The U.S. Imposes Travel Restrictions in Response to New COVID-19 Variant. Again.

The U.S. is once again imposing travel restrictions to stem the spread of yet another COVID-19 variant. Today, travel restrictions snap into place for noncitizens traveling by air from South Africa and seven other African countries in response to the spread of the newly discovered omicron variant in that region.

This new variant was discovered by South African scientists last week. The World Health Organization (WHO) classified it as a “variant of concern” on Friday.

That same day, President Joe Biden announced his latest round of travel restrictions, which he described as a “precautionary measure” that would give his administration more time to learn about the new variant.

The White House hasn’t said when these travel restrictions might be lifted. Biden, in a statement issued Friday, said only that “we will continue to be guided by what the science and my medical team advises.”

He encouraged people to get vaccinated or, if already vaccinated, a booster shot. The president also urged other countries to lift intellectual property protections for COVID-19 vaccines as a means of boosting the global vaccine supply.

Other countries affected by the travel restrictions include Botswana, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Lesotho, Eswatini, Mozambique, and Malawi.

The new restrictions are already producing chaos. The Washington Post reports on how canceled flights to and from the affected countries are leaving people stuck abroad or forcing them to cancel their plans to visit family.

The Post notes that the U.S. had lifted travel restrictions on 33 countries just a few weeks prior. Biden’s latest move is yet another blow for the travel industry and those who had hoped that pandemic-era border controls would be a fading policy.

Dozens of other countries are also imposing restrictions on travel in the face of this new, quickly spreading variant.

Cases of people infected with the omicron variant have been reported in a number of countries, including the Netherlands, Israel, and Australia. On Sunday, Canada reported its first two omicron cases.

There are still many open questions about omicron, including how severe its symptoms are, how transmissible it is, and how well existing vaccines or prior COVID-19 infections protect people against this new variant.

The South African doctor who first noticed the omicron variant has said that all the cases she’s seen have been pretty mild, reports CNBC. Disease experts who spoke to The New York Times say that omicron might be more transmissible than even the very infectious delta variant.

Pharmaceutical companies like Pfizer and Moderna are currently testing whether their existing COVID-19 vaccines are effective against the omicron variant.

Thus far, the WHO has said that it’ll take several weeks before we have more clear answers to many of these questions.

Here we go again.

Click here to read the full article at Reason.com

Metro Riders Cite Rise in Crime

As ridership rebounds, reports of violence, including five killings, are up even from pre-pandemic levels.

As she waited for a Metro train in Hollywood, Maritza Mancilla shielded herself behind the escalator bringing passengers down into the fluorescent-lighted underground.

She wanted to see the newcomers before they could see her.

The 55-year-old, who relies on public transportation to get to her job as a housecleaner, has seen fights break out on the train. She’s seen a man attempt to open the car doors while they were in motion. At the Hollywood/Western Metro station earlier this year, a man exposed himself to her.

“If I could work from home, I would,” she said.

With the pandemic easing and lockdowns lifted, a return to normality has come with benefits: increased economic activity, more people going back to work and school, plus holiday gatherings and social interactions.

But on the Los Angeles public transit system — where ridership has rebounded to about 843,000 weekday daily riders from a pandemic low of about 363,800— normal has also brought with it a rise in crime.

In 2021, through September, reports of violent crimes were up 25% from the same time last year and 9% from 2019, according to L.A. County Metropolitan Transportation Authority data.

Some crimes, such as aggravated assaults, are exceeding pre-pandemic levels even though bus and rail ridership hasn’t fully recovered.

Although still rare, homicides jumped from one in 2019 to three in 2020, the first full year of the pandemic. So far in 2021, five people have been killed in stations or on public transport, including a 28-year-old womanfatally shot on the train while on her way to work.

While most people ride public transit without incident, the issue of crime recently sparked a clash between L.A. County Sheriff Alex Villanueva and Metro board members over the future of law enforcement on the system. At a news conference to argue for the extension of his department’s contract with Metro, the sheriff rattled off a list of eight violent crimes, dating back to 2019, including shootings, stabbings and sexual assaults. He referred to the incidents as “the level of carnage” happening on trains.

