Tag Archives: california

How The ‘Cannabis Catch-22’ Keeps Marijuana Classified As A Harmful Drug

 

Marijuana grows in the home of two medical marijuana patients in Medford, Ore.

America has a long and storied history with marijuana. Once grown by American colonists to make hemp rope, by 1970, it was classified as a Schedule 1 narcotic. Possession of it was — and is — a federal crime, despite the fact that in recent years 25 states have legalized medical marijuana and four states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for recreational use.

Author John Hudak, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, traces the history of America’s laws and attitudes toward cannabis in his new book, Marijuana: A Short History. He tells Fresh Air‘s Dave Davies that the recent shift in public policy is, in part, a recognition of the drug’s medicinal value, which became apparent in San Francisco during the AIDS crisis of the 1980s.

“People were saying, ‘If I smoke this and I get the munchies, maybe it will help people dying of AIDS who are so nauseated that they can’t eat and they’re dealing with clinical anorexia as a result of that,’ ” Hudak explains.

The grass-roots movement turned political, and in 1996, California became the first state to pass a medical marijuana ballot initiative. Other states followed, though the impetus for the movement grew beyond the medicinal.

“One significant argument in favor of adult use marijuana that not many people talk about is a simple one, and that is some people just like to get high,” Hudak says. “I think in this policy debate, oftentimes seeing marijuana as a recreational product, it is frowned upon to discuss it, but it’s a reality. People enjoy it like people enjoy wine or people enjoy a good steak.”


Interview Highlights

On Harry Anslinger, who played a pivotal role in the effort to criminalize marijuana

Harry Anslinger was the nation’s first real drug czar. He came from the Bureau of Prohibition and was put in charge of a variety of federal government agencies that changed names over the course of time, but were effectively the precursors for the Drug Enforcement [Administration].

He was essentially the J. Edgar Hoover of drugs in the United States. He had the same types of tactics that Hoover had — that was being very aggressive with Congress, going into the media to try to advance his political and policy interests. He had, by all accounts, details and histories of members of Congress and senators that they did not want to become public, and he was a one-man force in expanding drug prohibition in the United States. He did this for a variety of drugs, but he had a special place in his heart for marijuana.

On how marijuana use was made into a racial issue

Anslinger brought to it this real racialized aspect. I mean, he was an absolute avowed racist, and when you look at the letters he wrote to different civic organizations or op-eds that he published, or even congressional testimony, it is riddled with racist language and racist claims about the use of marijuana really being only in Mexican communities in the Southwest, and then eventually it transitioned to be a product that was used by the individuals who were around jazz music, which of course was code language for the African-American community.

And so proceeded this racialized history, and [Anslinger] … claimed that marijuana would turn people into psychopaths, murderers, rapists — it would make women promiscuous, particularly promiscuous around men of color, and this was seen as something that was brought into communities by people of color in order to make the most vulnerable in society behave in ways that would appall society.

On government efforts to suppress studies that showed that marijuana was not as addictive or dangerous as had been claimed

In the 1970s President Nixon commissioned the former governor of Pennsylvania, Ray Shafer, who was a good friend, a fellow Republican, a good friend of Nixon’s, to commission this report about this evil drug infecting society, and Shafer came up, again, with the same answers — it wasn’t as addicting, that there were reasons to try to think about this drug in different ways than the federal government was thinking about it, that it wasn’t causing violent crime.

Shafer was actually called into the Oval Office and read off by the president for this draft report, and [Nixon] said to Shafer, “You cannot publish this.” And Shafer stood his ground. He said, “I’m publishing it.” And Nixon trashed that.

It was just this extended period of president after president asking for answers, not getting the answers that he liked, and then throwing the report away.

On what led to policy change for use of marijuana

This really began in the Castro District of San Francisco in the late 1980s and early 1990s. The AIDS epidemic was … ravaging this community, and it was one that individuals, I think, looked at this product that was largely being used recreationally and understood that it helped with pain relief.

So you had a few individuals — Dennis Peron is one; a woman named Brownie Mary who was an orderly at a hospital in San Francisco who would bake brownies laced with marijuana and deliver them to AIDS patients each day. This community popped up around delivering medical cannabis for those who are dying.

And it wasn’t only people dying of AIDS, it was people who had a variety of ailments — and that grass-roots, underground, even though it was pretty much in the daylight for some time, movement transitioned into a political one, and in 1996 California became the first state to pass a medical marijuana ballot initiative.

On arguments in favor of legalization

We have 750,000 arrests in a year that have to do with marijuana. And so in communities of color that criminal justice argument is a tremendous one. For libertarians you talk about personal liberty and privacy and property rights, and that is an important issue for them. For conservatives or liberals who are interested in balancing the budget, talking about all of the law enforcement dollars that are spent on the prosecution and investigation of marijuana crimes in a year, that’s budget savings, as well as revenue in the door on the tax side.

For others, it is about product safety, understanding that a regulatory system is going to be able to test the product and you’ll know exactly as a consumer what you’re getting, whereas on the black market you don’t know that.

On the federal government’s decision this past summer to continue the Schedule 1 classification of marijuana

One of the reasons for the maintenance of marijuana as a Schedule 1 substance was that the medical community is not convinced of its medical value. There are plenty of doctors who believe that there is medical value to marijuana, they’re willing to recommend it to patients, but the threshold required to demonstrate medical value for the medical community as a whole is much higher than it is for the reform community.

There is this cannabis Catch-22 and it is, as a Schedule 1 drug, it is very difficult to do research on the plant. There are only certain researchers who will get the certification and licensure necessary to handle the drug. Then, of course, you need the funding to study it. You need approval from university institutional review boards, and the burdens that exist to do the type of research on a Schedule 1 drug are tremendous. But that research is what will inform the medical community as to its medical use, and so what you need and what you can do are entirely prevented by this federal government policy.

CONTINUE READING INTERVIEW…

Lawmakers want to defund the DEA’s marijuana eradication program

Is the DEA’s marijuana eradication program worth the $14 million to fund annually? Here’s a look at some numbers

https://i0.wp.com/www.thecannabist.co/wp-content/uploads/2010/10/p12.jpg

Published: Oct 10, 2016, 6:33 am • Updated: about 5 hours ago Comments (1)

By Christopher Ingraham, The Washington Post

In 2015, the Drug Enforcement Administration gave $20,000 to the state of New Hampshire to eradicate marijuana plants, according to federal documents. But the Granite State’s law enforcement agencies didn’t have much luck finding any weed to pull that year – their efforts uncovered a single outdoor grow site with a grand total of 27 plants.

Do the math, and U.S. taxpayers paid $740.74 for each pot plant uprooted in New Hampshire that year.

