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Statewide Regulation of Cannabis Overcomes Landmark Legislative Hurdle

Statewide Regulation of Cannabis Overcomes Landmark Legislative Hurdle

AB390 Approved by Public Safety Committee on 4-3 Vote


No Hearing in Health Committee Kills Bill

SACRAMENTO – A Bill has been proposed to once and for all end the illegal sale of a non-government approved drug. But under this proposal, the demise of the drug dealer’s lucrative, income and sales-tax free, cash-only kingdom will not come by way of the traditional pre-dawn serving of a search warrant and an arrest warrant delivered courtesy of Kevlar-clad paramilitary local lawmen.

If Democratic Assemblyman Tom Ammiano is to have his way, the end of illegal marijuana sales in 2010 will mirror the end of illegal booze sales in 1933: through government regulation, to include the imposition of a user-tax.

Ammiano’s legislation, The Marijuana Control, Regulation, and Education Act - AB390 - would delegate regulation of non-medical marijuana to the Department of Alcoholic Beverages and permit taxed sales to adults while prohibiting the sale to, or possession by, any person under 21-years-old. Medical marijuana would be exempt from fees and regulations imposed by AB390.

After his Bill was first introduced in 2009, Ammiano said of his proposed legislation, “The move towards regulating and taxing marijuana is simply common sense. This legislation would generate much needed revenue for the State, restrict access to only those over 21, end the environmental damage to our public lands from illicit crops, and improve public safety by redirecting law enforcement efforts to more serious crimes.”

With enactment of AB390, California would become the first State in the Union to implement a “smart, responsible public policy for the control and regulation of marijuana,” added the Northern California Democrat.

Under current California law, the possession, sale, transport, or cultivation of marijuana - with very few exceptions - is a crime. AB390 would legalize the personal possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana by those 21 and older, and secondly, provide for regulation of commercial cultivation, and wholesale and retail marijuana sales.

As originally introduced in 2009, personal use, cultivation, and possession would immediately become lawful under AB390, but the commercial cultivation and resale, through government regulation – the establishment of a marijuana marketplace – was to placed on-hold until federal law was amended to permit the practice - something political observers believe would not come about until Congress removed cannabis from the list of Schedule I, or most dangerous, drugs.

Under Ammiano’s 2010 version, States’ Rights are invoked and a marijuana marketplace regulated by the Department of Alcoholic Beverages would be established absent any change in federal law, as permitted under the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. (See bottom of page 10).


AB390 would make lawful under California law the personal use and possession of cannabis in the home and on any private residence, to include outdoors upon such premises, for any person at least 21-years-old, when not smoked in view from any public place or neighboring property.

Home cultivation would be lawful for those at least 21-years-old with a crop limited to no more than six mature plants, and if planted outdoors, plants must not be able to be viewed from a public place. Ammiano’s 2009 version of AB390 allowed for up to ten plants.

A licensed nursery would be permitted to cultivate seedlings for sale to any person 21-years-old and over, but any plant unsold by time of maturity must be destroyed.

The Health and Safety Code would be amended as part of AB390 to prohibit the display of drug paraphernalia for sale other than within a separate room or enclosure where minors are not permitted to enter unless accompanied by a parent or legal guardian.

Marijuana for resale must be kept behind a counter in an area not directly accessible by any customer and stored in a locked case in between sales.

A commercial cultivator’s license would also be established with an application fee not to exceed $5,000 for the initial application, and half that amount for the annual renewal.

Commercial cultivator applicants would undergo a background check to include summary criminal history information provided by the Attorney General, and any local law enforcement agency.

Each licensee must provide a detailed crop security plan that protected against unauthorized access to the marijuana crop at all stages of cultivation, harvesting, drying, processing, packing, and delivery to licensed sales outlets or wholesalers.

Employment at a commercial cannabis cultivator would be regulated to prevent any person under 21 from having access to marijuana during cultivation, storage, drying, packing, or at any other time, and no person under 21 would be permitted to transport marijuana on behalf of a commercial buyer or commercial seller.