Inglewood Mayor James T. Butts, who sits on the Metro board of directors, said he saw Villanueva’s compilation of violent crimes “as a public acknowledgment that he failed to prevent these crimes.”

Reform CA Files Ethics Complaint Against Lorena Gonzalez Over ‘Employment Negotiations’ as Next Labor Leader

Watchdog group demands immediate resignation of Assemblywoman Gonzalez

The California Labor Federation, one of the largest and most influential union groups in California, voted to recommend Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) as their next leader on Tuesday in a non-binding vote, the Globe just reported Wednesday.

Politico ran a story late Tuesday night confirming “employment negotiations” have been occurring between Gonzalez and the powerful California Labor Federation.

However, many saw the articles and asked how a sitting elected Legislator can legally negotiate a future job with a labor group that regularly lobbies her on labor legislation?

Reform California announced Wednesday it has filed an ethics complaint with the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) demanding an immediate investigation, as well as enforcement actions, against Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez after news reports confirmed “employment negotiations” have been occurring between Gonzalez and the California Labor Federation.

Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

“I am filing this complaint and requesting an immediate investigation be initiated by the California Fair Political Practices Commission (FPPC) into possible violations of the California Political Reform Act (CPRA) by Assemblymember Lorena Gonzalez,” Carl DeMaio, Chairman of Reform California, said in the complaint.

“Late last night, the news outlet Politico confirmed ’employment negotiations’ have been occurring between Gonzalez and the powerful California Labor Federation.”

“Gonzalez quickly took to Twitter after the story broke to claim she has not yet accepted the job – but provisions in the California Political Reform Act (CPRA) make that immaterial to whether she has run afoul of state ethics laws,” Reform California noted.

Reform California explains the legalities:

“In fact, a state official who simply negotiates employment with a potential employer is covered under the law. Under subdivision (c) of Regulation 18747 of the CPRA, ‘a public official is ‘negotiating’ employment when he or she interviews or discusses an offer of employment with an employer or his or her agent.’”“Once it is established that a state official has engaged in conduct that triggers subdivision (c), Section 87407 of the CPRA applies: ‘No public official, shall make, participate in making, or use his or her official position to influence, any governmental decision directly relating to any person with whom he or she is negotiating, or has any arrangement concerning, prospective employment.’”

It is no secret to anyone involved in state politics that Gonzalez, who was CEO and Secretary-Treasurer of the San Diego and Imperial Counties Labor Council, AFL-CIO for five years prior to being elected to the Assembly in 2013, has been one of the most reliable legislative advocates for the California Labor Federation. She is on record sponsoring and voting for their legislation and utilizing her office to influence state agency activities, DeMaio said.

Click here to read the full article at the California Globe

Undermining Pension Reform

The Biden administration tries to deny California transit aid because the state reduced public-worker retirement benefits eight years ago.

The Biden administration is trying to prohibit California from receiving billions of dollars in new federal aid because, the administration claims, the state’s 2013 Public Employee Pension Reform Act (PEPRA) denied workers the right to bargain for changes to their retirement benefits. The move could undermine state-worker pension reforms passed over the last decade.

In a letter to the state, the Department of Labor says that the 2013 pension-reform act “significantly interferes” with the collective bargaining rights of public employees, including transit workers. As a result, California risks losing some $12 billion in transportation money, most of it from the recently passed federal infrastructure bill. The administration is strong-arming the state and its municipalities to choose between tens of billions of dollars in savings for a deeply indebted pension system and grants from Washington. And its move raises serious questions about similar reforms enacted by other states that allow collective bargaining by public employees, including New York and New Jersey.

The financial and stock market crisis of 2008 undermined the fiscal stability of many government pension systems. As unfunded liabilities ballooned, government contributions of taxpayer money into worker retirements rose sharply, burdening government budgets. California’s pension system, fully funded at the beginning of 2000, saw its unfunded debt bloat to $170 billion by 2012. The state’s retirement system had, by that time, only about 70 percent of the money needed to fulfill its future obligations to retirees. California taxpayers, meanwhile, were absorbing huge increases in payments into the system, and faced years more. Between 1998 and 2012, California’s contributions to the pensions system increased from $1.2 billion to $3.7 billion. Municipalities and school districts, their workers part of the system, absorbed even bigger increases.