That’s an expensive weeding operation, but it could be worse. Utah received $73,000 in marijuana eradication funds, according to the federal documents, obtained by journalist Drew Atkins as part of a FOIA request. But agents failed to find a single pot plant to eradicate.

The DEA’s $14 million marijuana eradication program has been the subject of a fair amount of criticism in recent years. Twelve members of Congress have pushed to eliminate the program and use the money instead to fund domestic-violence prevention and deficit-reduction programs.

Its purpose is to “halt the spread of cannabis cultivation in the United States,” a mission that has become complicated as more states have legalized medical or recreational marijuana programs. Several more states have similar measures on the ballot this year.

DEA records show the program has been effective in some states, most notably California. Agents pulled 2.6 million marijuana plants in 2015, seizing more than 1,600 weapons in the process. Nearly $5.4 million was funneled into that state’s program.

Kentucky’s $1.9-million program had the next largest number of eradicated plants, more than 570,000.

Nationwide, the DEA documents show that spending on the program has shrunk from about $18 million in 2014 to $14 million in the current fiscal year. Some states – including Alaska, Colorado and Vermont – stopped receiving eradication funds completely.

California, where medical marijuana is legal, receives the lion’s share of marijuana eradication funds, in part because the “Emerald Triangle” region of Northern California. The area has long been home to many of the state’s legal and quasi-legal marijuana production operations, but law enforcement authorities have maintained that it also has been a haven for the grow operations of Mexican drug cartels.

Kentucky also receives a large amount of money to eradicate marijuana. The state has a surprisingly rich culture of marijuana cultivation.

Related: Meet Patrick Moen, the first-ever DEA official to defect to the marijuana industry

Rounding out the top 5 marijuana eradication states are Tennessee, Georgia and, perhaps unexpectedly, Washington. The aptly nicknamed Evergreen State legalized the recreational use of marijuana in 2012, and pot shops opened for business in 2014. So it may seem odd that the DEA is spending $760,000 this year to eradicate pot plants in the state.

But Washington is the only recreational marijuana state that doesn’t allow people to grow their own plants for recreational use. (In District of Columbia, incidentally, the situation is reversed: Homegrows are okay, but you can’t buy weed at the store.)

Washington also receives more marijuana eradication money than any other state with a recreational pot regime in place. Oregon received $200,000 this year, while Colorado and Alaska didn’t take any federal money for marijuana eradication.

New Hampshire, Louisiana, Delaware, Utah and New Jersey all spent well over $100 for every marijuana plant eradicated. Eleven states spent at least $50 per plant, while nearly half of the states – 23 of them – spent at least $25 in federal money for each marijuana plant they eliminated.

At the other end of the spectrum, states with big investments in marijuana eradication – like California and Kentucky – also had the most successful efforts to pull up large numbers of pot plants. So their per-plant costs are much lower.

To be perfectly clear, even in a fully legal, highly regulated market like Colorado’s there will be a need to enforce prohibitions on large-scale, unlicensed marijuana grows – similar to the way the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms busts illegal home alcohol distilleries. Beyond that, authorities often make a number of arrests at cultivation sites, or seize weapons and other property from people suspected of involvement with marijuana grow operations.

Still, some lawmakers are starting to question the need dedicated this level or resources to eliminating pot plants when so many states are relaxing their own restrictions.

“It makes zero sense for the federal government to continue to spend taxpayer dollars on cannabis eradication at a time when states across the country are looking to legalize marijuana,” Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., told me earlier this year. “I will continue to fight against DEA’s Domestic Cannabis Eradication/Suppression Program in Congress and work to redirect these funds to worthwhile programs.”

CONTINUE READING…

FDA News Release: Kratom seized in California by US Marshals Service

Mitragyna_speciosa111

 

For Immediate Release

August 4, 2016

Release

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced today that the U.S. Marshals Service seized more than 100 cases of products labeled as containing kratom. The products are distributed by Nature Therapeutics LLC, which does business as Kratom Therapy and is located in Grover Beach, California. The seized products are marketed under the brand name Kratom Therapy, and are worth approximately $150,000.

The U.S. Department of Justice filed the complaint, on behalf of the FDA, in the U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, alleging that the seized kratom products are unapproved new drugs and misbranded drugs under the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

“The FDA will continue to take aggressive enforcement action to safeguard the public from harmful drug products illegally marketed as treatments for which they have not been studied or approved,” said Melinda Plaisier, the FDA’s associate commissioner for regulatory affairs.

The FDA is warning consumers not to use any products labeled as containing the botanical substance kratom. Mitragyna speciosa, commonly known as kratom, grows naturally in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia and Papua New Guinea. Serious concerns exist regarding the toxicity of kratom in multiple organ systems. Consumption of kratom can lead to a number of health impacts including, respiratory depression, vomiting, nervousness, weight loss and constipation. Kratom has been indicated to have both narcotic and stimulant-like effects and withdrawal symptoms may include hostility, aggression, excessive tearing, aching of muscles and bones and jerky limb movements.

In January 2016, the FDA inspected the Grover Beach facility and also found that Nature Therapeutics’ website and social media sites included claims establishing that the company’s Kratom Therapy products are drugs because they are intended for use in the cure, mitigation, or treatment of various diseases. The FDA has not approved Nature Therapeutics’ products for any use. In addition, the complaint alleged that Nature Therapeutics’ products are also misbranded drugs because their labeling fails to provide adequate directions for use. The California Department of Public Health embargoed the products on behalf of the FDA.

In February 2014, the FDA issued an import alert regarding imported dietary supplements and bulk dietary ingredients that are, or contain, kratom without physical examination.

Health care professionals and consumers should report any adverse events related to products containing kratom to the FDA’s MedWatch Adverse Event Reporting program. To file a report, use the MedWatch Online Voluntary Reporting Form. The completed form can be submitted online or via fax to 1-800-FDA-0178.

The FDA, an agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, protects the public health by assuring the safety, effectiveness, and security of human and veterinary drugs, vaccines and other biological products for human use, and medical devices. The agency also is responsible for the safety and security of our nation’s food supply, cosmetics, dietary supplements, products that give off electronic radiation, and for regulating tobacco products.

###

SOURCE

 

RELATED:

The DEA has filed notice of intent to add Kratom to schedule 1

As Marijuana Goes Mainstream, California Pioneers Rot in Federal Prison

Luke Scarmazzo and Ricardo Montes opened a dispensary in Modesto. Now they’re doing 20 years in federal prison. Their families want them home.

By Angela Bacca / AlterNet

April 13, 2016

Behind the headlines about President Obama’s historic visit to federal prisons and highly publicized releases of non-violent drug offenders, the numbers tell a different story. Despite encouraging and receiving more clemency petitions than any president in U.S. history—more than the last two administrations combined, nearly 20,000very few federal prisoners are actually being granted clemency.

