orange County city of Anaheim, the California 4th District Court of Appeal failed to resolve the central argument over whether cities can bar pot shops or be forced to accept them under state law.

But in sending the case back to a lower court, the 4th District Court ruled that Anaheim couldn't keep dispensaries out on grounds that federal marijuana law supercedes medical pot use in California.

"It is true that California and the federal government have conflicting views of the potential health benefits of marijuana," Judge Richard M. Aronson wrote in the Aug. 18 court decision. "But...we discern nothing in the city's compliance with state law that would require the violation of federal law. The federal CSA (Controlled Substances Act) does not direct local governments to exercise their regulatory, licensing, zoning, or other power in any particular way."

In a letter to local governments barring pot shops, Americans for Safe Access chief counsel Joe Elford said the court ruling means "it is not lawful for localities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries absolutely, due to a preference for contrary federal law."

In the letter, Elford told municipal officials: "I ask that you regulate medical marijuana dispensaries, rather than ban them."

He added: "Otherwise, we will explore our legal options."

September 21, 2010
Capitol marijuana debate offers parallel universes for Prop 19

A state Capitol hearing today on how Proposition 19 may affect the future universe of California produced such disparate views that Assemblyman Tom Ammiano pondered the potential outcomes as perhaps only he can.

"A drug czar today could be on Dancing With the Stars tomorrow," he said.

It was a light moment in a otherwise serious discussion over how California and its local governments will be impacted if voters pass the initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use, permit small residential cultivation and allow cities and counties to tax and regulate retail pot sales.

On one side of the argument was Sacramento County District Attorney Jan Scully. Speaking on behalf of the California District Attorneys Association, she argued that the measure would do little or nothing to combat crime and would create an utter morass for local municipalities.

"It will not impede the drug cartels that are coming across our border and actually growing on our state and federal lands," Scully told the joint legislative public safety committee hearing chaired by Ammiano and state Sen. Mark Leno, two San Francisco lawmakers and Prop 19 supporters.

Scully also argued that local governments will be flummoxed by the vagueness of the initiative. And she said the measure "will be so fraught with litigation over its merits...it will take years to ever take effect."

But Prop 19 campaign spokeswoman Dale Sky Jones argued that California's initiative will bring about changes mirroring the end of alcohol prohibition if passed.

"This is the first step to take control away from the criminals," she said, adding: "We don't have illegal grape-growing cartels in our national forests. And they don't take out guns. They take out advertising."

Jones also argued that the flexibility of the measure in allowing local governments to decide whether or not to allow retail pot operations - and determine how to tax them - is a plus.

"I'm not concerned about the patchwork," she said. "Our cities and counties do many things on the local level quite successfully."

RAND Corp. researcher Beau Kilmer reiterated findings of the think tank's recent study, declaring that California marijuana prices could plummet by 80 percent if Proposition 19 passed. Kilmer also said marijuana use could go up by between 50 and 100 percent.

At maximum use, he said, "We would be back to where we were in the 1970s."

September 20, 2010
'Anti-stoner' pot advocate tends garden and counts the cookies

PK_WAMM 0044.JPGMike Corral sees himself as a master marijuana grower and an "anti-stoner."

Corral, who co-founded Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana with wife Valerie Corral in 1993, is the ever-present teacher in garden for the Santa Cruz cannabis-growing commune.

He oversees WAMM members - cancer patients, AIDS sufferers and others with profound medical conditions - in hands-on work in growing the cannabis they use to relieve and soothe their symptoms.

WAMM and its poignant community for the disabled, sick and dying is profiled in Sunday's edition of the Sacramento Bee. To read the article, click here.

While WAMM and its legal fight against the federal government stirred attention for the California marijuana movement, Mike Corral has found a secondary mission: winning renewed respect for outdoor marijuana growing.

He is dismissive of booming medical marijuana dispensaries hyping high-octane indoor weed. He blames their marketing of exotic indoor strains for promoting a stoner culture that undermines medical use and insults the purity of outdoor cultivation.

"The clubs have a marketing campaign: Outdoor (marijuana) is bad," Corall said. "But indoors is more costly, more labor intensive. And to me, there is 500 years of history of growing outdoors."

And so Corral and WAMM members cultivate their marijuana in on a coastal mountain terrace outside Santa Cruz. He says they plant seedlings in greenhouses before the "spring moon," put plants into the ground "before the summer solstice" and harvest "before the fall moon."

While marijuana stores proliferate in California cities, often offering several dozen designer pot strains, Wamm has just four: a sativa plant called "African Queen," a Purple Indica plant and two indica- or sativa-dominant hybrids.

The master gardener rarely tests the final product.

Corral is registered as a caregiver for his wife, who has a medical marijuana recommendation for seizures she began suffering after a car accident. But he says he has no medical need himself and generally isn't eager to join anyone's smoking circle.

"I'm a purist. I don't like the idea of someone passing a joint to someone," Corral said.

The anti-stoner says he even occasionally chides some WAMM members if he thinks they may have consumed enough.

"I'll see somebody take some (marijuana) cookies and I'll ask, 'Why did you take two?' If you took two to alleviate your symptoms, fine. But can they be alleviated with a cookie - or half a cookie?"

Pictured: Mike Corral in the WAMM garden. Paul Kitagaki Jr./pkitagaki@sacbee.com

September 17, 2010
Cops and retired cops square off in California marijuana fight

In the cop vs. cop politicking over Proposition 19, the California initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use, there are a few words that may help determine who may be endorsing which side.