The state had limited options to fix the problem. A California supreme court ruling held that local governments could reduce pension benefits only for new workers but had to leave untouched the rate at which current workers earned benefits, even for work they had yet to do. In response, the state passed PEPRA, which reduced pension accrual rates for new workers. In California’s mammoth pension system, which at the time had some $610 billion in liabilities, the savings were small at first—amounting to just $680 million the first year. The state projected that as it hired new workers and older employees retired, the reforms would save about $75 billion over 30 years on the retirement systems for teachers and other public employees.

Public-sector unions in the state had defeated broader reforms that California tried to institute, and they fought vigorously to roll back the 2013 legislation. Transit-worker unions, among others, filed suit against the law, only to be denied by the courts. The Obama administration then tried to intervene, arguing that the reforms violated the 1964 Urban Mass Transportation Assistance Act, which gives the Department of Labor veto power over federal aid if it deems a state to have compromised the collective bargaining rights of transit workers or otherwise to have worsened their working conditions. The Trump administration subsequently dropped federal objections to the reform law. But the Biden DOL, under Secretary (and former union official) Marty Walsh, has reinstated them in the wake of the new federal infrastructure bill.

The Labor Department’s ruling, California governor Gavin Newsom said in a letter to Walsh, “deprives financially beleaguered California public transit agencies that serve essential workers and our most vulnerable residents of critical support, including American Rescue Plan Act funds that those agencies need to survive through the pandemic.” Newsom called the decision a “complete reversal” from a 2019 ruling by the Labor Department, which held that the state’s pension reforms did not represent a violation of federal law.

The battle has implications for many other state reforms. California was not alone in reducing pension benefits after the 2008 financial crisis. More than 40 states altered their pensions to save money and bolster the financial stability of their retirement systems. Even so, state and local pension debt has skyrocketed, from about $900 billion in 2013 to about $1.6 trillion today. Despite its reforms, California’s pension system holds only about $7 in assets for every $10 in debt it owes, and its unfunded liabilities have increased to $185 billion.

Numerous other states might face similar challenges from Biden’s Labor Department. New York, enduring rising costs from pensions but constrained by the state constitution from making changes that apply to current workers, passed reforms in 2012 that reduced retirement benefits for new workers. Like California, New York permits collective bargaining among public workers for salaries and benefits; the state estimated that it will save $80 billion from those reforms. New Jersey passed even more sweeping reforms in 2011, which applied equally to new workers and those already employed by the state. Passed over the objections of public-worker unions, who claimed the reform law violated their bargaining rights, the bipartisan pension legislation was projected to save the deeply indebted state system some $180 billion over 30 years.

The Biden administration lobbied for its massive infrastructure bill as a way to unleash new federal resources at the state level. Now the administration seems intent on using that money to undermine state pension reform in California—and, if successful there, who knows where else.

This article was original published by the City Journal

Can Taxpayers Be Grateful This Thanksgiving?

As inflation takes a bigger bite out of your turkey than you do, it may be hard to find reasons to be grateful. But the truth is we still have much to be thankful for this Thanksgiving.

Here’s a few reasons why.

In the Legislature, success is often measured not in how many pro-taxpayer bills are passed but by how many anti-taxpayer bills are stopped. And, in that regard, this past year was better than expected.

A bill that would create a California Universal Basic Income and proposed to pay for it either through a value-added tax, raising corporate taxes or implementing a tax on services died in committee. Another bill that would have created a wealth tax failed to receive a hearing before deadline. An attempt to raise the already highest in the nation income tax rate for Californians making over $1 million to as high as 16.8%, was held in its first committee. A bill to create a single-payer healthcare system, and double the state budget in the process, was tabled.