Nowhere is this irony more glaring than in the world of legal cannabis. Cannabis is now considered the fastest-growing industry in the nation, yet remains federally illegal. The sea change from the Department of Justice since 2009 has allowed state-legal cannabis industries to thrive. Federal solutions seem to be around the corner and for the first time cannabis businesses are being publicly traded and receiving legal Wall Street investment.

Ricardo Montes and Luke Scarmazzo are two of the 20,000 federal prisoners appealing to President Obama for clemency. They have exhausted their appeals and are serving 20-year mandatory minimum sentences for openly running a dispensary in the early days of California’s pioneering medical cannabis law. The irony isn’t lost on them that their crimes are now legal and profitable, but their appeals for clemency aren’t based on justice anymore—they just want to be home with their kids. Their daughters, Jasmine Scarmazzo, 13, and Nina Montes, 10, are appealing directly to President Obama to release their fathers via a Change.org petition.  

Nina and Jasmine

Nina Montes is in fifth grade. She is a straight A student who loves math and wants to be a doctor when she grows up. She was just four years old when her dad went to prison. “All I remember is the cops coming and taking him away from me on my birthday,” Nina says. She has always dreamed that her father would be released on her birthday, May 15.  

“It is really sad and it makes me cry [when I visit my dad in prison],” Nina says. “I cry when the time is over and we have to go because we only get three hours, maybe two.”

Nina gets to visit her father once every two months at FCI Lompoc, a five-hour drive from her home in Modesto, Calif.

“All I know is he made a mistake and I don’t think he should be owing that [much time],” Nina says.

Federal prisoners must purchase minutes in order to use phones. They are allowed up to 300 a month and calls are limited to 15 minutes each. Ricardo Montes says he tries to call every other day, sometimes every day, but he has to share his limited phone time between his three children.

“I try to speak to all of them, Nina is the oldest so I have more of a conversation with her. She is at the age now where I can actually explain why I am here,” Montes says. “She didn’t know for a long time. She really doesn’t understand when I explain to her what I did. She’s like, there are still other dispensaries open, why aren’t they going to jail? I told her I have no answer for that.”

Jasmine Scarmazzo is in the eighth grade and loves to debate. Inspired by her father’s case, she says she wants to be a criminal attorney when she grows up. She is increasingly confused as to why her dad is still in prison.

“There were so many tears,” Jasmine says, remembering the day Scarmazzo and Montes were sentenced. “My mom said, your dad got 20 years in prison; I didn’t really comprehend how long that was, I just knew I wasn’t going to see him for a long time. I knew why [he was going to prison]—because of the dispensary—but I was so confused, why is he going to prison if he is helping people?”

Jasmine remained confused until about the age of 8, when she started learning more about federal and state government in school and how it applied to her father’s case.

Over the years legal dispensaries have popped up, not just in Modesto, but across the country. Today marijuana companies are publicly traded and driving legal and profitable Wall Street investment in a handful of states.

“It makes me feel confused, once again, as to why our system is only holding certain people who are doing the same thing in 2016 and are free, and my dad’s in prison,” Jasmine says.  

“Being in prison makes us miss the small normal things that a father and daughter share,” Luke Scarmazzo says. “I don’t get to be there to encourage her successes or console her when she fails or has a bad day. I don’t experience the little things like what she doesn’t like for breakfast or who her friends are. These are attributes that a dad should know and often take for granted, but because of our limited communication, I have to rush to talk to her about the larger mile-markers in life.”

Crime and Punishment

Scarmazzo and Montes opened the California Healthcare Collective in 2004, when they were both 23 years old. Although California became the first medical cannabis state by voter initiative in 1996, dispensaries didn’t begin to appear until the early 2000s, primarily in the San Francisco Bay Area. The state legislature passed S.B. 420 in 2003 to provide basic guidelines for state-legal medical cannabis cultivation and distribution. After the law went into effect on Jan. 1, 2004, more dispensaries began to open, but mainly in San Francisco and Los Angeles. CHC was the first in the Central Valley and served a patient base accustomed to driving an hour or more west to San Francisco and Oakland to obtain safe access under the law.

Montes says there was a clear need for a dispensary in the Central Valley. One local doctor writing cannabis recommendations had said up to 70 percent of his patients, many with cancer, were making regular trips to the Bay Area to access cannabis.

“We were the only ones open and we helped a lot of patients who were sick and couldn’t travel,” Montes says. “It was actually a good thing for the Central Valley… but [local law enforcement and then-mayor Jim Ridenour] didn’t see us as helping people out, they saw us as young kids making money and selling a narcotic drug. We tried to help people. We paid a lot of sales tax [over $1 million], but in that town it doesn’t matter.”

Modesto is largely an agricultural city located about an hour south of Sacramento, the state capital, and about an hour east of the San Francisco Bay. At 9.6 percent in 2015, the city has nearly twice the national average unemployment. Modesto, and the rest of the Central Valley, has consistently ranked high among the highest unemployment averages in the nation.

At the height of its operation, the collective employed up to 14 people.

“The people of the Central Valley are a hard-working, mostly blue-collar community and they don’t earn very high incomes compared to the rest of California,” Luke Scarmazzo says. “Many didn’t have the extra money to regularly make the 100-plus mile commute [to a legal storefront]. The patients that couldn’t afford to travel to the Bay Area before CHC opened were forced to break the law and purchase their recommended medication from the illicit market. It was a terrible hardship on so many levels.”

The dispensary was legal under state law, but as is it still is today, federally illegal. Although many have interpreted the 10th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution to leave the regulation of medicine to the states, the federal government affirmed its dominance over state medical cannabis programs in the controversial 2005 Supreme Court decision Gonzalez v. Raich. The federal government argued that because cannabis grown for personal consumption could wind up on the interstate market, the federal government had the authority to enforce federal commerce laws to control state-legal medical marijuana despite voter-approved or supported state legislation.

On Sept. 27, 2006—Jasmine’s fourth birthday—CHC was raided and Scarmazzo and Montes were taken into custody. In 2006, U.S. Attorney McGregor Scott referred to the pair as the “poster children” for the problems with medical marijuana.

“These were drug dealers selling marijuana. This case is that simple,” Scott told the press. He cited $9.2 million in gross sales over two years of operation as evidence the collective was operating for-profit, in opposition to S.B. 420, which required medical cannabis collectives operate not-for-profit.

Gross sales paint an inaccurate picture of actual income and are irrelevant to defining a not-for-profit enterprise. Further, they aren’t completely accurate under state law. Gross sales reflect the total revenues generated before expenses such as labor, security, overhead, legal fees, and perhaps most relevant, cost of goods sold. Under California law, collectives can be reimbursed for their expenses and donations are made to continue the service of cultivating and distributing cannabis to patients. Technically, the numbers reflect gross donations made to the collective before expenses.

