Pot tax goes down in flames in California Legislature

As reported by the Los Angeles Times:

A bill to put an excise tax on medical marijuana in California was killed Thursday by a Senate panel after advocates for cannabis users said it would put a financial burden on patients.

The Senate Appropriations Committee shelved AB 2243 with knowledge that California voters will consider a 15% pot tax on Nov. 8 when they take up Proposition 64, which would also legalize recreational use of cannabis.

The legislation by Assemblyman Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) would have charged up to $9.25 per ounce of marijuana flowers, $2.75 per ounce of pot leaves and $1.25 per ounce of immature pot plants.

Wood said the funding is needed to help cover enforcement and environmental costs under a new system approved last year that will license the growing, transport and sale of medical marijuana. …

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Momentum’s building to legalize pot in California

As reported by the Orange County Register:

There are increasing signs that 2016 might just be the year the largest state in the nation legalizes recreational marijuana.

Polls have shown from 56 percent to 60 percent of California’s likely voters in the November presidential contest support legal pot. And due in part to hefty financial backing from a Silicon Valley billionaire, the leading pro-marijuana measure – the Adult Use of Marijuana Act – has gotten off to one of the strongest starts among dozens of proposed initiatives on different topics being pitched for the Nov. 8 ballot.

“We believe that AUMA has a very strong chance of passing in 2016,” said Chris Beals, chief strategy officer for Irvine-based Weedmaps, which has donated $500,000 to the campaign. “While there is still much work to be done to further educate voters on the issue, support for ending prohibition is strong in California.”

Of course, much could change between …

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CA Congressmen Urge Federal Reform of Marijuana Laws

marijuanaThe federal government’s understanding of its own marijuana regulations are willfully “tortuous” and “an obvious stretch,” warned a bipartisan duo of California Congressmen in a sternly-worded letter to the Department of Justice.

An abuse of power

In the letter, obtained by the Huffington Post, Reps. Sam Farr, D-Calif., and Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., requested that DOJ Inspector General Michael Horowitz open an internal investigation into the department’s continued prosecutions of marijuana dispensaries, against what they said was the clear letter and intent of the law.

In its Appropriations Act for 2015, Congress had passed a provision introduced by Rohrabacher and Farr designed and intended to ward off federal interference with marijuana-related businesses operating legally under state law.

“We, the authors of the language, and our many colleagues — including those who opposed the amendment — laid on the record repeatedly that the intent and the language of the provision was to stop DOJ from interacting with anyone legitimately doing business in medical marijuana in accordance with state law,” wrote the Congressmen.

Signed into law by president Obama, the amendment received a second vote of approval from Representatives this summer. “As the marijuana provision is part of an annual funding bill that will expire,” noted the Huffington Post, “the lawmakers introduced an identical version again in June, which was reauthorized by the House of Representatives.”

In April, Farr and Rohrabacher had also demanded that Attorney General Eric Holder “stop prosecution of state-authorized medical marijuana dispensaries” in observance of the same provision, as the Orange County Register reported.

Federal legalese

But the Department of Justice chose to interpret the law in the most hostile manner possible, the lawmakers suggested, citing an April statement by DOJ spokesman Patrick Rodenbush. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Rodenbush said Rohrabacher-Farr, as the appropriations amendment was known, didn’t apply to prosecutions directed at persons or groups:

Rather, he said, it stops the department from “impeding the ability of states to carry out their medical marijuana laws,” contrary to some claims from people being prosecuted that the amendment blocks such prosecutions.

As the Times then observed, this “narrow interpretation of the law” had particularly strong implications in the San Francisco Bay Area, “where the Justice Department has initiated forfeiture proceedings against three medical marijuana dispensaries it considers to be in violation of federal law.”

Outgoing U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag had become notorious among pro-pot advocates and businesspeople, joining “the three other regional U.S. attorneys in California in cracking down on medical marijuana dispensaries perceived to be large-scale commercial enterprises,” as Pleasanton Weekly recounted. One dispensary facing the brunt of Haag’s crusade, Harborside Health Center, met the news of her departure with what executive director Steve DeAngelo called “great relief and great satisfaction.”