In all, eleven bills HJTA opposed failed to make it out of the legislature. Five bills we supported were signed by the governor. One bill we opposed was vetoed by the governor. Five bills we supported failed to get out of the legislature. Eleven bills we opposed were signed by the governor and one bill we supported was vetoed by the governor.

HJTA went 17 for 34 this legislative session. We batted .500. Not bad for a taxpayer group in California. For that, we should be grateful.

Click here to read the entire article at the Press Telegram

George Gascón’s Policies Endanger Public Safety

Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has enthusiastically embraced radical, pro-criminal, anti-law enforcement policies to fulfill his misguided and dangerous ideology. His policies have ratcheted down punishment to its bare minimum and significantly reduced the prosecution of crime. Murders, gang shootings, organized theft and crime rates have skyrocketed.

Gascón’s destructive policies are not only unnecessarily costing innocent human lives, but they have resulted in increased economic devastation for families and businesses, ranging from mom-and-pop shops to large retailers. Gascón’s devotion to his ill-informed criminal justice agenda has created a public safety crisis, as well as an economic sinkhole. People have been impacted and traumatized by violent crime, and some businesses have been forced to close stores altogether due to organized shoplifting.

The claim there is no link between the recent crime wave and the enactment of the most radical and far-reaching criminal justice “reform” measures ever implemented is shameless gaslighting, or at best, extreme ignorance. Gascón’s policies increase the recidivism rate, and his adoption of a no cash bail system — which has failed miserably in other states — is causing additional harm to needless victims.

Gascón’s blanket policies in the courtroom abandon victims by prohibiting any sentence enhancements or special allegations. At one point, he attempted to eliminate the charging of enhancements for hate crimes. This “one size fits all” approach eliminates the opportunity for judges to impose appropriate and lawful sentences. Gascón’s orders to his deputies not to seek appropriate bail, when the public has voted overwhelmingly to retain a bail system, is another example of a policy that endangers public safety.

Gascón has also abandoned victims’ next of kin at parole hearings. Imagine the trauma of the mother whose son was brutally beaten, stabbed, shot, stripped naked and left in the middle of the street, being forced to have to confront her son’s killer. Under Gascón’s twisted agenda, the mother is left to present the crime scene photos at a parole hearing all by herself. She must go alone against her son’s murderer and his attorney paid for by tax dollars. This is a real case. This is unacceptable.

The California Constitution mandates prosecutors to attend such hearings. The mother of the murdered victim, as well as the people of Los Angeles, have been abandoned by Gascón. Retired and former deputy district attorneys now assist victims in asserting and protecting their rights because Gascón’s policies are inherently averse to victims’ rights and concerns.

The justice system has plenty of advocates for criminals, including the public defender, the alternate public defender, the ACLU, the Innocence Project, Youth Offender Parole Clinic, Habeas Corpus Resource Center and various political front groups established by special-interest donors seeking to spread this same dangerous version of criminal justice. While always protecting defendants’ rights and upholding the Constitution, the elected district attorney should be an advocate for the people and committed to public safety. Gascón is neither.

Click here to read the full article at the OC Register

Bubble Watch: Investors are 51% of Southern California’s Homebuying Surge

Median price paid by local investors? $898,000

Bubble Watch” digs into trends that may indicate economic and/or housing market troubles ahead.

Buzz: Half of Southern California’s homebuying surge this summer can be tied to a big jump in the purchasing pace by investors.

Source: My trusty spreadsheet reviewed Redfin estimates of investor activity locally and in 40 major metropolitan areas in the third quarter, defined as purchases made by entities with corporate-sounding names or descriptions. 

The Trend

Surging home prices with gains of 30% in two years have clearly been a draw for investors to the four counties covered by the Southern California News Group.

nvestors bought 8,900 residences in the summer or 17.7% of all purchases. These weren’t fixer-uppers, by the way, as the typical sales price for these deals was $898,000.

Compare that with one year earlier, when homebuying was swiftly rebounding from a locked-down spring. Investors bought 6,758 homes in the summer of 2020, or 14.6% of the market. That’s a 32% jump in investor purchases.

