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By Karen Weise

At Bloomberg Businessweek
 

As Jon Stewart mockingly noted on Tuesday night, the $1.1 trillion federal appropriations bill is packed with all sorts of nuggets that weren’t widely touted. In addition to the list Stewart scrutinized, 85 words tucked into the 1,603-page bill give for the first time some federal legal protection to medical marijuana use, even though pot itself will still be illegal under federal law.

The amendment forbids the Justice Department from using federal funds for anything that will “prevent” states from implementing their own laws that legalize medical marijuana. Taylor West, the deputy director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, said that will prevent the feds from policing medical pot customers and providers who operate legally under state law. “Those federal funds cannot be used to raid them or shut them down” just for existing in the first place, she said.

The amendment was sponsored by two California representatives. Republican Dana Rohrabacher’s district covers coastal Orange County, which has become home to several marijuana businesses, including the investment firm Ghost Group, a Rohrabacher donor. Democrat Sam Farr’s district covers the Central Coast, including Santa Cruz, where interest in this issue is, well, obvious.

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By Bill Piper 
At The Drug Policy Alliance 

Over the weekend Congress passed the “cromnibus,” an end of year federal spending bill designed to fund most of the government through 2015. The bill contains the bipartisan Rohrabacher-Farr medical marijuana amendment prohibiting the Justice Department from spending any money to undermine state medical marijuana laws.

This is a huge victory – one that has taken 13 years to win. For the first time, Congress is cutting off funding to federal medical marijuana raids and saying no one should be arrested for complying with their state's medical marijuana law.

The amendment was first offered by Congressman Maurice Hinchey in 2003. At the time it received 152 yes votes – far short of the 218 votes needed to win, but more than anyone expected. It was offered on the floor many more times over the years.

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By JEFF BARNARD and GOSIA WOZNIACKA

At AP

GRANTS PASS, Ore. (AP) — Indian tribes can grow and sell marijuana on their lands as long as they follow the same federal conditions laid out for states that have legalized the drug, the U.S. Justice Department said Thursday.

Some advocates said the announcement could open new markets across the country and give rise to a rich new business on reservations, not unlike the advent of casino gambling. Others said it was too early to tell; many tribes oppose legalization, and only a handful of tribes have expressed any interest in the marijuana business.

Oregon U.S. Attorney Amanda Marshall said that the Justice Department policy addresses questions raised by tribes about how legalization of pot in states like Oregon, Washington and Colorado would apply to Indian lands.

"That's been the primary message tribes are getting to us as U.S. attorneys," Marshall said from Portland. "What will the U.S. as federal partners do to assist tribes in protecting our children and families, our tribal businesses, our tribal housing? How will you help us combat marijuana abuse in Indian Country when states are no longer there to partner with us?"

Whether tribal pot could become a major bonanza rivaling tribal casinos is a big question. Marshall said only three tribes — one each in California, Washington state and the Midwest — have voiced any interest. She did not identify them.

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By Robert R. Wood

At Forbes

With all the upheaval in Washington, it isn’t likely that federal proposals to tax marijuana will pass anytime soon. Yet as Professor Paul Caron catalogs, economists are looking anew at the proposed Marijuana Tax Equity Act (H.R. 501). It would end the federal prohibition on marijuana and allow it to be taxed. Growers, sellers and users would not to fear violating federal law. But dealing with taxes would be another story.

The bill would impose an excise tax of 50% on cannabis sales and an annual occupational tax on workers in the growing field of legal marijuana. Is that a good trade-off? Federal Proposals to Tax Marijuana: An Economic Analysis by Jane G. Gravelle and Sean Lowry focuses on potential federal marijuana taxes. The authors present justifications for taxes and they estimate levels of tax. They consider possible marijuana tax designs, as well as tax administration and enforcement issues such as labeling and tracking.

Of course, statistics can be deceptive. When Colorado legalized recreational use, it trumpeted the tax revenue it knew would be piling in. There’s a 2.9% sales tax and a 10% marijuana sales tax. Plus, there is a 15% excise tax on the average market rate of retail marijuana. If you add them up, it’s 27.9%.

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By Amy Pereira and Gary Cohen

At MSNBC

Colorado’s grand cannabis experiment has captured the imagination of America. After 75 years of marijuana prohibition, the state’s voters amended their constitution and legalized marijuana in all forms. The results have been remarkable. 

