In summary

California could be facing a drinking water crisis. Opioid seller faces sanction. Cannabis firm told to stop claiming health benefits of CBD.

Good morning, California.

“You put your white clothes in the washer and they come out brown.”—Julia Hernandez of Willowbrook in Los Angeles County, describing her water to The New York Times.

California confronts its Flint issue

A million Californians have toxic tap water.

As many as 1,000 water systems in California may be at high risk of failing to deliver potable water, The New York Times reported Wednesday

The Times quotes a previously undisclosed estimate by senior officials at the State Water Resources Control Board as saying that’s one out of every three water systems in California.

  • The Times: California has one of the most byzantine drinking water systems in the country, and even in urban parts of the state some water systems are so small they struggle to sustain their maintenance budgets.

Gov. Gavin Newsom traveled to Tombstone near Sanger on Wednesday to sign legislation by Sen. Bill Monning, a Democrat from Carmel, detailing how to spend spend $130 million to provide clean drinking water for people whose tap water is toxic.

  • The Fresno Bee, quoting Newsom: “Nothing in the budget makes me more proud than this. Some folks wonder why the hell you get into politics, and this is the ‘why.'”

Opioid seller faces sanction

AmerisourceBergen is a major distributor of pain killers that are addictive.

Amid rising drug overdose deaths in California, the state Board of Pharmacy is considering suspending and perhaps revoking the wholesale license of AmerisourceBergen, one of the nation’s leading drug companies, for failing to flag unusually large sales of its opioids to four pharmacies.

Remind me: AmerisourceBergen was one of the four largest distributors of addictive drugs, the Washington Post reports. Drug-overdose deaths rose in California by 6.6% in 2018, even as they fell nationwide by 5.1%. 

Anne Sodergren, the board’s interim executive director, filed the complaint urging that the board take the unusual action. Given California’s size, suspension or revocation would be a severe penalty.

The complaint first reported by alleges:

  • AmerisourceBergen sold 1.8 million  hydrocodone and oxycodone pills to four pharmacies in Berkeley, Stockton, Redwood City and Pittsburg. 
  • One pharmacy in Redwood City received more than 700,000 hydrocodone and oxycodone pills between 2010 and 2013.
  • A single pharmacy in Stockton received an average of 19,625 hydrocodone pills per month, plus more than 3,000 bottles of codeine syrup.

AmerisourceBergen employs one of Sacramento’s top lobbying firms, California Strategies, to represent it at the Capitol and before the Board of Pharmacy. The board has set no date for the disciplinary hearing.


AmerisourceBergen’s statement: “AmerisourceBergen is committed to combating opioid abuse and has always complied with the Controlled Substances Act. We ship only to pharmacies with valid state board of pharmacy and Drug Enforcement Administration licenses.

“We take our responsibilities seriously and continue to evolve our order monitoring program and diversion control efforts in line with our understanding of guidance put forth from regulatory authorities.”

FDA’s harsh realities

Hemp oil, Marijuana oil bottle, cannabis oil extracts in jars, medical marijuana, CBD oil pipette.
CBD oil

Cannabidiol, also known as CBD, is marketed as a salve for much of whatever might ail you. The U.S. Food & Drug Administration begs to differ.

In an action that has implications in California, the FDA is directing Curaleaf, a rapidly growing cannabis company based in Massachusetts, to cease claiming that CBD can help with such health issues as cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, opioid addiction and anxiety in dogs.

  • Curaleaf: “Compliance is a top priority for Curaleaf. We can reaffirm that nothing in the letter raises any issues concerning the safety of any Curaleaf product.”

Curaleaf recently purchased Eureka Investment Partners, of Monterey County. 

Eureka could produce 500,000 pounds a year from its Salinas Valley operation—”enabling us to enter the highly attractive California market with a cultivation platform that we intend to use for state-wide product distribution,” Curaleaf says.

  • The FDA letter comes as the Legislature tries to untangle CBD law.

In 2016, voters legalized commercial sales of cannabis and products derived from it, including CBD. That initiative failed to legalize CBD produced from hemp, a nonintoxicating cousin of cannabis.

Assemblywoman Cecilia Aguiar-Curry, a Winters Democrat, is carrying legislation to legalize hemp-derived CBD. The bill has zipped through the Legislature without opposition.

California Department of Public Health officials resist expansion of CBD. The reason: The FDA has not approved its use for conventional food, drugs or cosmetics.

Consultant’s charity sued

Sal Russo speaking on C-SPAN

Sal Russo, a Sacramento political consultant with a pedigree dating to Gov. Ronald Reagan, is the target of a suit by Attorney General Xavier Becerra alleging he profited from a nonprofit he established purportedly to help American troops in war zones.

Becerra’s office has jurisdiction over charities. 

Russo’s nonprofit, Move America Forward, raised $11.3 million in charitable donations between 2008 and 2015, and paid $2.6 million to Russo’s for-profit companies, the suit filed on Wednesday in Sacramento says.

The charity allegedly:

  • promised it would ship packages to a Marine division in Afghanistan when that division was stationed in Japan.
  • falsely claimed to be affiliated with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center.

Other officers in the nonprofit named in the suit: former San Francisco talk radio host Melanie Morgan, former Assemblyman Howard Kaloogian, a San Diego County Republican, and Shawn Callahan, an employee of Russo’s firm.

The suit seeks various penalties, including removing the four from control of Move America Forward, and banning them from soliciting charitable donations in California.

  • Move America Forward: “Shame on Attorney General Becerra for his unrelenting harassment.”

ProPublica, the investigative journalism organization, reported on the charity in 2014.

Russo’s past includes working for Govs. Reagan and George Deukmejian, and to recall Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. He founded Tea Party Express, a political action committee that has raised $40 million since 2008, the nonpartisan Center for Responsive Politics reports.

Russo told me in 2010: “To be successful in politics, you have to be in concert with the zeitgeist of the times, and the zeitgeist is opposition to big government and higher taxes.”

Take a number: 51

UC Merced

As it has in past years, UC Merced, which opened in 2005, admitted the largest percentage of California residents into its freshman class in 2019. It also admitted a far greater percentage of  students whose families are considered low-income, and who transfer from community colleges, than any other University of California campus. By far.

Most notably, Latinos will make up 51% of Merced’s incoming freshman class. Systemwide, 34% of entering freshmen will be Latinos, UC data show

For a more complete look at UC Merced, check out this New York Times piece.

Commentary at CalMatters

Mark Herbert, Small Business Majority: As beneficial as the Affordable Care Act has been to California’s small firms and solo entrepreneurs, we cannot ignore  the millions of Californians who still do not have insurance. To ensure small business owners, their employees and the self-employed have affordable coverage, California must help make quality healthcare available to everyone.

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Dan Morain joined CalMatters in March 2018. He is the former editorial page editor of The Sacramento Bee. Morain also spent 27 years at The Los Angeles Times, and has covered the Capitol since 1992.

Barbara is a master's student at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, where she studies new media. She holds an undergraduate degree in journalism from Sacramento State, where she served as editor...