Or look at ballooning bets this way: Local investors bought 2,142 more homes this summer vs. 2020’s third quarter — or 51% of the region’s 4,228 overall sales increase.

The Dissection

Let’s start by saying that if this Southern California speculator surge looks bold, it’s tame when viewed using a national yardstick.

Click here to read the full article at the Orange County Register

California Receives Initial $58 Million from DOT for High Speed Rail Transit, Cycling ‘Infrastructure’ Projects

Funding ‘was really supposed to repair and maintain current infrastructure’

Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) announced on Friday that the Department of Transportation (DOT) has given its first grants from the recently passed $1 Trillion infrastructure bill to California, with $58 million going to transportation projects in Northern California and to the California High-Speed Rail Authority.

The California High-Speed Rail Authority was the biggest recipient of the Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity Grant Program, receiving $24 million to expand state route 46 in the Kern County city of Wasco to be a staging and storing area. Another $18 will go to the San Francisco County Transportation Authority (SFCTA) for an earthquake retrofit of the Yerba Buena Island west side bridge, as well as greater access to the bridge for cyclists.

Oakland will receive $14.5 million to enhance their civic hub by improving walking, cycling, and public transportation projects, with a special focus on connecting Oakland with San Francisco via rail lines such as BART and Amtrak. Finally, the Yolo County Transportation District (YCTD) will get $1.2 million to fill in gaps of their current transportation system, as well as to improve bike and walking networks.

Both Senators noted on Friday the importance of these early infrastructure funding blocks.

“My thanks to Secretary [Pete] Buttigieg and the Transportation Department for these grants that will help California continue to modernize our transportation infrastructure,” said Senator Feinstein. “These projects include providing safer, more connected bikeways and walkways in San Francisco; assisting the City of Wasco with creating safer railway infrastructure; and connecting biking and walking paths in Oakland and Yolo County. Promoting cleaner, safer modes of transportation is a key part of improving California’s infrastructure.”

An initial $58 million in infrastructure funds

Senator Alex Padilla (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

Senator Padilla, who has served less than a year as Senator, also noted that “From day one, I have worked to ensure that we use our infrastructure investments to help reconnect our communities, and I am proud to see federal efforts to do just that. From San Francisco to Wasco, this critical funding will help make our roads and bridges safer, help decongest our highways, and allow for more Californians to access our outdoor trails. As we continue to make significant investments in our state and nation’s aging infrastructure, I will continue to advocate for funding that serves our most in-need communities.”

However, many critics and experts criticized the funding on Friday for favoring bike projects over safety and repair projects.

“Whether you wanted the bill to pass or not, the point is we have it now,” San Diego-based urban planner and transportation planner Michael McGuiness Jr. told the Globe Friday. “But that was really supposed to repair and maintain current infrastructure, or build new pieces as needed. Instead, California gave a hint at where its money would be going today by putting most of it into mass transit and cycling. There was a needed bridge project in San Francisco, but that’s really about it. The largest chunk even went into the high-speed rail project, which is billions over budget and years behind schedule. So a lot is going into a future white elephant.”

“Plus, they largely ignored huge swats of the state, including all of California south of Bakersfield and north of the Bay. At first glance, these grants don’t look like they’re fairly going out.”

More grants and funding coming into California for infrastructure projects are expected to be announced soon.

This article originally published in the California Globe

California Drought: Proposed Ballot Measure Would Fast-Track Construction of Dams, Desalination Plants and Other Water Projects

California has not built enough new reservoirs, desalination plants and other water projects because there are too many delays, too many lawsuits and too much red tape.

That’s the message from a growing coalition of Central Valley farmers and Southern California desalination supporters who have begun collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would fast-track big water projects and provide billions of dollars to fund them — potentially setting up a major political showdown with environmentalists next year shaped by the state’s ongoing drought.

The measure, known as the “Water Infrastructure Funding Act of 2022,” needs 997,132 signatures of registered voters by April 29 to qualify for the November 2022 statewide ballot.

