Friday, July 31, 2015

Banking on Pot

by John Geluardi
Fri, Jul 31, 2015 at 4:26 PM

Fiona Ma.
  • Fiona Ma.
A Bay Area tax regulator wants to create a state-run bank specifically for the medical cannabis industry in order to help pot-related businesses operate safely and without the federal imposed stigma of the black market. 

Because the Drug Enforcement Administration still lists cannabis as a schedule one drug, federally insured banks can face sanction and the possibility of losing their insurance if they open accounts for medical cannabis dispensaries and other cannabis related businesses. The goal of this federal restriction is to obstruct operations at state-legal cannabis dispensaries. The result has been unsafe conditions for the public and dispensaries owners having a tougher time conducting legal business activities.

State Board of Equalization Member Fiona Ma scheduled a meeting for today to discuss her proposal for a state-run depository that would offer cannabis growers and sellers a practical method of writing checks and depositing and transferring funds. According to Ma’s press release, California’s medicinal cannabis dispensaries are forced to find creative solutions, such as bringing bags of cash to State Board of Equalization (SBOE) offices each month to pay their sales taxes due. These transactions have the potential of creating a dangerous situation for the dispensaries, neighborhoods, law enforcement, and SBOE employees. In addition, it is very difficult for the SBOE to audit cash related business transactions.

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Vallejo Embraces Its Pot Clubs — Finally

by John Geluardi
Fri, Jul 31, 2015 at 1:59 PM

The Vallejo City Council has finally embraced the city’s taxpaying medical cannabis dispensaries, which have been legally operating and paying taxes since 76 percent of Vallejo voters approved a ballot measure in 2011 allowing taxation on cannabis products sold inside the city limits.

Despite the popularity of medical cannabis among Vallejo voters, city officials continued for years their attempts to shutter or otherwise obstruct dispensaries from operating. In May, the council attempted to close the city’s eleven existing dispensaries that had paid millions of dollars into city coffers and begin taking applications from new dispensary applicants and reduce the total number of permitted dispensaries to four.

The May ordinance stunned medical cannabis patients, activists, dispensary owners and their employees. Two medical cannabis advocacy groups, Re-Start Vallejo and the Vallejo Patients Coalition quickly organized and collected 9,000 signatures on a petition supporting the established dispensaries. The petition succeeded in halting the application process on its second day.

Then, this week, the council reversed itself and voted to allow the existing dispensaries to continue operating so long as they meet certain standards, such as being in possession of a valid tax certificate issued before a 2013 moratorium and that they are up to date in their tax payments. The dispensaries will also have to be 1,000 feet from schools and at least 2,000 feet from another dispensary.

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Thursday, July 30, 2015

Medical Cannabis Advocates Relieved that Anti-Marijuana Crusader Melinda Haag Is Quitting

by John Geluardi
Thu, Jul 30, 2015 at 3:23 PM

Melinda Haag.
  • Melinda Haag.
Controversial US Attorney Melinda Haag announced that she will step down on September 1, thereby bringing an end to one of the most aggressive campaigns against the medical cannabis industry since California voters legalized the drug in 1996. During her tenure, which began in 2011 when President Barack Obama appointed her to the western coastal district, she successfully shuttered more than six hundred medical cannabis dispensaries that were compliant with state law.

Haag also targeted dispensaries whose owners had long histories of medical cannabis advocacy, such as the Berkeley’s Patients Group, which is one of the first state-legal dispensaries and was co-founded by dedicated activist Debby Goldsberry. Haag also sought a civil forfeiture case against Harborside Health Center, which is considered a national model for a well-run and tasteful dispensary that includes a variety of health services besides offering medical cannabis.

Harborside owner Steve DeAngelo fought the closure and won a number of state and federal court injunctions against Haag, which have allowed his dispensary to continue to operate. Coming to his aide, the City of Oakland filed suit against Haag and the Department of Justice to block Haag’s seemingly arbitrary attempt to close Harborside. In addition, Congress passed the Farr-Rohrabacher amendment, which prevents the DOJ from spending taxpayer funds to interfere with state-sanctioned cannabis laws. Haag has scoffed at both Oakland and Congress as she continued to press her case against the Berkeley Patients Group and Harborside.

DeAngelo said in a press release that he was confident that Harborside would survive Haag’s reign. “I vowed that Harborside would never abandon our patients and we have been battling Ms. Haag in federal court ever since,” DeAngelo said. “I always believed Harborside would outlast Ms. Haag, so hearing that she is stepping down gives us great relief and great satisfaction.”