“In Ms. Haag’s parting statement she said she felt her office had ‘accomplished most of our goals’ during her tenure,” DeAngelo said in a statement. “The one goal she most assuredly has not accomplished is closing down Harborside Health Center. We hope her successor will have a more finely tuned understanding of compassion and justice than Ms. Haag has displayed, and allow Harborside to focus on serving our patients instead of battling a court case that should never have been started.”

Conflicting actions

Although the Department of Justice could opt to ignore the mismatch between its conduct and the law, the law itself would hold them to account for doing so. At stake is the applicability of the Anti-Deficiency Act, as Farr and Rohrabacher argued; as Reason indicated, that law “makes it a crime to use federal money for purposes that are not approved by Congress.”

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com

Feds vow continued pot prosecutions in CA

Over the strenuous objections of some California lawmakers, the Department of Justice vowed to continue prosecuting the medical marijuana industry in the Golden State.

Despite a recent bipartisan federal amendment de-funding the Department’s fight against medical marijuana, spokesman Patrick Rodenbush revealedto the Los Angeles Times that “it did not believe the amendment applies to cases against individuals or organizations.”

“Consistent with the Department’s stated enforcement priorities, we don’t expect that the amendment will impact our ability to prosecute private individuals or private entities who are violating the Controlled Substances Act.”

The interpretation put the DOJ squarely at odds with the amendment’s co-sponsors, Reps. Dana Rohrabacher, R-Calif., and Sam Farr, D-Calif. Rohrabacher spokesman Ken Grubbs said his boss “believes the amendment’s language is perfectly clear and that the DOJ’s self-referential interpretation is emphatically wrong.”

Farr echoed the comments. “The Justice Department’s interpretation of the amendment defies logic,” he said, according to the Huffington Post. “No reasonable person thinks prosecuting patients doesn’t interfere with a state’s medical marijuana laws. Lawyers can try to mince words but Congress was clear: Stop going after patients and dispensaries.”

Fueling the fire

The developments have heightened the controversy surrounding California’s efforts to gradually reform its marijuana laws to better reflect the reality of steadily increasing usage and rapidly changing mores. Despite growing public support for legalization and taxation, policymakers have faced sharp challenges in reconciling the pre-existing pot industry with the intended uniformity that regulation would bring.

Marijuana farming alone has raised the specter of awkward tradeoffs for liberal state Democrats, many of whom support both pot legalization and increased environmental regulation. As Jefferson Public Radio most recently observed, California pot farming has adversely affected both the state’s drought and its wildlife. “What we found is that in four of the streams that had marijuana cultivation, those four streams went dry. And the only stream that we monitored that did not go dry was free of marijuana cultivation,” said Scott Bauer, a California Fish and Wildlife biologist who lead-authored a new study showing the impact of pot on the “Emerald Triangle” of pot production in Humboldt and Mendocino counties.

Although the lion’s share of water consumption continued to run through the state’s large agricultural companies, officials have recognized that California produce holds a far more important and legitimate place in the state and national economy than California marijuana.

In the hopes of squaring the policy circle on related issues, Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration formed a Blue Ribbon Commission on Marijuana Policy, placing Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom at the head. At the end of March, the commission released its first progress report, sketching out an effort to balance safety and reform across areas including children, taxes and regulations.

Money measures

According to the Huffington Post, the commission took an uncertain approach to taxes — one that Lt. Gov. Newsom reiterated in an interview. Pot taxes, the report noted, “can result in greater state and local revenue, increasing the revenue available to do the work of government,” whereas “with a high tax, both sellers and buyers may opt out of the legal market in order to avoid paying the tax and continue to access marijuana through the illicit market.”

The perils of pot taxation have been on display recently in Colorado. There, revenue has been so high that, by law, a cut of the income must be returned to residents themselves. But, as High Times reported, confusion has set in statewide. Legislators haven’t figured out whether the money should go to pot purchasers or all residents. Republicans, typically in favor of rebates, have wound up opposed. Even pot producers, who supported the taxes to begin with, haven’t decided how to come down on the giveback. California lawmakers haven’t painted themselves into the same regulatory corner as Coloradans. But with federal pressure ongoing, Californians have begun to recognize that they’ll be on their own in determining how to liberalize pot laws without adverse consequences.

Originally published by CalWatchdog.com