If approved by a majority of voters, it would require that 2% of California’s general fund — about $4 billion a year — be set aside for projects to expand water supplies. Those could include new dams and reservoirs, desalination plants, recycled water plants, and other projects like upgrading canals and pipes.

The money would continue flowing each year until 5 million acre-feet of new water supply was created, an increase of about 13% in the roughly 39 million acre-feet used in an average year by all the state’s residents, farmers and businesses. That could take several decades and cost $100 billion, according to an analysis by the non-partisan State Legislative Analyst’s Office.

“We think conservation has an important role to play,” said Edward Ring, a spokesman for the campaign, known as More Water Now. “But you can’t get there any more just with conservation. If you want to be resilient against a prolonged drought, you have to have new supplies.”

Click here to read the full article at Mercury News

This Republican’s Marijuana Legalization Bill Aims To Build Bipartisan Support for Repealing Federal Prohibition

When Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) unveiled a “discussion draft” of a marijuana legalization bill last July, he said he wanted to start a conversation that would eventually produce legislation resolving the longstanding conflict between the Controlled Substances Act (CSA) and state laws that allow medical or recreational use of cannabis. But his 163-page Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act was full of unnecessarily contentious provisions that seemed likely to alienate potential Republican allies. A bill unveiled today by Rep. Nancy Mace (R–S.C.) tries to address that problem by outlining a simpler and less burdensome approach that entails less federal involvement, lower taxes, and greater deference to state policy choices.

Mace’s bill, the States Reform Act, has five initial co-sponsors: Reps. Tom McClintock (R–Calif.), Peter Meijer (R–Mich.), Don Young (R–Alaska), Kenneth Buck (R–Colo.), and Brian Mast (R–Fla.). It is endorsed by Americans for Prosperity, the Cannabis Freedom Alliance, and the Global Alliance for Cannabis Commerce.

Mace says the bill is designed to accommodate state marijuana policies, which range from complete prohibition to general legalization for adult use. “Every state is different,” Mace says in a press release, noting that her own state, South Carolina, has gone no further than allowing medical use of the nonpsychoactive cannabinoid CBD, while “California and others” allow commercial production and distribution of marijuana for recreational use. “Cannabis reform at the federal level must take all of this into account. And it’s past time federal law codifies this reality.”

Thirty-six states have legalized marijuana for medical use, while 18 states, accounting for more than two-fifths of the U.S. population, also allow recreational use. The latest Gallup poll found that 68 percent of American adults favor legalization, which matches last year’s record level of support. “Washington needs to provide a framework which allows states to make their own decisions on cannabis moving forward,” Mace says. “This bill does that.”

Geoffrey Lawrence, director of drug policy at Reason Foundation (which publishes this website), provided model language for the bill and technical feedback on Mace’s drafts. He hopes the States Reform Act will prove more appealing to Republicans than Schumer’s bill, which so far has not attracted any GOP support, and the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act, which the Democrat-controlled House approved last December with support from just a handful of Republicans. “The States Reform Act is a relatively simple bill that gets to the heart of what most people can agree on when it comes to legalizing cannabis at the federal level,” Lawrence says.

At 131 pages, Mace’s bill is just 20 percent shorter than Schumer’s, and it includes several similar provisions. Both bills would remove cannabis from the CSA’s schedules of controlled substances, and both would establish a nationwide minimum purchase age of 21. Both would require automatic expungement of federal criminal records related to nonviolent marijuana offenses, bar the Small Business Administration (SBA) from discriminating against state-licensed cannabusinesses, and allow Veterans Health Administration doctors to recommend medical marijuana. Both would leave states free to ban marijuana but would bar interference with shipments between jurisdictions where cannabis is legal.

One big difference is the level of federal taxation. Schumer’s bill would impose a federal excise tax on marijuana starting at 10 percent and rising to 25 percent by the fifth year, which would be in addition to frequently hefty state and local taxes. The tax would be based on either the wholesale price per ounce or, for “any THC-measurable cannabis product,” the price per gram of THC. Mace’s bill, by contrast, would impose a straightforward 3 percent excise tax, which would remain at that level for at least 10 years.

