Davis Moves Forward on Cannabis Policy as Uncertainty Grows about Federal Role

The Davis City Council is poised this week to adopt a proposed medical and personal cannabis cultivation ordinance, following a March 21 workshop where council directed staff to return with a Personal Use Ordinance, and a future date to decide on the commercial ordinance.

Second reading is currently scheduled for April 18, with the ordinance taking effect on May 18, 2017.  This follows the passage of Proposition 64 in November statewide.

California is one of seven states where voters have ballot measures to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.  But there is uncertainty in the air as the Trump administration has put states on notice that it will strictly enforce federal laws on the use of recreational marijuana.

Back in February, White House press secretary Sean Spicer told reporters that the Justice Department is likely to increase enforcement of federal marijuana laws.

“I do believe think you’ll see greater enforcement of it,” Mr. Spicer said.

Mr. Spicer did differentiate between medical and recreational use of the plant, stating that the President “understands the pain and suffering that many people go through who are facing especially terminal diseases and the comfort that some of these drugs, including medical marijuana can bring them.”

Recreational marijuana, he said, is a “very, very different subject.”

Recent polling shows 71 percent of voters, according to Quinnipiac University Poll, believe that the federal government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized it.

“The vast majority of Americans agree that the federal government has no business interfering in state marijuana laws,” said Mason Tvert, the communications director for the Marijuana Policy Project, in a statement. “This administration is claiming that it values states’ rights, so we hope they will respect the rights of states to determine their own marijuana policies.”

Jeff Sessions, the US Attorney General, has long been an opponent of drug legalization.

“Most of you probably know I don’t think America is going to be a better place when more people of all ages and particularly young people start smoking pot,” Mr. Sessions said in February. “I believe it’s an unhealthy practice and current levels of THC in marijuana are very high compared to what they were a few years ago.

“We’re seeing real violence around that,” Mr. Sessions said. “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 said. “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 International Business Times reported last Friday that President Trump and his administration are planning to take steps to make good on this pledge.  Correspondence obtained through a public records request “showed a Justice Department official requesting information about marijuana cases from the state Attorney General’s office in Colorado.”

“Are you able to provide me the state docket numbers for the following cases?” said the email from a Justice Department official to Michael Melito, a prosecutor in Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman’s office. “Some of our intel people are trying to track down info regarding some of DEA’s better marijuana investigations for the new administration. Hopefully it will lead to some positive changes.”

Mr. Trump had campaigned pledging to respect states rights, and back in July of 2016 he promised not to use federal authority to shut down recreational marijuana.  He stated, “I wouldn’t do that … I think it’s up to the states, yeah. I’m a states person. I think it should be up to the states, absolutely.”

Back in March of 2016 he said, “I think it certainly has to be a state — I have not smoked it — it’s got to be a state decision …  I do like it, you know, from a medical standpoint … it does do pretty good things. But from the other standpoint, I think that it should be up to the states.”

But that appears to have changed.

Mr. Spicer followed up his February 23 comments with the statement cited above, wherein he said states can pass the laws they choose, but it still remains a violation of federal law to distribute marijuana throughout any place in the United States.

However, Politico reported that Mr. Sessions privately reassured Republican senators that a marijuana crackdown was not imminent.

California Lt. Gov Gavin Newsom, considered a candidate for governor in 2018, wrote a letter to President Trump in February stating, “The War on Marijuana has failed.  It did not, and will not, keep marijuana out of kids’ hands.”

He added, “Protecting youth and promoting public health and safety is paramount.  We can’t continue to keep doing what we’ve done and expect a different result.  A tightly regulated marketplace for adult recreational marijuana use is a new and better approach.”

Bob Ferguson, the AG for Washington State who led the lawsuit against the travel ban, has indicated that he would oppose any moves by the Trump administration to interfere with his state’s marijuana laws.

In a letter to AG Sessions, he wrote: “My office will use every tool at our disposal to ensure that the federal government does not undermine Washington’s successful, unified system for regulation of recreational and medical marijuana.”

In the meantime, the city of Davis will move forward with its personal use and cultivation ordinance, which is authorized under current state law.