Despite what federal prosecutors decried as over-the-top executive compensation, it is not illegal or unheard of that a director at a non-profit could make over $100,000 annually in personal compensation while the business remains a non-profit. Top directors at United Way make just as much and are unquestionably considered not-for-profit.

Scarmazzo and Montes were found guilty of conspiracy, distribution and cultivation of marijuana. 

As Luke Scarmazzo wrote for Kindland.com, “we were also charged with conducting a continuing criminal enterprise (CCE), a Nixon-era drug kingpin offense that carries a 20-year mandatory minimum sentence. No medical marijuana dispensary operator has ever been convicted under this fearsome statute. It has historically been reserved for cartel leaders and international drug kingpins. In fact, the charge is so rarely used that only 0.02 percent of inmates in the U.S., that’s 427 of them, are serving sentences for CCE.”

The FBI defines CCE in terms of membership and leadership, organizations with six or more people, one of which is a primary organizer, involved in organized crime or significant racketeering activity. Scarmazzo and Montes are the only state-legal dispensary owners to be convicted of CCE.

On May 15, 2008—Nina’s third birthday—Scarmazzo and Montes were sentenced and taken into custody. Scarmazzo was sentenced to 21 years and 10 months, Montes to the 20-year mandatory minimum.

Six months later Barack Obama was elected president. Shortly after he took office, in 2009, then-Attorney General Eric Holder released what is now known as the Ogden Memo, outlining the administration’s position in regards to state-legal medical cannabis; the feds said they were backing off compliant cannabis businesses and non-profits in legal states. The new position seemed to be a complete shift from the George W. Bush administration’s strong position against state legal medical cannabis. Cannabis businesses began to pop up all over California and Colorado.

Since Obama took office, four states and Washington D.C. have legalized adult use cannabis and 24 states have legal whole plant medical cannabis programs. In 2013, shortly after Colorado and Washington voters approved legalization initiatives, the Department of Justice issued the Cole Memo, which stated that, for the most part, the DOJ would not use its resources to enforce federal laws in states that had voted to legalize medical or adult use marijuana. Large-scale grow operations are now legal and profitable in many states. These states have not just legalized and regulated, they have taken in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues.

Today, Harborside Health Center in Oakland boasts over $25 million in gross annual sales. Blum, also in Oakland, recently became the first publicly traded dispensary with an initial valuation of $21 million based on $14 million in gross annual sales when it was acquired by Terratech Corporation. Privateer Holdings, owners of a portfolio of brands including Leafly.com, received the largest infusion of Wall Street capital of any marijuana business to date, $75 million. According to Weedmaps.com, there are four dispensary storefronts operating in the city of Modesto today and over 30 more mobile delivery services in the area.

Scarmazzo and Montes have watched all the legislative change around them from behind bars.

“I have mixed emotions when I read the headlines regarding legal marijuana,” Scarmazzo says. “On one hand, I’m happy to see the progress that is being made, research being conducted and the injustices being addressed. Marijuana in the context of criminal justice reform is something we desperately need in this country. On the other hand it’s extremely frustrating. With almost a decade served in prison, we’ve seen our freedom taken, our properties forfeited and our families lost, for business activities that are essentially legal now and taking place everyday throughout the country. Yet, we continue to struggle through this lengthy mandatory sentence. It’s hard to wrap my mind around sometimes.”

“It’s upsetting because when I got arrested I was young, I was only 26 years old, I thought I was doing something right by following state law,” Montes says. “So by exercising my rights and going to trial to fight for my innocence, they punished us severely. I have no action, so to me when I see that it’s a kick in the face. What did I do wrong?”

Selective Prosecution

Search the name “Luke Scarmazzo” online and the first thing that pops up is a Youtube video called “Kraz-Business Man.” The video depicts scenes of Scarmazzo in a courtroom arguing that his medical cannabis business is legitimate and in alternate scenes smoking blunts and counting cash. Midway through the video he turns his middle finger to the camera and raps, “Fuck the Feds.” The video was an undeniably dumb move for a man running a state-legal medical cannabis dispensary in unchartered territory in the earliest days of Prop. 215, though hardly a crime. The video was introduced as evidence against Scarmazzo and Montes in court.

Twelve years later, Montes and Scarmazzo are in their mid-30s and their daughters are growing up without them. 

“My daughter, Jasmine, was four years old when I was arrested. Ricardo’s daughter, Nina, was two. Today they are entering high school and junior high school, respectively,” Luke Scarmazzo wrote for Kindland.com. “They have spent much of their young lives growing up without their fathers. The impact is visible and saddening. According to a 2014 Rutgers University study, one in 28 children in the USA currently have an incarcerated parent. These children have a greater chance of living in poverty and an increased risk of experiencing serious mental-health issues.”

With all appeals exhausted, their only hope of early release is for President Obama to grant them clemency. Their applications are one of over 20,000 the administration has received. Jasmine and Nina hope that by appealing to supporters around the country via the petition they can ultimately reach President Obama.

“My dad is a good man. He made a mistake, but he is very sorry for it,” Nina says. “President Obama has two daughters. I don’t think they would like it if he went to prison for 20 years. His daughters would be miserable and want him home—he would want to come home too. That’s the exact same way I feel.”

“As we do time we realize our mistakes. Ignorance of the law is no excuse; at the time I didn’t understand federal law and how it trumps state law,” Montes says. “Now I understand it’s illegal federally. When I was young I didn’t understand that. We all make mistakes. Hopefully he could forgive our mistakes.”

“I’ve made some big mistakes in the past, ones that have greatly affected those closest to me, and I’m fully responsible for those poor decisions. But I ask for a second opportunity to prove I can make a positive impact, and most importantly, return to being a responsible father to a little girl that means the world to me,” Luke Scarmazzo says.

Sign the Change.org petition, “President Obama, Free Our Dads.”

Angela Bacca is a Portland, Oregon-based writer, photographer and medical cannabis patient. She has been published in Cannabis Now, SFCritic Music Blog, Skunk Magazine, and West Coast Cannabis, among others. 

CONTINUE READING…

 

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION:

 

Ninth Circuit Affirms Convictions of Two Modesto Men for Growing and Selling Marijuana

Modesto Marijuana Collective Owners Convicted

I Am Serving 20 Years For Opening a Medical Cannabis Dispensary

Woman advocating to change Idaho’s marijuana laws is charged

The Associated Press

Above: Picture from Facebook post, click for LINK

BOISE, Idaho

A woman advocating for changing Idaho’s marijuana laws at a rally in Boise is now facing misdemeanor charges.

