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Get a pencil: California's marijuana-tracking system delayed

LOS ANGELES (AP) — California's legal pot economy was supposed to operate under the umbrella of a vast computerized system to track marijuana from seed to storefronts, ensuring that plants are followed throughout the supply chain and don't drift into the black market.

But recreational cannabis sales began this week without the computer system. Instead, businesses are being asked to document sales and transfers of pot manually, using paper invoices or shipping manifests. That raises the potential that an unknown amount of weed will continue slipping into the illicit market, as it has for years.

For the moment, "you are looking at pieces of paper and self-reporting. A lot of these regulations are not being enforced right now," said Jerred Kiloh, a Los Angeles dispensary owner who heads the United Cannabis Business Association, an industry group.

The delay of the tracking system is but one sign of the daunting task facing the nation's most populous state as it attempts to transform its long-standing medicinal and illegal marijuana markets into a multibillion-dollar regulated system. Not since the end of Prohibition in 1933 has such an expansive illegal economy been reshaped into a legal one.

So far, it's been an unsteady start.

The state Department of Food and Agriculture, which is overseeing the tracking system, expected it to be functional for the first legal sales on Jan. 1. Now it could take months before the system launches.

Business licenses issued to growers, distributors and sellers are temporary and will need to be redone or extended later this year. Much of the state is blacked out from recreational sales because of the scarcity of licenses and because some local governments banned commercial pot activity.

"There are a lot of things inside the law that are transitional. I don't think it's as rigid as people want it to sound," Kiloh said.

Another risk is that some consumers might stay in the black market to avoid sticker shock from hefty taxes. And there are concerns that a new distribution system will fail to get cannabis to shelves once current stockpiles run out, possibly in weeks.

Cathy Bliss at Mankind Cooperative in San Diego said the store did not have as much pot in stock as it would have liked.

Charles Boldwyn, chief compliance officer of ShowGrow in Santa Ana, which opened to customers Monday, said the relatively small number of licenses issued so far could create a bottleneck, cutting off pot from stores selling it.

"The biggest hurdle we see, right out of the gate, is that starting today our access to product is limited," Boldwyn said.

The move into an era of legalization was marked across the state Monday with ceremonial ribbon cuttings and door prizes at dispensaries.

The expanded legal sales could offer a rich payoff for the state treasury. California expects to pull in $1 billion annually in taxes within several years.

The path to legalization began in 2016 when voters approved Proposition 64, which opened the way for legal pot sales to adults. Medical marijuana has been legal in California for about two decades.

With the 2016 vote, it became legal for adults 21 and older to grow, possess and use limited quantities of marijuana, but it was not legal to sell it for recreational purposes until Monday.

The state did not issue rules for the new marketplace until late last year, and cities and counties have struggled to fashion their own. Los Angeles and San Francisco are among those where recreational pot sales have been delayed.

California joined a growing list of states, and the nation's capital, where recreational marijuana is permitted, even though the federal government continues to classify pot as a controlled substance, like heroin and LSD.


Sentinel File Photo 

Lou Martinez


Local
Four candidates vie for Ramirez council seat

HANFORD — Before voters head to the polls in the November 2018 general election, the voters in Hanford’s District D will vote in a special election to decide if they want to recall Hanford City Council incumbent Francisco Ramirez.

In August 2017, a group of Hanford residents gathered enough petition signatures from registered voters in Ramirez’s district to warrant holding a recall election.

The election will cost the city $30,000 and will ask voters only two questions: whether they want Ramirez to be recalled and who they would want to replace Ramirez if he were to be recalled.

If the first question passes with 50 percent plus one, then the replacement candidate with the highest number of votes would win the council seat and be sworn in after the results are certified.

The election will take place Jan. 23 with four candidates vying to replace Ramirez: Shelli Barker, Lou Martinez, Paula Massey and Diane Sharp.

Shelli Barker – community volunteer

Barker said she is running for the seat because she has not seen good representation in District D in the past and wants the community to get involved with attending more meetings and having their voices heard.

She said she considers city council the highest level of community service and thinks members have lost their perspective of what city council is supposed to do. She said the seat is not a political stepping-stone for her and is ready to dedicate herself and her time if elected.

“I’m just running for that simple reason,” Barker said. “No smoke and mirrors. I’m a regular citizen who will listen to people and serve Hanford.”

Barker, who just finished nursing school, said she has lived in Hanford for over 30 years and resided in District D for 25 years. This is her first time running for Council, but said she is known in Hanford for volunteering in youth programs and other various programs.

Lou Martinez – retired

Martinez, who had served on the Council before from 2010-2014 and was mayor in 2013, said he is running again because he believes the Council needs more accountability and community input.

He said he feels the community is being left out of decisions that the Council makes and members have forgotten who they are serving. If he were to be elected, he said he would be there to serve only the community and make sure to include them in all decisions.

“I think it’s important for a council member to represent the community, not promote themselves,” Martinez said.

Martinez was born and raised in Hanford and moved to Los Angeles to attend college before settling back in Hanford in 1993. He said he raised his boys here, all while living in the same south-Hanford home that he grew up in.

Paula Massey – community volunteer

Massey said she is running for the council seat because she wants to change the one-way conversations of council meetings into a community effort with more engagement.

Massey said she is a community-minded person and said she knows that more things get done when people all work together on a common goal.

Massey said she has lived in Kings County since 1983 and lived in the south-side of Hanford since 1989. She is big on volunteering and has worked with Women of Vision Unlimited since 2007 to help youth struggling with their education.

“My hope is to make sure our community knows what’s available to them and bring more education,” Massey said.