The use of marijuana on the premises of a commercial cultivator would also be prohibited, and an inspection and tracking system would be implemented to ensure all marijuana produced and sold by the cultivator was also assessed for taxation in accordance with the Revenue and Taxation Code.

In support of State sovereignty and the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution, under AB390 State and local agencies, to include law enforcement, are prohibited from supporting the prosecution of any federal crime related to marijuana if the alleged crime was in conflict with California marijuana law.

On The Record Support

Upon introduction in 2009, Board of Equalization Chairwoman Betty Yee concurred with the intent of Ammiano’s Bill, and said, "This common sense measure effectively prioritizes State resources during these times of fiscal constraint. Prioritizing law enforcement to control the most serious drugs while raising new revenues from casual marijuana use directed to treating serious drug addiction is a prudent use of limited resources.”

Marijuana Policy Project California policy director Aaron Smith added, “It is simply nonsensical that California's largest agricultural industry is completely unregulated and untaxed. With our State in an ongoing fiscal crisis - and no one believes the new budget is the end of California's financial woes - it's time to bring this major piece of our economy into the light of day.”

Support for Ammiano’s Bill also came from an elected lawman, San Francisco Sheriff Mike Hennessey, who said, “I support this legislation because I feel this issue should be the subject of legislative and public debate.”

Support from retired Orange County Superior Court Judge James P. Gray was included in the Bill’s 2009 press release. Gray said, “Assembly member Ammiano is to be applauded in addressing this critical issue honestly and directly.”

Public Safety Committee Hearing

AB390 was first proposed early in 2009, but the committee hearing was cancelled at the request of the author. The Bill was reintroduced with changes in the legislature’s second session and a hearing was held in the Assembly Public Safety Committee on January 12, 2010.

Among the numerous intents of AB390 are:

1. To remove all existing civil and criminal penalties for persons 21 years of age or older who cultivate, possess, transport, sell, or use marijuana, without impacting existing laws proscribing dangerous activities while under the influence of marijuana, or certain conduct that exposes younger persons to marijuana;

2. To regulate marijuana in order to more effectively limit access to marijuana by minors; to deprive the criminal market of revenue derived from the cultivation, smuggling, and sale of marijuana; to reduce the violence associated with the criminal market for marijuana;

3. To prevent the environmental degradation that results from the production and eradication of marijuana associated with the criminal market;

4. To address the overall failure of marijuana prohibition to protect the public health and safety;

5. To raise funds and to discourage substance abuse by the imposition of a substantial fee on the legal sale of marijuana, the proceeds of which will support drug education and awareness;

6. To impose a set of regulations and laws concerning marijuana comparable to those imposed on alcohol; to impose substantial fines for violations of the noncommercial regulations and laws concerning marijuana;

7. To prevent state and local agencies from supporting any prosecution for federal or other crimes relating to marijuana that are inconsistent with those provided in this bill; and,

8. To encourage the federal government to reconsider its policies concerning marijuana, and to change its laws accordingly.

Ammiano, also the chair of the Public Safety Committee, opened the hearing and said the intent of his Bill was to legalize marijuana “for recreational purposes” for adults 21-years and older and cited the Board of Equalization estimate that marijuana legalization would generate $1 billion in annual revenue for California government.

Before introducing his witnesses, Ammiano said, “The drug wars have failed. Prohibition has fostered anarchy in the marijuana market. Legalization would allow regulation and regulation would restore order.”

Aaron Smith, California Director for the Marijuana Policy Project, testified that at $14 billion in annual sales, marijuana is in fact the State’s number one cash crop. Smith described Prohibition as an “insane policy” and said AB390 presented an opportunity for the government to institute a strict regulatory scheme similar to the regulatory structure governing the more dangerous drug of alcohol.

“Just as under alcohol Prohibition of the 1920s, many of the enterprising criminals seeking to make profit in the vast underground market of marijuana are willing to go to any lengths, even kill, to protect those profits,” said Smith, who added there’s no coincidence that Mexican Cartels aren’t killing each other over the beer trade, or growing wine grapes in our National Forests.

Traditionally, California has led the other 49 States in many public policy decisions, and it made sense that through AB390, California was poised to become the first State in the Union to “get out in front” on this issue, Smith testified.