According to Mace’s summary of the bill, the 10-year moratorium on raising the excise tax is meant to “ensure competitive footing in the market.” In other words, a relatively low tax rate will help legal marijuana businesses compete with black-market dealers, who do not collect taxes.

Schumer’s bill would use revenue from the marijuana tax to create three new grant programs aimed at helping “economically disadvantaged individuals” and “individuals adversely affected by the War on Drugs.” Mace’s bill would create a Law Enforcement Retraining and Successful Second Chances Fund, which would funnel marijuana tax money to three existing programs: the Crisis Stabilization and Community Reentry Grant Program, the Edward Byrne Memorial Justice Assistance Grant Program, and the Community-Oriented Policing Services Program. Some of the money also would be assigned to “veterans’ mental health,” “state opioid epidemic responses,” “preventing underage use of cannabis,” and the SBA “for supporting newly licensed small [marijuana] businesses through its various programs.”

Under Schumer’s bill, state-licensed marijuana businesses, which already are regulated by state and local governments, would also be supervised by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the Treasury Department’s Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), and the Justice Department’s Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF). Mace’s bill likewise imagines roles for all of those agencies, but it says the FDA “shall have the same authorities with respect to cannabis products that it has with respect to alcohol,” such as label regulation for certain beverages, “and no more.”

According to the summary, that provision “ensures that cannabis products in interstate commerce will be treated like alcohol and that the regulatory issues harming the industrial hemp-derived CBD industry will not be repeated in the cannabis space.” The bill also “grandfathers ‘designated state medical cannabis products,'” including “those produced consistent with state law,” to ensure “continued access” for patients. The FDA “may still prescribe serving sizes, certify designated state medical cannabis products as a ministerial duty, and authorize new drugs or approved new uses of drug applications to create new pharmaceutical grade products, but may not prohibit the use of cannabis or its derivates in non-drug applications, such as in designated state medical cannabis products, dietary supplements, foods, beverages, non-drug topical solutions, or cosmetics.”

Continuing the analogy to alcohol, the TTB “will be the primary regulator of cannabis products in interstate commerce,” while the ATF “will serve as the primary law enforcement agency supporting the TTB’s work, exactly as it does in the alcohol space.” The Department of Agriculture would regulate cannabis crops in the same way it regulates raw materials for alcoholic beverages, such as grain and hops. The bill “applies to cannabis the same recordkeeping, liability, reporting, packaging, and labeling requirement[s]” that apply to the alcohol industry under the Internal Revenue Code. The bill would prohibit cannabis advertising that is false, misleading, or aimed at minors.

Mace is playing up the aspects of the States Reform Act that should appeal to her fellow Republicans without alienating Democrats. A poster she used at today’s press conference says the bill, in addition to descheduling marijuana and regulating it “like alcohol,” imposes a low excise tax, “protects kids,” “protects veterans,” “protects each state’s unique laws & reforms,” and implements “safe criminal justice reform.”

Mace’s bill summary elaborates on that last point, noting that the States Reform Act “provides opportunities for reentry for non-violent, non-DUI cannabis offenders who had no relation to a foreign drug cartel and pose no further threat to society, consistent with the policies of the Department of Justice under President Trump for clemency for non-violent cannabis offenders.” Mace also could have noted that Trump supported drug sentencing reform and, unlike his successor, said he favored reconciling state and federal marijuana laws.

“The States Reform Act completely removes federal prohibition and allows states to compete and decide how they wish to treat cannabis,” Lawrence notes. “It removes federal tax penalties against marijuana companies and opens up banking. It recognizes that legal markets must compete with black markets on price and therefore charges only a 3 percent excise tax, along with licensing fees not to exceed $10,000. Finally, it extends these changes back in time by expunging the records of those who have been arrested for nonviolent federal cannabis crimes.”

Rather than “going too far in any direction by including elements that splinter the realm of agreement,” Lawrence says, “the beauty of the States Reform Act is that it’s both simple and reasonably comprehensive. Enacting major social change requires broad, bipartisan agreement, and the States Reform Act checks that box.”

This article was originally published by Reason.com