A nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California’s policies and politics

Trump v California

In this corner: Justice

For basic background, start with The weigh-in: Justice

Civil Rights
All talk, no action—yet
It's on!
On the ropes
California wins!
Trump wins!

Ticking toward deadline for Congress to protect medical pot from feds

published Apr 25, 2017

As Congress nears a Friday deadline to avoid a federal government shutdown, an important provision protecting California’s medical marijuana operations hangs in the balance.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment—which prohibits the federal Justice Department from prosecuting individuals and businesses in state-sanctioned medical marijuana markets—is set to expire at the end of this week unless Congress re-approves it as it funds the government. Originally attached to the 2014 budget package, the bipartisan amendment has provided a legal security blanket for the 29 states that allow medical marijuana in some form despite the drug’s status as a federally banned “Schedule I” controlled substance.

Co-sponsored by California Republican Dana Rohrabacher of Costa Mesa, the amendment was approved by relatively wide margins in a GOP-controlled House in 2014 and 2015. But this year the idea faces renewed scrutiny as key officials from the Trump administration repeatedly express opposition to legalized marijuana. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a longtime pot critic, recently charged a violent crime federal task force with reviewing the Obama administration’s hands-off policies towards weed. Trump’s rumored candidate for “drug czar”, GOP Rep. Tom Marino of Pennsylvania, voted against the amendment while in Congress.

Even if it passes, the amendment still raises questions about federal regard for California’s recreational marijuana industry, which voters legalized last fall. It may be difficult for federal law enforcement to single out businesses involved in both medical and recreational pot.

California lawmakers are currently ironing out how to blend state regulations for both medical and recreational marijuana.

Bill would block California police from joining feds in 'legal pot' busts

published Mar 28, 2017

While uncertainty mounts over how the Trump administration will handle legal marijuana in California, a group of Democratic state lawmakers are pushing a bill that would prohibit local law enforcement from cooperating with federal authorities in investigating state-licensed pot growers and sellers.

With language reminiscent of controversial “sanctuary state” immigration legislation, AB 1578 would bar California police, sheriffs, and other state and local agencies from using their resources to assist a federal agency in investigating, detaining, reporting or arresting Californians for marijuana-related activity permitted under state law. Californians voted to legalize recreational marijuana use and sale last November.

Some California law enforcement groups have criticized the bill as an example of state overreach.

“(Growing and selling marijuana) is still a federal felony and we are still in the United States of America, and the state of California cannot take over the United States,” Kern County Sheriff Donny Youngblood, president of the California State Sheriffs’ Association, told the Los Angeles Times.

The bill, authored by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer of Los Angeles and co-sponsored by several Bay Area Democrats, heads to the Assembly Committee on Public Safety next month.

Judge halts revised travel ban; Trump blasts it for making "us look weak"

published Mar 15, 2017

Just hours after a federal judge in Hawaii blocked what President Trump called a “watered-down version” of his travel ban, the President assailed the ruling as unprecedented judicial overreach that “makes us look weak.”

To the cheers of supporters at a rally in Nashville, Tennessee, Trump vowed to contest the ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, if necessary.

U.S. District Judge Derrick Watson said there was only “questionable evidence supporting the government’s national security motivation” for Trump’s executive order, which temporarily bars refugees and the issuance of new visas to travelers from six Muslim-majority countries. “The illogic of the Government’s contentions is palpable,” Watson wrote. “The notion that one can demonstrate animus toward any group of people only by targeting all of them at once is fundamentally flawed.”

The state of California is a co-plaintiff in a different federal suit challenging the revised order, and filed an amicus brief against the Trump administration in the Hawaii case.

California joins lawsuit against Trump travel ban

published Mar 13, 2017

That didn’t take long.

A week after President Trump announced a new version of his order restricting travel from several predominantly Muslim countries, California has joined a lawsuit challenging its constitutionality.

Trump’s first travel ban was struck down by the courts. The new version is more limited in scope, reducing from seven to six the number of countries affected, and dropping language that called for giving preference to refugees who are religious minorities in their home countries. But it remains problematic, California Attorney General Xavier Becerra said today in announcing the state has joined the lawsuit.