The opposition to Proposition 19 is dominated by a vast list of current law enforcement office holders, including 39 sheriffs and 33 police chiefs, and organizations including the California Police Chiefs Association, the California State Sheriffs' Association, the California Narcotics Officers Association and the California District Attorneys Association.

But the Yes on 19 campaign recently released a list of its own cop endorsements. And most come from people sharing some common modifiers in their titles - namely "former" or "retired."

The names under an endorsement letter for the initiative include retired San Jose Police Chief John McNamara, retired Deputy Los Angeles Police Chief Stephen Downing, former Contra Costa County Deputy Sheriff David Sinclair, former San Francisco District Attorney Terrance Hallinan and retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James Gray.

Current office holders signing the endorsement were Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos and Oakland City Attorney John Russo.

Here is except from their letter on behalf of Prop 19:

"The only groups that benefit from continuing to keep marijuana legal are the violent gangs that control its distribution and reap immense profits through the black market. If California voters make the sensible decision to effectively control and tax cannabis this November, it will eliminate illegal marijuana distribution networks, just as ending alcohol prohibition put a stop to violent and corrupting gangsters' control of beer wine and liquor sales."

McNamara also recently penned an op-ed piece in the San Jose Mercury News, arguing that Prop 19 will allow a reallocation of law enforcement resources to make California safer.

"People are not terrified by the thought of pot smokers in their neighborhood, but voters who are justifiably concerned that violent criminals threaten their safety, as well as that of their children and families, will vote for Proposition 19."

But not according to some cops still on the job.

"Nothing about Proposition 19 is positive," said Fontana Police Chief Rodney in a statement released by the No on 19 campaign. "The initiative has too many legal loopholes and will cause too much chaos, and put the public's safety and our communities at risk."

Added Pleasant Hill Police Chief Pete Dunbar: "If Proposition 19 passes, our workplaces and roadways will be in danger, our cities and counties will not benefit economically, and a huge burden will be placed on local law enforcement..."

Just some arguments to ponder from both sides - retired and still on the job.

September 16, 2010
Sacramento dispensary commercial creates an airwaves buzz

Lanette Davies, whose family operates the Canna Care medical marijuana dispensary in Sacramento, is getting coverage across the nation - and beyond.

It's all because she paid for an advertisement. But not just any ad.

Since early this month, Canna Care and KTXL Fox40 television in Sacramento have been airing a 30-commercial for the medical marijuana dispensary. The spot is believed to be the first television advertisement for marijuana. But it never uses the commonly used word for cannabis.

The commercial shows testimonials from Canna Care patients discussing their medical reasons for seeking relief with cannabis. The patients include Davies' daughter, Brittany, who suffers from a chronic bone disease.

Davies said the commercial has given the Sacramento dispensary, which has 6,000 registered medical marijuana users, "a face across the nation." She argues it also promotes a positive image for the medicinal benefits of cannabis. But she said the spot "never used the word 'marijuana' because there is a negative connotation to that."

Davies says she has gotten calls from news reporters in multiple states, as well as Mexico and Franco, over the commercial.

View the ad below.

September 15, 2010
Beer lobby opposition drives pot initiative proponents to drink

Marijuana legalization advocates like to argue that pot is safer than booze and California will be better off with legal weed.

So when the California Beer and Beverage Distributors trade association donated $10,000 to the campaign to defeat Proposition 19, California's November ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for recreational use, pot advocates pounced.

"Plain and simple, the alcohol industry is trying to kill the competition," said Steve Fox, director of governmental relations for the Marijuana Policy Project, a group seeking alternatives to the war on drugs.

Fox is a co-author of a pro-marijuana legalization book entitled "Marijuana is safer: So why are we driving people to drink?"

He borrowed from the title to criticize the beer distributors for opposing Proposition 19.

"They know that marijuana is less addictive, less toxic and less likely to be associated with violent behavior," Fox charged. "So they don't want adults to have the option of using marijuana legally instead of alcohol. Their mission is to drive people to drink."

But Roger Salazar, a spokesman for the No on 19 campaign, argued that the beer distributors don't want people toking and driving.

"The average California beer wholesaler has a fleet of 85 delivery trucks plus long haul trailers, vans and sales cars to bring their product to market," Salazar said. "I would think they would no more support allowing their drivers to drink beer before getting behind the wheel of their trucks or vans, than they would want them smoking marijuana."

September 1, 2010
Cheech & Chong aim to 'Get it Legal,' even if they're a little late

Thumbnail image for Cheech_Chong.jpgCan you have a weed vote without these guys?

Actor-comedians Richard "Cheech" Marin and Tommy Chong will kick off the fall campaign of their Get it Legal tour Sept. 24 at the Redding Convention Center.

The event is a continuation of the comedy tour Cheech & Chong launched in January, partnering with the Marijuana Policy Project to target pot prohibition in numerous states by unleashing the stoner humor they made famous in the 1970s and '80s.

Separate from the tour, the pair is due to be in Los Angeles Sept. 30 for the High Times magazine "Stony Awards" celebrating weed in film.

Otherwise, it appears that their Get it Legal scheduler may have been a bit medicated when it came to booking Cheech & Chong events before California's potentially landmark Proposition vote on legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

The duo will perform in Santa Cruz on Nov. 5 and L.A. on Nov. 6 - some hazy days after California voters will already have decided whether or not to "Get it Legal" in the Nov. 2 election.