Steven Gutwillig, Executive Director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said whether anyone liked it or not, marijuana is a widely-used recreational drug and its wide use necessitated government regulation as wise public policy.

Gutwillig said enforcing marijuana Prohibition was not a smart use of limited police resources and shared that 78,000 Californians were arrested in 2008 on a marijuana offense.

“Marijuana is not a harmless drug, but we can’t arrest our way out of those problems,” said Gutwillig, who added people who aren’t hurting anyone else should “be left alone” by the law.

Prohibition: The Law Enforcement
& District Attorney’s Office
Full Employment Act

Among the numerous government agents employed in law enforcement speaking against the Bill was San Mateo Police Chief and drug warrior Susan Manheimer. The President-elect of the California Police Chiefs’ Association said the numerous problems associated with the already legal drugs of tobacco and booze created enough trouble for society, and suggested legalizing marijuana would only compound those problems.

Ignoring the steadily-declining rate of tobacco smokers in America over the past several decades, Manheimer equated the legalization of a product with an automatic increase in use among our population, and then called the effort to decriminalize marijuana as “naïve” and “dangerous.”

Chief Manheimer said revenue collected by California through a marijuana tax would be “blood money” in her opinion, and to support a marijuana tax to help balance the State budget was an argument she found “mind-boggling, to say the least.”

Marijuana use created a proclivity to violence in the user, said Manheimer, who disputed claims that marijuana made the user “mellow.” She cited an unnamed 2002 British study that claimed marijuana users were more violent than their non-marijuana smoking counterparts in society.

Manheimer said the ‘War on Drugs’ has not been a failure and added she found arguments to the contrary to be appalling.

Bob Cook, past president of the California Narcotics Officers Association, after testifying that “tobacco actually kills people,” went on to suggest if revenue for California was the goal, in his professional opinion, “it may be safer just to bring back cigarette vending machines.”

Cook told the committee he found the idea of legalizing marijuana to generate revenue as “deeply offensive” and amounted to “trading human misery for tax dollars.” The narcotics officer said people who find their way behind bars for simple possession “earned that right” and were to be considered “criminals.”

After Cook, a parade of representatives from law enforcement agencies, associations, fraternal orders, and leagues, took to the microphone to state their name and organization, and their opposition to AB390. Some implored the committee to oppose AB390 for the children, others for public safety.

After the final speaker, Assemblyman Ammiano cautioned against the alarmist rhetoric as espoused by many in opposition, and said many of the arguments heard that morning against AB390 were similar to the illogical arguments made in the film Reefer Madness.

Democrat Assemblyman Jared Huffman said he was opposed to marijuana use but added current marijuana law was a “failed criminalization policy” and suggested a rational way to deal the issue was in order.

The motion to approve and to pass-on AB390 to the Health Committee was agreed to on a 4-3 vote. The four yes votes were cast by Ammiano and fellow Democrats Jerry Hill, Nancy Skinner, and Jared Huffman.

The three dissenting votes were cast by Republican Assembly members Curt Hagman, Danny Gilmore, and Democrat Warren Furutani.

Video of the January 12 Public Safety Committee hearing on AB390 is available at:

Marijuana = Heroin, Since 1970

According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), the Controlled Substance Act of 1970 established five classifications, or schedules, for drugs. The most dangerous drugs - according to the federal gub-mnt’ - are classified as Schedule I, and the least dangerous as Schedule V.

Schedule I drugs meet three criteria, according to the federal DEA, and they are: “The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse; The drug…has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug…under medical supervision.”

Marijuana is classified as a Schedule I drug, along with heroin, morphine and LSD.

Schedule II drugs: “The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse; The drug…has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States or a currently accepted medical use with severe restrictions; Abuse of the drug…may lead to severe psychological or physical dependence.” Cocaine is classified as a Schedule II drug.

Schedule III: “The drug or other substance has a potential for abuse less than the drugs…in schedules I and II; The drug…has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; Abuse of the drug…may lead to moderate or low physical dependence or high psychological dependence.”

Schedule IV: “The drug or other substance has a low potential for abuse relative to the drugs…in schedule III; The drug…has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; Abuse of the drug…may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to the drugs…in schedule III.”