The Idaho Statesman reports (http://is.gd/RlmlAz ) Serra Frank, who uses marijuana for medical reasons, had planned on smoking pot in public as a protest on Friday afternoon. But officers stopper her before she lit up.

Frank is director of the Mom Squad at Moms for Marijuana International.

Frank, who has interstitial cystitis, a painful bladder condition, says she wants Idaho to legalize medical marijuana. Frank chose to stay in Idaho and fight for legalization, while her stepdaughter and the girl’s father moved to California, so the family could try cannabis-based treatments for an illness the girl has developed.

After the rally, Frank was cited with possession of marijuana and possession of paraphernalia, then released. She is scheduled to appear in court on Jan. 19.

Read more here: http://www.kentucky.com/living/health-and-medicine/article52755685.html#storylink=cpy

The DEA has failed to eradicate marijuana. Now Congress wants it to stop trying.

By Christopher Ingraham November 27 at 12:46 PM

The Drug Enforcement Administration is not having a great year.

The chief of the agency stepped down in April under a cloud of scandal. The acting administrator since then has courted ridicule for saying pot is "probably not" as dangerous as heroin, and more recently he provoked 100,000 petition-signers and seven members of Congress to call for his head after he called medical marijuana "a joke."

This fall, the administration earned a scathing rebuke from a federal judge over its creative interpretation of a law intended to keep it from harassing medical marijuana providers. Then, the Brookings Institution issued a strongly worded report outlining the administration’s role in "stifling medical research" into medical uses of pot.

Unfortunately for the DEA, the year isn’t over yet. Last week, a group of 12 House members led by Ted Lieu (D) of California wrote to House leadership to push for a provision in the upcoming spending bill that would strip half of the funds away from the DEA’s Cannabis Eradication Program and put that money toward programs that "play a far more useful role in promoting the safety and economic prosperity of the American people": domestic violence prevention and overall spending reduction efforts.

Each year, the DEA spends about $18 million in efforts with state and local authorities to pull up marijuana plants being grown indoors and outdoors. The program has been plagued by scandal and controversy in recent years. In the mid-2000s, it became clear that the overwhelming majority of "marijuana" plants netted by the program were actually "ditchweed," or the wild, non-cultivated, non-psychoactive cousin of the marijuana that people smoke.

More recently, overzealous marijuana eradicators have launched heavily armed raids on okra plants and warned the Utah legislature of the threat posed by rabbits who had "cultivated a taste for the marijuana." Last year, the DEA spent an average of roughly $4.20 (yes, really) for each marijuana plant it successfully uprooted. In some states, the cost to taxpayers approached $60 per uprooted plant.

The program has also proven to be ineffective. The idea behind pulling up pot plants is to reduce the supply of marijuana, thereby reducing its use. In 1977, two years before the program’s introduction, less than a quarter of Americans said they’d ever tried pot, according to Gallup. By 2015, after 36 years of federal marijuana eradication efforts, the share of Americans ever trying pot nearly doubled, to 44 percent.

Given that marijuana is legal in some form or another in nearly half of the nation’s states, some lawmakers are saying enough is enough. "The seizure of these plants has served neither an economic nor public-safety nor a health-related purpose," Lieu and his colleagues write. "Its sole impact has been to expend limited federal resources that are better spent elsewhere."

The letter-writers note that the provision to strip $9 million in funding from the program passed on voice vote earlier in the year, "without any opposition from either party." They urge leadership to include the provision in a must-pass spending bill later this year.

Lieu doesn’t want to stop there: Next year he intends to introduce a measure "to eliminate the program completely," he said earlier this year. Whether that actually happens will probably depend on how this year’s measure fares during upcoming spending bill negotiations.

Christopher Ingraham writes about politics, drug policy and all things data. He previously worked at the Brookings Institution and the Pew Research Center.

CONTINUE READING…

California’s New Medical Marijuana Legislation: Cue the Bad Lawsuits

By Alison Malsbury on November 1, 2015 Posted in Advocacy, California, Legal Issues, Litigation, Medical Cannabis

We’ve written extensively of late about both California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA) and about the nationwide uptick in cannabis-related litigation (see here, here and here), so it comes as no surprise that there is already a lawsuit challenging the state constitutionality of California’s new marijuana legislation.

As I explain more fully below, this is not a good case for the cannabis industry. Not at all.

Please don't ask courts to declare all state legalization illegal.

Please don’t ask courts to declare all state legalization illegal.

Passage of the MMRSA signals California’s shift away from a loosely regulated, ambiguous grey marijuana market to a robust, state law regulated medical marijuana regime. For us as lawyers, that’s a great thing. And it’s a great thing for marijuana business owners too, since a solid state law regulatory scheme that meets the Federal Department of Justice’s requirement of “robust regulation” goes a long way towards keeping the Feds away.

But not everyone is celebrating California’s adoption of the MMRSA. Tight regulation inevitably means bad actors will be weeded out. It also means, in this case, that patient access will not be as loose and free as it has been under the current system. This is a tradeoff. The big benefit of a regulated system for California patients means things like product testing, safety and quality control requirements will be implemented and enforced.

Armstrong, plaintiff in the lawsuit against the State of California and operator of a medical cannabis collective in Santa Clara County, alleges that “the MMRSA violates the California Constitution because it amends a voter initiative without voter approval.” The complaint goes on to allege that the MMRSA “restricts the manner in which ill Californians are able to possess and grow marijuana for medical purposes and allows for criminal penalties and professional discipline for physicians who recommend marijuana under certain circumstances.”

Though we agree that the MMRSA does contemplate additional restrictions on cultivating and distributing marijuana in California, we do not believe that the intent of the voter initiative was to provide for unfettered and unregulated access to medical cannabis. The initiative and resulting regulations just did a poor job of creating a sufficient, logical regulatory framework. The MMRSA and the resulting implementation of a robust regulatory scheme is attempting to address the very real threat, caused by this insufficient framework, of federal intervention.

Putting aside, however, the main issue of the case involving violation of the California state constitution, the plaintiff in this case also raises the issue of federal preemption. Never have we seen a pro-pot plaintiff raise this issue in a lawsuit, though we have seen the issue raised in cases advocating for cities’ rights to ban state-legal commercial marijuana activity. In those cases, courts have punted the issue, deciding the case on the narrowest grounds possible. Though this case will likely be resolved on state law grounds, it is incomprehensible to us why the plaintiff in this case opted to raise the federal preemption issue. By doing so, they are essentially arguing that NO state can legalize in ANY manner because the federal government treats cannabis as illegal and federal law controls (preempts) state law.

We’ve said it before: Bringing a bad lawsuit in no way helps the cause.