At the March 21 meeting “there was a request made by a member of the public for the City to use the term cannabis in place of marijuana, as some feel there are negative connotations associated with marijuana. Staff felt this request could be reasonably accommodated and have made changes to the proposed Ordinance accordingly.”

In the ordinance draft, the city staff writes, “State law uses both the terms ‘marijuana’ and ‘cannabis’ with identical or nearly identical meaning, and therefore the City Council has decided that consistently using the word ‘cannabis’ in the Ordinance is an appropriate revision to the City’s Municipal Code in light of social stigma or negative public perception that may be tied to use of the word ‘marijuana,’ but that ‘cannabis’ shall mean and include ‘marijuana’ as used and defined in State law.”

—David M. Greenwald reporting

About The Author

David Greenwald is the founder, editor, and executive director of the Davis Vanguard. He founded the Vanguard in 2006. David Greenwald moved to Davis in 1996 to attend Graduate School at UC Davis in Political Science. He lives in South Davis with his wife Cecilia Escamilla Greenwald and three children.

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  1. Alan Miller

    What I find interesting, from the Enterprise:

    A majority of community members, however, appear ready to see their neighbors grow cannabis in their gardens.  A survey conducted by the city of Davis found that 55 percent of residents agreed that residents should be allowed to grow cannabis in their back yards, while 40 percent disagreed and 4 percent were undecided. The poll included answers from 938 Davis residents.

    Is the City now setting policy based on self-selecting, non-scientific, most-people-probably-not-aware-of, on-line surveys?

    1. Keith O

      Exactly my feelings Alan.  You know that groups are good at getting together and putting the word out for whatever cause they might have.  I didn’t know about the survey and I would’ve certainly been a no vote.

      I remember that an activist in town somehow got my email, maybe I somehow gave it to her, and I received multiple emails saying they needed people at a council meeting, to do a survey, etc….

      Online surveys do not reflect the citizenry as a whole, only the people that happen to know about it or organize to take part.

    2. Howard P

      Agree with your main points, particularly,

       based on self-selecting, non-scientific, most-people-probably-not-aware-of, on-line surveys?  

      Now, as quoted in “Twilight Zone, the Movie”, “do you want to be REALLY SCARED?”

      Substitute “most election days” for “on-line surveys”… see if it might still fit…

      1. Alan Miller

        Alan: How about the 70 percent who voted for recreational cannabis in the last election?

        That wasn’t a poll (as such), it was an election, and it wasn’t about backyard growing.  People have concerns about backyard growing for valid reasons.  The smell can permeate, it can attract looters.

        I am in favor of backyard growing.  It’s much better for the environment than intense and consumptive indoor lighting.  I believe the Davis Police drafted up a decent compromise that addresses the concerns to the degree possible without outlawing the practice.

        My point was not about the issue, it was about how flawed it is to gauge public opinion with a poll, most especially in the manner this one was conducted.

        1. David Greenwald

          While I understand your point, and generally was critical of the city doing a poll (ask Robb Davis), when the voters spoke pretty loudly at the polls about allowing for legal cannabis where my presumption (as a voter) was that you could grow it or purchase it in a place of business.

        2. Alan Miller

          We agree about how flawed such polls are as indicators of public opinion.  I suggest that subject would make a decent VG article. And no I’m not writing it.

        3. Robb Davis

          I agree with Alan.  I doubt strongly that any member of the CC is going to use this poll to justify his/her vote.  The value to me of such efforts is to create community conversations.  We have heard very little about this issue but by asking this question we invite some dialogue about it.  I also see value in the absolute number of people who respond.  Knowing there are several hundred Davisites have an opinion for or against something is rare.

          I do agree too that voting for the legalization of cannabis is one thing; having a dispensary or legal growing by a neighbor may be something else altogether.  In the end, we have to acknowledge (with staff) that we have much to learn about how this will work.  If the CC votes to move forward with this ordinance we will track complaints, examine unintended consequences, and make adjustments as needed.

          No one of this generation has shepherded a process moving from strict prohibition to legal possession of a controlled substance.  My grandparents lived through the last round.  We will focus on how legal outdoor growing goes, learn and adjust as needed.