Schedule V: “The drug or other substance has a low potential for abuse relative to the drugs…in schedule IV; The drug…has a currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States; Abuse of the drug…may lead to limited physical dependence or psychological dependence relative to the drugs…in schedule IV.”

One For The Road

Booze, tobacco, and caffeine are exempt from classification as a “controlled substance.”

According to data from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), there are 79,000 deaths in the United States each year attributed to excessive alcohol use. CDC data also showed there were 1.6 million hospitalizations, and over four million emergency room visits for alcohol-related conditions in 2005, the latest year data was available. CDC data also revealed 443,000 tobacco-related deaths in the United States each year.

Political Observer staff searched CDC on-line and was unable to uncover data on marijuana-related deaths and illness in the United States. We contacted the CDC in Atlanta, Georgia, and were informed by Senior Press Officer Karen Hunter at the main press office, after having researched our inquiry, she concluded there was no CDC data available for marijuana-related deaths, illness, or visit to a hospital emergency room.

“A marijuana-related visit to the emergency room would be so rare,” said Hunter. “Marijuana is not the drug that would bring people to the emergency room, so there would not be enough people for a sample.”

On marijuana-related deaths, Hunter told AVPO, “Drug overdose by marijuana is also not a common occurrence so there is not a large enough sample size to have statistics.”

Hunter referred The Political Observer to the National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), and the National Institute of Drug Abuse (NIDA), as other federal government agencies that may have data on marijuana-related deaths, illness, or visits to the emergency room.

SAMHSA and NIDA are both organizations within the federal Department of Health and Human Services, and the NCHS is an element of the CDC.

The latest SAMHSA data available was from a 2002 Drug Abuse Warning Network (DAWN) study from Boston, Massachusetts, that revealed a rate of 16 marijuana-related visits to the emergency room per 100,000 population.

Of the approximately 1.6 million visits to Boston area emergency rooms in 2002, about one percent (17,965) were related to drug abuse, with alcohol and cocaine the top two drugs.

Total marijuana-related emergency room visits in 2002 were numbered at 4,273 but an asterisk beside the per population figure warned 67% of marijuana-related ER visits involved use of an additional drug. For the 2002 Boston sample, this meant of the 4,273 ER visits classified as marijuana-related, one-third – or 1,410 - were marijuana-only ER visits.

DAWN is a data program reporting system operated by participating hospitals and the federal government.

The Political Observer contacted SAMHSA and spoke with press relations officer Brad Stone and asked for data on marijuana-related deaths, illness, and a description of a marijuana-only related problem that would bring a person to the emergency room, and requested examples.

We cited as an example, for booze, a drunk’s life could be in jeopardy due to an over-abundance of alcohol consumption, which had developed into acute alcohol poisoning, or secondly, a drunkard may have stumbled and lost his balance, fallen, and suffered a deep, bloody gash on their head that required immediate medical attention.

Stone forwarded our request for specific information related to marijuana-only deaths, illness, and ER visits, to an official agency statistician.

Soon-after, The Political Observer received a call from Carrie Ainsworth, also from the SAMHSA press office, to clarify the information we sought on marijuana-related deaths, illness, and visits to the ER.

Ainsworth, like Stone, recommended The Political Observer contact CDC for marijuana-related information. The Political Observer informed Ainsworth, as we did Stone, that CDC claimed instances of marijuana-related death, illness, and ER visits were so rare, no data existed in the CDC database.

Days later, The Political Observer received a return call from Ainsworth in response to our specific request, and she forwarded data that stated there were 68,151 marijuana-related ER visits reported by hospitals participating in the DAWN program in 2005.

The data forwarded by Ainsworth of 68,151 marijuana-related ER visits in 2006 is equal to 1.7 percent of the number of alcohol-related ER visits in 2005 - four million - cited by CDC.

Neither SAMHSA, NIDA, CDC, NCHS, nor any agency of the federal government contacted by AVPO was able to provide data on marijuana-related deaths, or specific data on a marijuana-only related illness, or a marijuana-only related symptom that required a visit to an ER.

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