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Oakland’s Vice Mayor Stands Up to Feds

by John Geluardi
Thu, Jul 30, 2015 at 11:37 AM

The Oakland City Council has prohibited federal agencies from co-opting Oakland’s police officers for use against the city’s permitted medical cannabis facilities — as they did in 2012 when three federal agencies carried out a series of poorly coordinated raids that caused a downtown traffic jam and protest as well as hindered police response time to a mass killing at a nearby nursing school.

Rebecca Kaplan.
  • Rebecca Kaplan.
Vice Mayor Rebecca Kaplan authored the resource-based policy, which the council approved earlier this month. “I was able to get an amendment into the budget we just adopted that will prohibit the use of Oakland resources on raids of permitted cannabis facilities,” Kaplan said, “like when the feds conducted a massive raid on Oaksterdam University and Oakland police were called up at the last minute to help in the raid of lawful facilities; that should not happen again.”

Specifically, Kaplan wrote the amendment in response to controversial incident that occurred at 9:59 a.m. on April 2, 2012, when more than one hundred federal agents from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), US Marshals, and the Internal Revenue Service descended on Oaksterdam University and five other medical cannabis locations, including Coffeeshop Blue Sky and the Grand Lake residence of Oaksterdam University founder Richard Lee, a legendary medical pot activist who also was the primary organizer and funder of the 2010 California ballot initiative to legalize the recreational use of cannabis for adults.

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Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom’s Blue Ribbon Panel Releases Pot Legalization Recommendations

by John Geluardi
Wed, Jul 22, 2015 at 5:02 PM

A blue ribbon panel released a report today that outlines important issues that activists, businesses, law enforcement agencies and public officials should consider if Californians vote to legalize marijuana for adult use in 2016.

Chief among the panel’s findings is that the primary goal of legalization should not be to create greater tax revenue for the state, but instead to squeeze out the marijuana black market. Other recommendations are that every effort should be made to keep cannabis out of the hands of youth, the environment should be protected from irresponsible growers, and that the legal marijuana market should be accessible to small businesses.

Convened by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, the 24-member panel consisted of law enforcement officials, tax experts, legal scholars, doctors and a former White House drug policy advisor. The 93-page report is expected to influence the eight marijuana legalization initiatives that are currently being reviewed by the Attorney General’s Office for the 2016 ballot. According to the Public Policy Institute of California, a narrow margin of voters favor legalization, a fact that prompted Newsom to convene the panel.

However, Newsom, who supports legalization and has announced his candidacy for governor in 2018, said the report is designed to suggest a series of options rather than provide specific recommendations, which reflects the panel’s difficulty in agreeing on some of the more controversial aspects of legalization.

“Perhaps the most important message from the report is what are not recommending,” Newsom told the Associated Press in an interview on Tuesday. “We are not recommending maximizing the amount of tax revenue, we are not recommending that we promote and create a large industry, and we are not promoting and recommending the price of marijuana drop significantly. And the reason is all of those goals would depend on and encourage heavy use.”

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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Senators Challenge DEA to Explain Lack of Marijuana Medical Research

by John Geluardi
Tue, Jul 21, 2015 at 3:32 PM

There has been a great deal of cannabis-related activity this past year in the halls of federal and state governments that promise significant changes to the laws and policies of the medical and recreational cannabis industries. The latest action in Washington, DC involves eight senators sending a letter to three federal agencies demanding to know why there are so many obstacles to medical cannabis research. 

Barbara Boxer.
  • Barbara Boxer.
The letter was sent to the Department of Health and Services (HHS), Office of National Drug Policy, and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The eight senators who signed the letter include Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, Barbara Boxer, D-California, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon. The senators demanded an explanation for why these three federal agencies have not taken advantage of ever-growing knowledge base that is being generated by well over one million medical cannabis patients living in forty states as well as the medical programs that have developed from within the thriving medical cannabis industry.

“With the patient pool of medical marijuana users growing in the United States, we believe that federal agencies have both an opportunity and a responsibility to craft a sensible research and public health strategy that allows us to generate meaningful data and conclusions from this ongoing natural experiment,” the senators wrote in the letter. “It is important that we make a concerted effort to understand how this drug works and how it can best serve patients through appropriate methods of use and doses, like any other prescribed medicine.”

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Monday, July 20, 2015

New Legislation Would Make Banking Legal for the Pot Industry

by John Geluardi
Mon, Jul 20, 2015 at 12:33 PM

A bipartisan group of US senators has introduced a bill that would allow legal marijuana businesses access to banking services, thereby making simple services such as check cashing, credit card transactions, and paying taxes more efficient and safe. 