CONTINUE READING…

An Overview Of California’s New (And Improved) Medical Marijuana Laws

This past Friday I chaired a “Medical and Recreational Marijuana in Southern California” seminar in Santa Monica. During the seminar, Governor Brown signed into law the three bills that comprise the California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA). Needless to say, this was big news for all of us at the seminar.

This is also, of course, big news for California and especially for its medical marijuana operators. These bills mean California will soon be moving away from an unregulated gray marijuana marketplace to a state-law-regulated medical marijuana regime. These bills mean that California will be getting the “robust regulations” the federal government requires from the states for the Department of Justice to be even minimally disengaged from what goes on with cannabis within the state. These bills also mean that California will be entering a new era where the Department of Justice (hopefully) finally cools its heels in the Golden State.

Throughout the seminar on Friday, attendees wanted to know how the MMRSA would operate, what local power would look like now, how licensing and any “priority” would work, and how some of the ambiguities in the bills would be sorted out moving forward. I was lucky enough as chair to have California Assembly Member Reginald Jones-Sawyer as a speaker, especially since he played a large part in crafting the language that now makes up a solid majority of the MMRSA. Assembly Member Jones-Sawyer gave attendees valuable insight into how this legislation came to be and what most concerned state lawmakers. It should be no surprise that the legislature’s biggest concerns were edibles, youth access to cannabis, and the impact marijuana businesses would have on their communities.

It’s important to recognize that the MMRSA is made up of three bills–Assembly Bill 266, Assembly Bill 243, and Senate Bill 643, with each bill having a different function, while at the same time containing overlapping, identical language regarding certain aspects of medical marijuana control. I examine each of these three bills below:

AB 266:

AB 266 focuses on MMRSA’s overall regulatory and licensing set up by specifically doing the following:

  • Legalizing all “commercial cannabis activity” undertaken pursuant to a state medical marijuana operational license (and pursuant to a local license or permit, if required by your city or county).
  • Where California’s medical marijuana economy is currently made up of non-profit mutual benefit corporations or non-profit cooperatives, AB 266 allows for-profit businesses to obtain operational medical marijuana licenses from the state.
  • Establishing the Bureau of Medical Marijuana Regulation (BMMR), which will be part of the Department of Consumer Affairs, under the supervision and control of the Director of Consumer Affairs. The BMMR is vested with the power and authority to develop and implement any and all rules necessary to enforce the MMRSA.
  • Giving The Department of Consumer Affairs, the Department of Food and Agriculture, and the State Department of Public Health the power to promulgate and pass any rules necessary to implement the MMRSA.
  • Setting up 17 different kinds of medical marijuana operational license types and prohibiting vertical integration (barring one exception below). A licensee may only hold a state license in up to two separate license categories out of the 17 and the state only permits certain combinations of licenses. Moreover, for growers, regardless of license combination, the state only allows up to 4 acres of total canopy to be cultivated while the license or license combination is valid.
  • Providing for one difficult to attain carve-out for vertical integration. If your city or county has an ordinance that requires or permits vertical integration and your business was vertically integrated before July 1, 2015, and you’ve been continuously operating and registered with the Board of Equalization, you get to stay vertically integrated in the new licensing system until January 1, 2026, when that privilege will be repealed.
  • Permitting cities and counties to regulate medical marijuana businesses beyond the requirements set forth under the MMRSA and the BMMR’s rules. The bill also allows cities and counties to ban medical marijuana businesses within their borders.
  • Mandating local approval of your marijuana business by providing that “[a] licensee shall not commence activity under the authority of a state license until the applicant has obtained, in addition to the state license, a license or permit from the local jurisdiction in which he or she proposes to operate, following the requirements of the applicable local ordinance.” Note that the revocation of your local permit or license means you cannot operate in that city or county even if you still have your state license.
  • Giving local jurisdictions the power to tax and assess fees against medical marijuana businesses.
  • Setting forth the requirements for marijuana deliveries in California. Delivery of marijuana by a dispensary to qualifying patients or designated primary care givers will be licensed by the state only if it is also allowed in the local jurisdiction in which the dispensary licensee operates.
  • Prioritizing licensing for certain medical marijuana businesses. In issuing licenses, the state must prioritize any facility or entity that can demonstrate to the state’s “satisfaction” that it was “in operation and in good standing with [its] local jurisdiction by January 1, 2016.” In addition, an MMJ business that is operating in compliance with local zoning ordinances and other state and local requirements on or before January 1, 2018, may continue its operations until its application for licensure is approved or denied. So in other words, if you can get your cannabis business up and running by the end of this year with local approval where required, you will likely have priority when it comes to licensing under the MMRSA. I and my firm’s other California-licensed cannabis lawyers are already getting calls and emails from existing and new clients seeking help on this.

Issuance of a state license or a determination of compliance with local law by the [state] shall in no way limit the ability of the City of Los Angeles to prosecute any person or entity for a violation of, or otherwise enforce, Proposition D, approved by the voters of the City of Los Angeles on the May 21, 2013, ballot for the city, or the city’s zoning laws. Nor may issuance of a license or determination of compliance with local law by the [state] be deemed to establish, or be relied upon, in determining satisfaction with the immunity requirements of Proposition D or local zoning law, in court or in any other context or forum.

AB 243:

AB 243 focuses on regulating marijuana cultivation for medical use and on California’s environmental concerns regarding marijuana cultivation. This bill:

  • Gives the California Department of Food and Agriculture the power to promulgate any and all rules necessary to accomplish the regulation of medical marijuana cultivators. The Department of Food and Agriculture will also be the one issuing and overseeing all cultivators licenses.
  • Tasks the California Department of Pesticide Regulation, in consultation with the California Department of Food and Agriculture, with dealing with pesticide usage and safety as those relate to marijuana cultivation.
  • Calls for the California Department of Food and Agriculture to work with the Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Water Resources Control Board to ensure that “individual and cumulative effects of water diversion and discharge associated with cultivation do not affect the instream flows needed for fish spawning, migration, and rearing, and the flows needed to maintain natural flow variability.”
  • Provides for the same standards set forth in AB 266 regarding local control and licensing and permitting to apply in AB 243. Nonetheless, “[i]f a city, county, or city and county does not have land use regulations or ordinances regulating or prohibiting the cultivation of marijuana, either expressly or otherwise under principles of permissive zoning, or chooses not to administer a conditional permit program pursuant to this section, then commencing March 1, 2016, the [state] shall be the sole licensing authority for medical marijuana cultivation applicants in that city, county, or city and county.”
  • Does not apply to qualifying patients engaged in personal cultivation if the cultivation area does not exceed 100 square feet and if the qualifying patient does not sell, distribute, donate, or provide marijuana to any other person or entity. It also does not apply to designated primary care givers growing for qualifying patients if the cultivation area does not exceed 500 square feet, he or she cultivates marijuana exclusively for the personal medical use of no more than five specified qualified patients for whom he or she is the primary caregiver, and he or she does not receive remuneration for these activities, except for compensation provided in full compliance with Section 11362.765(c) of the Calls for the California Health and Safety Code. California State Department of Public Health to develop standards for producing and labeling all edible medical cannabis products. The Department of Public Health will also almost certainly be in charge of regulating the edible potencies as well.