Denver has surpassed Amsterdam as the capital of the marijuana world. The city has more than 300 stores, called dispensaries, outnumbering pharmacies, liquor stores, public schools and even Starbucks. Still, the demand for legal marijuana and edible products is outpacing supply. Nearly a year after Colorado legalized marijuana, there is still a supply problem for many strains and edible products. 

For generations, Americans have been told how legalized marijuana would bring madness, decadence and moral decay. But in Colorado, the reality has been shockingly mundane. Crime statistics are down. Motor vehicle incidents are down. Tourism and marijuana tax revenues are up and the state is nearing total employment. The sky has not fallen. Life as we know it goes on. 

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In politics, they call it "evolving." President Barack Obama did it on gay marriage. Yesterday, Attorney General Kamala Harris did it on cannabis legalization.

In August, she laughed when asked for her position on legalization. This set off a firestorm in our movement. Thousands of Californians visited our website to send her an email and let her know what they thought of her response.

In September and October, her office found itself in the middle of two strong reminders that prohibition is still in effect in California. First, we learned that officers from her office participated in warrantless raids on voter approved medical growers in Mendocino. Then, her office admitted that there were 20,346 arrests for cannabis in California in 2013 — disproportionally affecting twenty-somethings and Hispanics.

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Though a resolution to legalize recreational marijuana failed to pass in California in 2014, the issue is certain to continue taking a top spot in political debates for the next year. Some are predicting that California will join the short but growing list of states with legal recreational marijuana in 2016.

California has had legal medicinal marijuana for almost two decades after it was approved in 1996, but legalizing recreational marijuana has been more difficult to agree upon. With a thriving black market for pot and suspected large numbers of unnecessary medicinal users, advocates for change point out that the positives outweigh the negatives when it comes to the legalization of marijuana.

Few in Colorado would disagree. When they legalized recreational marijuana on January 1, 2014, the state was expecting new revenue from taxes and fees, but they also anticipates some backlash. What has occurred is a windfall in state revenues that legislators had to determine how to spend and very few negative incidents. While there will always be those who point out accidents or violence that involves marijuana, one must ask whether or not alcohol or another substance would not have been substituted if the marijuana was not available. Overall, police in Colorado have been very pleased with the lack of marijuana related incidents since its legalization almost a year ago.

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At Associated Press 
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) – Medical marijuana dispensaries are outlawed in the Southern California city of Santa Ana, but that hasn't stopped pot shops from flourishing.

Officials estimate there are at least 60 doing business, even though the city has repeatedly gone to court, issued fines, cut off water and power to storefronts, and called in federal drug agents and local police to enforce the ban.

This fall, like several other cities and counties in California, Santa Ana is trying a new tactic for regulating pot – the ballot box. Recognizing its losing battle against weed, the Santa Ana City Council is asking voters to consider a measure that would allow pot dispensaries under strict operating rules.

The proposal came after medical marijuana activists seeking to end the prohibition on shops qualified a much more liberal initiative for the city ballot.

Voters in Alaska and Oregon will decide next week whether their states should follow Washington and Colorado in legalizing recreational use of marijuana. And Californians might see a similar measure on the state ballot in 2016.

But for now, the politics of pot remain local in California.

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CHICAGO (AP) – As more states legalize medical marijuana, there's one stage in the process nobody wants to talk about: the part where people still have to break the law.

After growers obtain licenses, plan for security and build facilities, they then must obtain their first seeds or cuttings – while regulators turn a blind eye.

"It has to be hush-hush," said Bradley Vallerius, an attorney focused on the emerging industry in Illinois. "I've seen the moment where the client realizes this is a problem" – and wonders how they're supposed to get started.

The situation is known as the "immaculate conception" or the "first seed" problem. Those involved see it as an absurd consequence of the nation's patchwork of laws, with 23 states allowing medical marijuana sales, Colorado and Washington state allowing recreational use and a federal prohibition in place.

While marijuana may not be hard to find, getting the first seeds for medical operations often involves either descending into the underground market or crossing state lines – a violation of state and federal laws.

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By David Downs

at SFgate.com

The three year-old federal crackdown on medical cannabis businesses in California will continue, a Dept. of Justice official told the Los Angeles Times last week.

Deputy Atty. Gen. James M. Cole told the Times: “If you don’t want us prosecuting [marijuana users] in your state, then get your regulatory act together,” he said.

Eighteen years after Californians legalized medical marijuana and called for a statewide cannabis program, legislators again failed to enact one in 2014 session. Instead, California has left issues of mmj cultivation, distribution and sales to cities, the majority of which ban dispensaries.

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