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra

“The Trump Administration may have changed the text of the now-discredited Muslim travel ban, but they didn’t change its unconstitutional intent and effect. It is still an attack on people—women and children, professors and business colleagues, seniors and civic leaders—based on their religion and national origin,” Becerra said in a statement.

California joins Washington, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Massachusetts and Minnesota in challenging Trump’s new travel order. The state’s legal brief argues that the order will interrupt the education of many foreign students at California universities, the Los Angeles Times reports, and cause financial harm because of a loss of tax revenue generated by tourism from Middle Eastern countries.

Also today, California joined 13 other state attorneys general in filing an amicus brief supporting another suit contesting the revised ban, this one filed by the state of Hawaii. In a statement, Becerra said his reasons were the same in both cases: “to challenge the Trump administration’s constitutional overreach.”

The Trump administration contends its action is necessary to counter what Trump himself has portrayed as a below-the-radar influx of terrorists and criminals across U.S. borders. “Unregulated, unvetted travel is not a universal privilege, especially when national security is at stake,” Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly in announcing the revised ban.

Take two for Trump's travel ban

published Mar 6, 2017

President Trump issued a new version of his travel ban today, nearly a month after a San Francisco-based federal court blocked his last order to limit migration from seven predominantly Muslim nations. The new order drops Iraq but keeps the other six countries (Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen) whose residents will be barred from entering the United States for 90 days. It also blocks all refugees from entering the country for 120 days.

The issue is being watched closely in California, which is home to more than 300,000 immigrants from the countries originally targeted by Trump’s order, according to a recent analysis by the Public Policy Institute of California.

The ban also concerns many of the state’s universities and research institutions. The University of California released a statement declaring the new ban “anathema to advancing knowledge and international cooperation” and predicting it will “still have a very serious effect on those who seek to study, train, research, and teach at UC and universities across the country, to the detriment of the UC community and the country as a whole.”

The executive order Trump signed says “numerous foreign-born individuals have been convicted or implicated in terrorism-related crimes” and that some of those entered the United States as refugees or on visitor, student, or employment visas. “Deteriorating conditions in certain countries due to war, strife, disaster, and civil unrest,” the order says, “increase the likelihood that terrorists will use any means possible to enter the United States.”

California Attorney General Xavier Becerra issued a statement saying his team is “carefully reviewing” the legality of the new order. “We will do everything in our power to make sure the revised ban respects our Constitution and our way of life,” the statement said. “No one will or should soon forget the Trump Administration’s multiple, public promises to ban Muslims from the country.”

AG warns of marijuana-linked violence; White House promises "greater enforcement" of drug laws

published Feb 27, 2017

In another worrying sign for California’s newly legalized marijuana industry, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said today that the Department of Justice is currently reviewing its hands-off policy toward enforcing federal anti-pot laws.

While Sessions stopped short of saying he will actually change the Obama administration’s enforcement guidelines, which essentially permit the legalization efforts underway in eight states, the former Alabama senator expressed concern that legal marijuana use is connected to criminal behavior. “We’re seeing real violence around that,” he told reporters. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.

“I’m definitely not a fan of expanded use of marijuana,” he continued. “States they can pass the laws they choose. I would just say it does remain a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States, whether a state legalizes it or not.”

The attorney general’s comments come days after similar remarks by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, who at a press briefing last week said he expects “greater enforcement of federal law” against recreational marijuana.

Responding to questions at a White House press briefing, Spicer said that “recreational use is something the Department of Justice will be further looking into,” and linked marijuana to the nation’s growing opioid epidemic.  Spicer indicated that the administration would not devote resources to the prosecution of medical marijuana users, a group President Trump has repeatedly defended.

Here are Spicer’s comments in full, which are stretched over two questions and end at about the 28 minute mark.

Californians voted overwhelmingly to legalize recreational marijuana this past November, and state lawmakers are currently working on the details of how to tax and regulate an industry that would be in clear violation of federal law. California is slated to issue licenses for retail marijuana sales starting in January of 2018.

If the Trump administration reverts to the more aggressively anti-drug approaches of previous administrations before Obama’s, it could disrupt the recreational marijuana markets currently legal in eight states through a variety of federal enforcement actions—from Drug Enforcement Agency raids and arrests to letters instructing retailers and suppliers to shut down.

Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, a leading 2018 gubernatorial candidate and outspoken proponent of legalization, tweeted a letter to the administration calling Spicer’s remarks “grossly misinformed” and defending California’s legalization plans.

Why Trump's pullback on transgender rights changes nothing within California

published Feb 27, 2017

President Trump’s action to rescind Obama-era protections for transgender school children drew quick rebuke from California lawmakers, but the dispute at this point is more symbolic than substantive.

In a Feb. 22 letter, Trump administration officials rejected legal guidance issued by Obama’s administration that said schools must let students use the bathroom facilities that match their gender identity, even if it differs from their biological sex. The directive from U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Education Secretary Betsy DeVos sparked protest from supporters of LGBT rights, including many Democrats in the California Legislature.

But it’s important to realize that this letter does not change reality in California schools. Two reasons why: First, the Obama guidelines were already under a nationwide court injunction, so they weren’t even in affect when the Trump administration moved to overturn them.

Second, state statutes already on the books here protect transgender students. A California law passed in 2013 requires schools to allow students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that correspond to their gender identity, even if it’s different from the sex listed on their school records. The Trump administration letter doesn’t change a word in this law.

State Assembly symbolically rejects Trump travel order

published Feb 13, 2017

The California Assembly has passed a symbolic resolution rejecting President Trump’s controversial executive order temporarily banning immigration and travel from several predominantly Muslim countries.

Introduced by Assemblyman Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), the resolution criticizes the executive order as “purely a political act” that “pushes an agenda in our country that is attempting to create divisiveness.” It passed almost entirely along party lines. Assemblywoman Catherine Baker of Dublin was the only Republican to vote for the measure.

President Trump said in a press conference last week that his administration would be issuing a new executive order designed to avoid the legal issues the January 27 order confronted. The new order is expected to be handed down this week.

Federal court blocks travel ban

published Feb 8, 2017

A three-judge federal panel blocked President Trump’s controversial executive order banning travel to the United States from seven predominantly Muslim nations. The decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, in San Francisco, was celebrated by prominent Democratic leaders across California.

Newly confirmed California Attorney General Xavier Becerra joined top legal officials from 15 other states in filing an amicus brief to the 9th Circuit supporting Washington state’s challenge to Trump’s executive order.

The White House is reportedly considering a new, more narrowly tailored executive order, rather than an appeal to the Supreme Court. Thirty-five percent of current U.S. immigrants from the seven targeted nations live in California, according to an analysis of Census data from the Public Policy Institute of California. Nearly half have at least an undergraduate degree.

Senate confirms AG who calls legalizing pot a "tragic mistake"

published Feb 8, 2017

The U.S. Senate has voted largely along party lines to confirm former Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions as the nation’s attorney general.

The 70-year-old Sessions, a conservative Republican, has been a vocal critic of marijuana decriminalization for much of his political career—calling legalization a “tragic mistake” and vigorously criticizing the Obama administration’s hands-off attitude toward marijuana enforcement.  

Sessions will now head a Justice Department with the power to prosecute marijuana growers and retailers across California, where last fall voters legalized recreational pot use by a wide margin.

Legalization advocates expressed cautious optimism that despite Sessions’ anti-legalization record, the federal government would continue to allow states like California to develop a well-regulated recreational market.

During Senate confirmation hearings, Sessions declined to go into detail on how he would handle states that have fully legalized marijuana. He did, however, suggest that the amount of resources the Department of Justice would have to deploy to prosecute certain marijuana offenses could factor into the agency’s decision-making.

Trump on board as Congress considers requiring California to allow concealed-carry guns

published Feb 3, 2017

California would be forced to allow out-of-state gun owners to pack concealed handguns if new federal legislation wins congressional approval and President Trump’s signature.

During the campaign, Trump issued a position paper on guns that noted he had a concealed-carry gun permit and added: “A driver’s license works in every state, so it’s common sense that a concealed carry permit should work in every state. If we can do that for driving—which is a privilege, not a right—then surely we can do that for concealed carry, which is a right, not a privilege.”

Now comes two bills–one by introduced by Republican Rep. Richard Hudson of North Carolina, the other by Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas–that would require such reciprocity of gun rights across state lines. Both bills are backed by the National Rifle Association.