SB 643:

Just like its companion bills, SB 643 contributes to the regulatory and oversight structure of the MMRSA. It also specifically sets forth standards for licensed medical physicians and doctors of osteopathy (“physicians”) who recommend marijuana for medical use and it delves into the criminal background standards for applicants. The main points of this bill are the following:

  • Tasks the California Medical Board with prioritizing investigations of physicians who excessively recommend cannabis for medical use, fail to have a bona-fide patient relationship with those persons for whom they recommend cannabis, or fail to adhere to sufficient record keeping regarding their cannabis recommendations.
  • Makes it a misdemeanor for a physician to recommend medical cannabis to a patient and then to accept, solicit, or offer any form of remuneration from or to a state-licensed medical marijuana business if the physician or his or her immediate family have a “financial interest” in that business.
  • Mandates that applicants for any medical marijuana license must submit fingerprints to the Department of Justice for a criminal background check.
  • The state can deny a license application if “[t]he applicant or licensee has been convicted of an offense that is substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession for which the application is made. . .” In determining which offenses are “substantially related to the qualifications, functions, or duties of the business or profession for which the application is made,” the state will take into account the following:
    • felony convictions for the illegal possession for sale, sale, manufacture, transportation, or cultivation of a controlled substance
    • violent felony convictions
    • serious felony convictions
    • felony convictions involving fraud, deceit, or embezzlement
  • Allows for the denial of a license application if the applicant has any history of local sanctions, fines, or penalties for violations of local ordinances, including those related to medical marijuana commercial activity, and for any revocation of a local license within the three years prior to the application for a state license.
  • Requires applicants to “[p]rovide evidence of the legal right to occupy and use the proposed location.” Applicants for a cultivator, distributor, manufacturing, or dispensary license must also provide the state with “a statement from the owner of real property or their agent where the cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, or dispensing commercial medical cannabis activities will occur, as proof to demonstrate the landowner has acknowledged and consented to permit cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, or dispensary activities to be conducted on the property by the tenant applicant.”
  • Compels applicants for a cultivator or a dispensary license to provide the state with “evidence” that their proposed location is at least 600 feet from a school. “School” has not yet been defined.
  • Mandates that applicants with twenty or more employees provide the state with a “statement” that the applicant will enter into, or demonstrate that it has already entered into, and abide by the terms of a labor peace agreement.
  • Requires that those seeking to cultivate, distribute, or manufacture medical cannabis must submit a detailed operational plan disclosing to the state their plans for cultivation, their extraction and infusion methods, their transportation processes, and their inventory and quality control procedures.
  • Tasks the state with developing an “organic certified” standard for medical marijuana in California by January 1, 2020, “if permitted [to do so] under federal law and the National Organic Program.”

All of the bills also mandate that various state agencies set up rules and systems for the following:

  • Tracing cannabis product
  • Record keeping
  • Anti-diversion systems for transporting cannabis product
  • Quality assurance testing standards
  • Robust labeling and packaging
  • Safe product handling
  • Security requirements

We will need to see how the various California state agencies use their rule making authority to fill in the blanks left by the three bills. For example, licensing and renewal fees have yet to be set, we don’t yet know exactly how edibles and infused products will be regulated under the bills, residency requirements (if any) and investment regulations need to be set, and none of the bills directly discuss how medical marijuana businesses will (or will not) be able to advertise their products and services. These issues, and more, will be addressed through state agency rule making that will take place until at least January 2018.

In our practice at Canna Law, we’ve handled licensing applications for all kinds of complicated and heavily regulated state licensing regimes with comprehensive and complicated barriers to entry, including in New York, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, Florida, Nevada, Minnesota, Maryland, and Illinois. It is obvious to us that in crafting its own three medical cannabis bills, California borrowed language from already existing laws and regulations in many of these states. It is also clear to us that California is going to have one of the most comprehensive and complicated medical marijuana licensing regimes in the country. Consequently, California medical marijuana businesses should start preparing now for this future of extremely robust regulation. Though California probably will not issue licenses until well after January 1, 2018, it is never too early to prepare your business for the radical changes this new and massive regulatory system will bring.


Hilary Bricken is an attorney at Harris Moure, PLLC in Seattle and she chairs the firm’s Canna Law Group. Her practice consists of representing marijuana businesses of all sizes in multiple states on matters relating to licensing, corporate formation and contracts, commercial litigation, and intellectual property. Named one of the 100 most influential people in the cannabis industry in 2014, Hilary is also lead editor of the Canna Law Blog. You can reach her by email at hilary@harrismoure.com.

Topics

Administrative Law, California, California Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA), Canna Law Group, Conferences / Symposia, Drugs, Harris Moure, Hilary Bricken, Jerry Brown, Marijuana, Medical Marijuana, Reginald Jones-Sawyer, Regulation

CONTINUE READING…

Marijuana makes mother nature cry: report

06/26/15 05:17 PM

facebook twitter 1 save share group 37

By Tony Dokoupil

 

 

Untitled

If you consume cannabis this weekend, you might also be killing fish, clear-cutting forest, and poisoning some cute-faced and endangered members of the weasel family.

That’s one takeaway from new report in the journal BioScience, which details the water-guzzling, land-destroying, pollution-spreading reality of the marijuana farming today.

The work is the most comprehensive effort to date to quantify the environmental costs of serving the country’s millions of regular marijuana users. Among the degradation recorded: diverted streams, displaced plant-life, spilled diesel fuel, reckless use of fertilizers, and dead Pacific fishers (those cute weasels).  

RELATED: Beyond coal and environmentally friendly pot

Because most marijuana consumed in America is grown here, the research adds a green front to the moral and social battle over broader legalization. Because marijuana growers are understandably secretive, however, the scope of their work is hard to measure, and easy to get wrong.

The only certainty is that this research—which did not distinguish between illegal and state-sanctioned growers—won’t be the last word on their impacts, or its relevance to the push for legalization. Softer pot laws have already swept through 23 states in one form or another, and attitudes are changing fast.

For the moment, people tend to argue over what’s best for kids, minorities, sick people, drivers, and the economy at large. Now, they might also have to consider the policy that favors fish, furry animals, forests, streams, and the majesty of nature. 