        4. Alan Miller

          Thanks, Robb.  In fairness, it was the Enterprise that characterized the survey as indicative of possible public opinion.  Your comment that it gets people involved is true.  However, the results are hardly “scientific”.  Hell, “scientific” polls predicted Hillary, so even “scientific” polls are flawed as hell.  Really, that poll and all others should be labeled with, “For Entertainment Purposes Only”.

  2. Tia Will

    “We’re seeing real violence around that,” Mr. Sessions said. “Experts are telling me there’s more violence around marijuana than one would think and there’s big money involved.”

    This is the kind of generalized assertion that does not even go unchallenged here on the Vanguard. If one of us had written this, we could be essentially guaranteed that several commenters would be asking rightfully asking us for evidence and references to substantiate our claim. And yet, these are the kinds of comments that are being accepted as fact at the level of the AG. Is there any doubt why much of what is coming from the current administration is being challenged ?


      1. Keith O

        Interesting that I don’t think a lot of the commenters on here are that engaged on this issue.  Kind of surprised.

        The Vanguard no longer has a lot of commenters.  You shouldn’t be surprised.

    1. Keith O

      If one of us had written this, we could be essentially guaranteed that several commenters would be asking rightfully asking us for evidence and references to substantiate our claim.

      And that’s just what you are doing now, challenging his statement.

  3. Tia Will


    This may sound like a snide question, but I intend it sincerely. Would you have any problem with a neighbor making limoncello liquor ( which can be quite intoxicating) from lemons grown in their backyard ? If not , how do you see this as being different from growing cannabis for drying and processing in one’s own home for private use ?

    1. Keith O

      When I lived in the Bay Area my next door neighbor was growing marijuana (oops sorry, I guess I didn’t use the PC name).  He constantly had people breaking into his backyard and stealing his buds come harvest time.  Having three small kids at the time that liked to play in our backyard I didn’t like that we had this type of thing going on next door.  Who knew what kind of creeps were hopping the fences?  What’s going to stop that now?  Are we going to have unsavory types scoping out backyards looking for weed?  (oops, there I go again)

    2. Keith O

      BTW Tia, also not being snide but sincere, being that marijuana is bad for one’s health unless one is taking it for some health problem (I know, that sounds contradictory) and being that you’re an advocate against sodas and other unhealthy lifestyle choices why are you be onboard for weed?

    3. John Hobbs

      Tia-I know someone who has been growing it in his backyard for many years, in common beds with other vegetables and fruits. Many of the homes in my neighbourhood have cannabis growing. I would guess nearly half have outdoor grows. Three local medical cannabis dispensaries take virtually all of the crop, save what is kept for personal use. Many of the growers are retired city workers, btw.

  4. Alan Miller

    The new rules could permit outdoor cultivation for personal use, allowing all residents to grow up to six cannabis plants outdoors, as long as their landlord allows it.

    The above is also from the Enterprise article.  55% of Davisites are renters.  What student, or even non-student, is going to call up their landlord and ask, “Hey, man, is it OK with you if I grow pot in the backyard?”.  Seems a bit absurd.

    1. Howard P

      A renter ask?   Not bloodly likely…

      Usually the mantra is, “better to ask forgiveness than permission”… say this as a SF landlord for 20+ years… no longer, but not for that reason…

  5. Tia Will


    why are you be onboard for weed?”

    What makes you think that I am “onboard for weed”, whatever that generalization means ? But, since you asked, I will explain my quite mixed position on weed.

    I am for cannabis for medical purposes. I think that individuals should be able to purchase, or grow their own indoors or out for personal/familial use or to give to others who are in need just as we share fruits and vegetables from our yards now. As John pointed out, many folks grow this particular plant amongst others that they find useful usually without their yards being invaded for plant theft.

    As for recreational cannabis, mixed feelings. We would all be better off if no one used any drug, alcohol and tobacco included to alter our mental states. However, the means that we use and have used in the past to control such substances are ineffective, punitive, destroy families all to no significant effect in stopping the behavior.  Alcohol prohibition proved this but our society refused to learn the lesson from it.

    So as a doctor, my advice is don’t use it recreationally or use sparingly in a safe place with no driving or other hazardous activity after use. Exactly the same advice I give for alcohol use.

    Does that make my position clear ?

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