Category Archives: Pot and Politics

Conflict Breeds Corruption

 

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By John Geluardi

819cab198a0b83ce288b2cdd6afe483f_400x400Public corruption is a negative force that has an impact far beyond any single act of paying for favors and privilege. Public corruption cost taxpayer millions of dollars annually and casts a shadow over government ability to make sound policies, assert the rule of law and the citizen’s ability to pursue economic prosperity.

It’s for that reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and other law enforcement agencies, makes it a priority to investigate allegations of public officials who use their positions to enrich themselves. But suppressing corruption once it has occurred is expensive and not effective. It is also important for government officials to be  proactive by not enacting policies that foster corruption, rent seeking and extortion. That’s why it is critically important that the conflict between state and federal marijuana laws are resolved as soon as possible.

In those states that have legalized the sale of medical and recreation cannabis, the industry is flourishing. State and local laws have done great work in creating policies and laws that give such businesses a sense of stability that allows them to make business decisions with some confidence. But federal laws still regard cannabis as a schedule 1 narcotic and have not only closed access to reliable banking, the U.S. Postal Service and fair tax laws, but there is also the constant threat of law enforcement raids, lengthy and expensive court battles and prison.

Even in the states that have legalized cannabis, federal law has created a climate of fear and uncertainty among cannabis entrepreneurs and some politicians and law enforcement officers are exploiting that fear to enrich themselves. There are numerous examples of this type of corruption. In fact, The Daily Chronic, an online news source that covers the cannabis community, has a pages-long section devoted to cannabis related police corruption nationwide.

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Filed under California ballot November, Corruption, Crime, politics, Pot and Politics, Uncategorized

A Multibillion Dollar Industry Without a Bank

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By John Geluardi

As the California campaign for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act gains momentum and state economists forecast an industry that could grow to $15 billion annually by 2020, creating thousands of jobs and generating millions in tax revenue, there’s a dark cloud hanging over potential victory celebrations on Nov. 8:  The multibillion dollar industry will have no legal banking options.

If approved by voters, new cannabis businesses in California will have to overcome an obstacle that has dogged the industry in 25 medical marijuana states and four recreational-use states — Colorado, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska. There simply is no safe, efficient, and legal banking. The Attorney General’s Office made that very clear with the now infamous 2011 “Cole Memo,” which warned bankers not to open cannabis-related accounts or they could face money-laundering charges or possibly lose their FDIC insurance, which would be ruinous.

Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley said the current cannabis banking laws are not only outdated, but they also inhibit reliable tax collection and create a business environment prone to crime and violence. Oregon’s estimated legal cannabis market is expected to bring in a half-billion dollars during its first 14 months, and Merkley said he is worried about the negative impact that poorly thought out federal banking regulations will have on cannabis employees and the community in general. “The federal government should not be forcing Oregon’s legal marijuana businesses to carry gym bags full of cash to pay their taxes, employees and bills,” Merkley says. “This is an invitation to robberies, money laundering, and organized crime.”

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Filed under Adult Use of Marijuana Act, AUMA, California ballot November, Pot and Politics, Uncategorized

Driving Stoned in California? It Might Not Be Such A Big Deal

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By John Geluardi

As Californian voters prepare to consider legalizing cannabis, a newly released blue-ribbon report on marijuana policy is calling for a balanced approach toward so-called “drugged driving.” Instead of punitive, drunk driving-type laws and penalties that many anti-marijuana legislators have called for in the past, the report recommends increased enforcement of existing laws with an emphasis on matching penalties to actual risks.

The report, “Policy Options for Regulating Marijuana in California,” which was commissioned by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom and released last week, recommends that, instead of creating hysterical new restrictions based on dodgy statistics, law enforcement officers should be given new tools and skills to determine if California drivers are operating motor vehicles while stoned. “It is already illegal to drive under the influence of marijuana,” the report reads, “and instead of creating new laws and penalties, law enforcement should be given new tools, such as THC mouth swab tests and video recorded impairment tests that could effectively enforce existing laws and possibly meet standards of evidence.”

The report’s approach is measured compared to a series of overly restrictive Assembly bills proposed in recent years. Among the more hysterical pieces of legislation was a 2013 bill proposed by then-state Senator Lou Correa that would have made it a crime for drivers to have any detectable level of any drug of any kind in their system unless they were in possession of a prescription. That would have meant that if some ingredient in your cough syrup showed up in a blood test, you could have been facing jail time. Fortunately, calmer heads have prevailed in Sacramento and most of these fear mongering-type bills have died in committee.

One of the reasons these over-muscular bills don’t fare well is that it’s very difficult to effectively identify THC in the bloodstream, which has made it very difficult to gather meaningful statistics about marijuana use and its impact on traffic safety. There is, as yet, no reliable roadside test to measure THC levels in the blood, and even if there were, the results would be sketchy due to the unreliability of a positive THC test result. The best way to measure THC in the system is a blood sample test, which is currently illegal for law enforcement to obtain during a roadside stop. The issue is further complicated because THC metabolites remain in the blood for up to a week after the psychoactive effects have worn off, according to a 2014 report by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).

The new blue-ribbon report also addresses the thorny issue of penalties once a driver is found to be stoned. In Colorado, the charges for drunk driving, an offense that is easy to detect and known to cause thousands of traffic deaths annually, are the same for driving while stoned, a condition that is not a proven danger to other drivers.

The blue-ribbon report contends that such an approach is “arbitrary” and “unscientific.” The report also does not endorse the “per se test,” which makes the simple presence of THC in the blood a crime for drivers. “A remaining question is whether the mere presence of THC in the blood, absent evidence of impairment, should be sufficient for a criminal justice sanction,” the report reads. “A lesser standard would be to allow for a civil fine, such as a ticket, but not a criminal penalty, for the mere presence of THC at a high level, without other signs of impairment.”

But even the standard of visible impairment brings up another nagging problem for hardline legislators. The fact is: Drivers under the influence of marijuana have been climbing behind the wheel for decades, and unlike for people who drive drunk or while texting, there are no solid statistics that demonstrate driving while stoned creates increased traffic risks. In fact, a 2015 study by the NHTSA presented mixed results when it came to driving under the influence of marijuana.

While the study determined that some marijuana users are more likely to be involved in collisions, the results were mostly inconclusive because the category of drivers who were most likely to be involved in crashes while stoned were young males — the same demographic likely to be involved in accidents with absolutely no drugs in their systems. “Drivers testing positive for THC were overrepresented in the crash-involved population,” the NHTSA study reads. “However, when demographic factors (age and gender) and alcohol use were controlled, the study did not find an increase in population-based crash risk associated with THC use.”

Of course, all of this is not to say that driving stoned is safe. In fact, several of the eight proposed legalization ballot initiatives in California recognize the risks and call for preventative measures.

John Geluardi is the author of Cannabiz: The Explosive Rise of the Medical Marijuana Industry.

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