Predictably, both the pro-and-anti legalization sides see the study as an ally.

Kevin Sabet, for example, is the president of Project SAM, a campaign to keep marijuana illegal and address the failings of the drug war through other means. He instantly turned the study into a new weapon and let fire.

“Everyone thinks that weed is harmless to use, when in reality our earth is very much affected by its production,” he told msnbc. “The only answer to this environmental problem is to reduce our hunger for pot. And that doesn’t happen under legalization.”

RELATED: Are these pot farmers sucking up all California’s water?

Marijuana growers (and, one imagines, marijuana consumers) can just as easily fold the research into their own point of view. They don’t deny that marijuana is a growing threat to the environment, but they attribute that destruction to the perversions of prohibition.

Hezekiah Allen is executive director of the Emerald Growers Association, a trade group that represents state-sanctioned growers in northern California.

“Unregulated commercial agriculture is bound to have more significant impacts than regulated agriculture,” he told msnbc. “The simple solution is that 18 years after California has a legal medical cannabis industry, it’s time for the state to regulate that industry.”

The research was led by the Nature Conservancy, with help from environmental scientists at UC Berkeley and California’s Department of Fish and Wildlife. Their own conclusions tended to the growers point of view. They noted “inherent trade-offs and tension between marijuana cultivation and ecosystem needs,” but also pointed out that new policies could “prevent and mitigate” the current level of damage. 

Earlier this spring, msnbc visited a pot farm in northern California to see a model of sustainable growing, in an industry that suddenly needs one. Casey O’Neill and his brother Nathaniel are third-generation cannabis growers in the famed Emerald Triangle, and co-owners of Happy Day Farms.

Before the drought, the O’Neill brothers invested their life savings in two artificial ponds, which now hold about 2 million gallons of captured rainwater. They also installed solar panels, which power their whole grown, and they continued to rely on only natural fertilizers.

Now they’re trying to spread the good word. They believe that the quickest way to clean up the trade may be to legalize it. That would allow farmers to openly trade best practices, and regulators to easily find those who don’t adopt them, they argue.

“We can be fish-friendly and still produce this incredible economic bounty that comes from the sun through human labor,” said Casey. “It’s the translation of solar dollars into real dollars. And that’s something that we are very honor to participate in.”

Explore:

California, Drug Policy, Drugs, Environment, Green and Marijuana

CONTINUE (VIDEO)

Vaccine exemptions: California Senate overwhelmingly passes SB 277, abolishing most opt-outs

By Lisa M. Krieger

lkrieger@mercurynews.com

 

Image result for VACCINE

SACRAMENTO — A controversial bill that abolishes "personal belief exemptions" for vaccinations won overwhelming approval in the California Senate on Thursday, bolstering supporters’ hopes that it will also clear the Assembly and be signed into law.

The measure by Democratic Sens. Richard Pan, of Sacramento, and Ben Allen, of Santa Monica — introduced after a outbreak of measles in December at Disneyland sickened 136 Californians — passed 25-10 after the two senators agreed to compromises aimed at easing its passage.

"Vaccines are necessary to protect us. That protection has been eroding," Pan, a pediatrician, said in appealing for passage. "The science is clear: Vaccines are safe and efficacious."

 

The measure, SB 277, would require children to be vaccinated before entering kindergarten. Medical exemptions are permitted, but exemptions based on personal and religious objections are not. That would make California one of only three states — the others are Mississippi and West Virginia — that doesn’t allow personal or religious exemptions to vaccine laws.

In a compromise, the authors agreed to limit the number of required vaccines to 10 to address critics’ concerns of an ever-expanding list of shots. They also amended their bill to remove a requirement for schools to notify parents of immunization rates. That made it possible for SB277 to bypass the Senate Appropriations Committee.

 

But perhaps the most significant compromise was the authors’ pledge to "grandfather in" many public and private school students whose parents have claimed personal belief exemptions. That would mean that more than 13,000 children who have had no vaccinations by first grade won’t have to get their shots until they enter seventh grade. And nearly 10,000 seventh-graders who today aren’t fully vaccinated may be able to avoid future shots because the state does not always require them after that grade.

The move was aimed at mollifying hundreds of angry California parents who have staged rallies and jammed hearing rooms, citing their concerns over vaccine side effects and asserting their parental rights.

"By scaling back the bill’s reach, their chance of success becomes much greater," said Dan Schnur, director of the University of Southern California’s Unruh Institute of Politics.

Shannon Martinez, a spokeswoman for Pan, said Thursday the bill had not yet been amended to reflect the grandfather clause but that language will be written into the bill if attorneys agree that clarification is necessary.

Gov. Jerry Brown has signaled that he supports the bill, but there’s still a possibility he might urge legislators to include a religious exemption.

"I would be surprised if he didn’t sign it, because of the public health issues involved," said Jack Pitney, a politics and government professor at Claremont McKenna College. "I think the governor, on one hand, is sensitive to parental rights, but also sees public health as a major responsibility of his.

"The anti-vaccine folks are going to make a very hard push, but passage in the Senate is a good sign it will become law," Pitney said. "Sen. Pan made changes that made it more acceptable to some of the critics and that should greatly improve its changes in the Assembly."

Most Republicans — including Sen. Patricia C. Bates of San Juan Capistrano, Sen. Mike Morrell of Rancho Cucamonga, Sen. Joel Anderson of San Diego and Senate GOP leader Bob Huff of Diamond Bar — voted against the measure.

"I am concerned about opportunities for equal education," because unvaccinated kindergarteners would require home schooling, Bates said. "We have 3- and 4-year-olds in the state that are anticipating their first day of kindergarten."

Added Morrell: "It tells deeply devout families that the government thinks it knows better."

But Thursday’s vote and debate often crossed party lines, with Sen. Jeff Stone, R-Temecula, endorsing the bill from his experience as a practicing pharmacist and denouncing what he said were myths that have led to false concerns.

Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, was one of two Democrats voting no. He still had concerns about the list of mandated vaccines. "I’m not sure there was a full explanation," he said.

Outside the Senate chamber, a group of vaccine opponents from the California Coalition for Health Choice thanked senators who voted no as they left. They said they would step up efforts in the Assembly to highlight the impact SB 277 would have on schools and the difficulty of acquiring a medical exemption for immunizations.

"The only thing we can do is continue to educate our officials" about the personal belief exemption, said Lisa Bakshi, a mother from Placer County. "The parents who do it now do it for very legitimate reasons. We don’t do it because we are uninformed."

The Associated Press and Sacramento Bee contributed to this report. Contact Lisa M. Krieger at 650-492-4098. Follow her at Twitter.com/Lisa M. Krieger.

CONTINUE READING…