Senator Ron Wyden.
  • Senator Ron Wyden.
The four senators sponsoring the bill all come from either Colorado or Oregon, two states that have legalized recreational cannabis use for adults. They are Ron Wyden, D-Oregon; Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon; Cory Gardner, R-Colorado; and Michael Bennet, D- Colorado. Banks have largely refused to open accounts for cannabis businesses under threats from the federal government, including the denial of FDIC insurance and even being charged with money laundering offenses. The inability to use banking services means cannabis businesses have to operate using large amounts of cash, which creates safety risks for the businesses and surrounding communities.

“By compelling Oregon business owners to operate on a cash-only basis, current federal laws are making banks sitting ducks for violent crimes and perpetuating negative stereotypes,” Wyden said in a press release. “Our bill will finally force the federal government to respect the decision Oregonians made at the polls and allow law-abiding marijuana businesses to go to the bank just like any other business. It’s ridiculous to make any business owner carry duffle bags of cash just to pay their taxes.”

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Friday, July 17, 2015

Cannabis Legalization Campaigns Gearing Up

by John Geluardi
Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 5:00 PM

California cannabis activists announced on Thursday that they will soon file a state ballot initiative to legalize cannabis in 2016. Perhaps more importantly, they said they are organized, motivated and well-funded. Organizers of ReformCA said they have hired hard-hitting Democratic political strategists and lined up a leading signature gathering firm.

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Competing Buds in Our Nation’s Capital

by John Geluardi
Fri, Jul 17, 2015 at 2:59 PM

After a long battle, Washington, DC recently legalized cannabis, and now, this fall, DC residents will be celebrating by holding a bud competition at the annual state fair. The “best bud” competition will take its place among the traditional events, which include a knitting and crochet contest, the funniest looking vegetable contest, the pickled food contest and another new addition, the pet parade. 

“Now that it’s legal for residents of the district to grow their own plants, we wanted a way to highlight this new freedom, while also showing off the agricultural talents of the district’s people,” said Anna Tauzin, the fair’s outreach director. The annual state fair will held in September, and is organized by a resident-run nonprofit.

Green-thumbed bud competitors must submit one bud weighing between one and two grams in a small Mason jar. Judges will consider the single bud in four categories:

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Thursday, July 16, 2015

Berkeley Dispensary Director Harassed at Airport

by John Geluardi
Thu, Jul 16, 2015 at 6:57 PM

Speciale at Chicago O'Hare Airport.
  • Speciale at Chicago O'Hare Airport.
It’s not always easy being in the medical cannabis business, as well-known activist and dispensary owner Aundre Speciale found over the Fourth of July weekend while traveling home from Chicago where she attended the final Grateful Dead concert.

Speciale, whose medical cannabis activism goes back to 1990, said she had a great time at the concert, but she had the misfortune of losing her identification. So the next day, she called the airline and asked what she should do. The airline was very helpful. She was told not to worry but that she should get to the airport a little earlier so she could verify her identity by answering a series of questions.

Speciale arrived at Chicago O’Hare Airport and was directed to a Transportation Security Administration agent who teased her with a couple of good natured Deadhead jokes and then reassured her there was nothing to worry about. “I was very upset and apologetic about the inconvenience and he was actually very friendly about it,” Speciale said.

At first the questions were basic — what’s your name, address, birthday. But then Speciale said she was surprised at the level of background information they had at their fingertips. “At one point they asked what was the name of the adult who lived at your residence five years ago,” Speciale said. “I was a little taken aback, but I answered it. And then they came to the question of what I do for a living.”

Speciale is the director of the Cannabis Buyers Club Berkeley (CBCB), which dispenses medical marijuana. Speciale, who like many medical cannabis activists, adheres to a strict policy of openness, explained exactly what CBCB is and what her role is. “It was all fine,” she said. “The TSA agent remained good natured and everything else was completely normal for losing my identification, which meant I went through an ultra-security, a woman came and went over every inch of my body and my shoes went through the scanning machine twice. Fine.”

But just as Speciale was about to board the plane, her name was called over the public address system. She went over to the desk and four Drug Enforcement Administration agents and a dog were waiting for her. “One was a woman who was being nice and smiling and right behind her were two guys giving me the scary cop look and one of them had this big German Shepherd,” Speciale said. “They showed me there badges and I was a bit surprised because they were the biggest badges I’d ever seen.”

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