“It’s a top issue for me because, as it is currently in America, there’s a patchwork of laws across the land and you have to do a lot of research ahead of time to make sure that you’re legal if you’re carrying your concealed firearm across state lines,” John Boch, co-chair of Trump’s Second Amendment Coalition, told NPR. “If we had national reciprocity, our concealed-carry licenses would be recognized with full faith and credit just as our driver’s licenses are to current Americans. And so we want to see that expanded to the concealed-carry licenses as well across the nation, so I can go to New York City or to Los Angeles and not have to do a mountain of research and maybe find out that my carry license is not recognized in one state versus another.”

But critics say the bill would go much further.

“Under Hudson’s bill, a California resident who cannot get a concealed-carry permit in California can easily get one from Utah, and then carry guns in California without ever setting foot in Utah, and not for some short duration like a tourist stay, but for the rest of his life and every day,” UCLA law professor Adam Winkler explained in Mother Jones. “The real impact of the Hudson bill is not to protect interstate travelers. It’s to require states with restrictive concealed-carry policies to allow their own residents to carry guns.”

Cornyn’s Senate bill, which already has more than 30 co-sponsors, differs from its House counterpart in that it still requires gun owners to obey the concealed carry laws of their home state.  In other words, a Californian could not go to Utah and obtain a concealed carry permit for use back in California.

To avoid a filibuster, Senate Republicans will need to attract at least eight Democratic votes. Several Democrats signed on as co-sponsors to a 2015 version of Cornyn’s bill.

California has one of the most restrictive concealed-carry policies in the country.


Assembly debates bill to further restrict guns in schools

published Jan 31, 2017

Assemblyman Kevin McCarty (D-Sacramento) has introduced legislation that would further restrict who can possess a firearm near a California school.

Assembly Bill 424 would prohibit school district superintendents or other school officials from granting written permission to individuals who wish to carry a firearm near school grounds. With a few exceptions, California law bans the possession of firearms within 1,000 feet of public and private schools.

One of those exceptions: individuals with concealed carry permits who obtain written permission from a school official. Teachers and other school employees can bring guns to a school campus if they obtain such permission.

The question of whether guns should be allowed near schools resurfaced nationally when Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos testified during confirmation hearings that schools in Wyoming may need firearms to defend against grizzly bears.

President Trump has criticized “gun-free zones” generally and at one point vowed to “get rid of gun-free zones in schools”, before backing off of that pledge.

The weigh-in: Justice

published Jan 20, 2017

California’s progressive tilt on a number of hot-button social issues was bound to run into conflict with a conservative White House. On cultural flashpoints from pot to guns to gay rights, the state has often stuck out like a sore blue thumb when Republicans held sway in Washington.

While federal law has long grouped marijuana in the same class of illegal drugs as heroin and ecstasy, California was the first state to legalize its medicinal use in the 1990s. This past November, voters opted for full-blown legalization for adults, with many progressives believing a Clinton presidency would continue the Obama administration’s hands-off enforcement attitude.

While President Trump’s public stances on legal marijuana have been mixed, his selection of conservative Alabama Sen. Jeff Sessions for attorney general has sent chills through California’s nascent pot industry. Sessions has called legalization a “tragic mistake,” and could derail California’s legalization plans should he choose to prosecute growers, retailers and users.

Nowhere is California’s blue politics a deeper hue than on gun control. The state’s already strict firearm regulations were tightened last year, when legislators outlawed the possession of high-capacity magazines, required background checks for ammunition, and banned the sale of certain types of assault rifles. On the campaign trail, President Trump consistently opposed bans on ammunition or assault rifles like those in place in California, suggesting they violated the Second Amendment. He also supported a national right to concealed carry, a practice California gives local governments authority to restrict. While Trump can unilaterally roll back some federal gun control measures through executive order, an attempt to supersede California gun laws would likely have to work its way through Congress and the courts.

Beyond drugs and guns, California’s progressive values could run afoul of the Trump administration on a number of civil rights issues. State legislators have already taken pre-emptive action on some of these, such as introducing a bill to ward off any federal attempt to create the “Muslim registry” Trump said he was open to during the campaign. LGBTQ issues, such as California’s progressive policy on transgender bathrooms, could also come under fire.

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