Diane Sharp – real estate investor and business owner

Sharp said the catalyst for her decision to run for city council was learning that the city had not provided salary information of its employees to the Transparent California website. She said transparency is an important issue to her.

She said she believes the government works for its citizens and the community always has a right to know what is going on in their cities. She said she previously served on a school board and believes her experience and background can be beneficial for City Council.

“Leadership is really important and our downtown is super important,” Sharp said.

Sharp was born and raised in Hanford and said although she has lived in different areas throughout her life, Hanford has been her favorite place. She said she wants to nurture a sense of civic pride and bring the community together.

Francisco Ramirez – incumbent

Attempts to reach out to Ramirez were not returned before deadline, but he previously told the Sentinel he would fight “tooth and nail” to keep the City Council seat he’s held since 2014 and would continue to “move Hanford forward and fight the corruption.”


National
AP
Trump accuses DOJ of being part of 'deep state'

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump accused the Justice Department Tuesday of being part of the "deep state" and urged prosecution against a top aide to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

He also claimed that U.S. sanctions on North Korea were having a "big impact" and that he was responsible for preventing commercial aviation deaths in 2017.

Trump's latest tweets pressed familiar arguments for the president, who is set to begin his first full year in office with the victory of tax legislation but the Russia investigation still hanging over his administration.

"Crooked Hillary Clinton's top aid, Huma Abedin, has been accused of disregarding basic security protocols. She put Classified Passwords into the hands of foreign agents," Trump tweeted in an apparent reference to a report by the conservative Daily Caller.

"Remember sailors pictures on submarine? Jail! Deep State Justice Dept must finally act? Also on Comey & others," he added.

As he remains shadowed by the special counsel's Russia investigation, Trump has seized on recent revelations of anti-Trump behavior by some FBI officials, including some who once worked on special counsel Robert Mueller's probe of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, to claim bias against him.

The president's reference Tuesday to "Deep State Justice Dept." suggests that federal law enforcement is part of an entrenched bureaucracy that Trump and his supporters say didn't want him to be elected and is actively working to undermine his presidency.

During the daily press briefing in Washington, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump stood by the tweet.

Trump's reference to sailors likely referred to a Navy sailor convicted of taking photos of classified areas inside a submarine.

Trump's blast at the Justice Department came after he returned to the White House from a holiday getaway to face legislative challenges, midterm elections and global threats.

At home, Trump is hoping for more legislative achievements after his success on cutting taxes. He plans to host Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin at Camp David next weekend to map out the 2018 legislative agenda.

Republicans are eager to make progress before attention shifts to the November midterm elections. The GOP wants to hold the House and Senate, but must contend with Trump's historic unpopularity and some recent Democratic wins, including the pickup of a Senate seat in deeply Republican Alabama.

The White House has said Trump will come forward with his long-awaited infrastructure plan in January. Trump has also said he wants to overhaul welfare and recently predicted Democrats and Republicans will "eventually come together" to develop a new health care plan.

Ryan has talked about overhauling Medicaid and Medicare and other safety-net programs, but McConnell has signaled an unwillingness to go that route unless there's Democratic support for any changes. Republicans will have just a 51-49 Senate majority — well shy of the 60 votes needed to pass most bills — giving leverage to Democrats.

Congress also has to deal with a backlog from 2017, including agreeing on a spending bill by Jan. 19 to avert a partial government shutdown. There's also providing additional aid to hurricane victims, lifting the debt ceiling, extending a children's health insurance program and extending protections for immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Trump has said he wants money for a border wall in exchange for protecting those immigrants.


Local
December was dry and warmer than usual

High pressure with patchy morning dense fog in the San Joaquin Valley prevailed for the first couple of days of December.

Daytime high temperatures were generally above average.

During the early morning hours of the 3rd, a low pressure system with an associated cold front brought mainly light precipitation and locally gusty winds, especially through the passes and canyons in eastern Kern County and a few locales along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley.

Gusts were generally around 35 to 45 mph in these areas. By the 4th, colder air had filtered into the lower elevations, and low temperatures many locations reached below freezing in the San Joaquin Valley. Low temperatures in some locations in the Kern County desert areas dropped into the teens. Daytime highs were generally around average during the 4th and 5th; afterward, high pressure built over central California.

A prolonged period of very dry and warm air prevailed throughout much of California, including the 6th through the 15th. As for the central California interior, daytime highs warmed back to around 10 degrees above average for the next several days. The airmass became quite dry and stagnant so that nighttime lows remained around freezing or slightly above over the San Joaquin Valley until the 15th. Very little dense fog was observed during these days in the San Joaquin Valley, but a persistent layer of haze and poor air quality lingered.

A strong inversion layer prevailed above the valley floor, and temperatures were 20-30 degrees warmer during the nighttime hours at elevations around 4,000 to 6,000 feet in the Sierra Nevada and much of the Kern County mountain areas. Relative humidity in this layer in the mountains reached as low as one percent, especially during much of the 12th and 13th; even humidity during the nighttime hours remained below ten percent.

Dry conditions continued into the 16th; however, the high pressure weakened briefly as a strong, but dry cold front passed over the region. The main effects due to this front were cooler daytime temperatures and very windy conditions. The areas along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley that experienced the very gusty winds had very mild morning lows and still warmer than average high temperatures. By the 17th, winds abated over much of central California, and daytime highs were generally cooler, though still a few degrees above average. However, morning and nighttime lows were chilly, as freezing temperatures returned to some locations in the San Joaquin Valley by the 17th. There was a slight warmup over the next couple of days as high pressure briefly strengthened once again.

A low pressure system arrived on the 20th and brought another light precipitation event. Most locations in the region received a hundredth of an inch to about one third of an inch. Snow levels did fall so that accumulation occurred below 4,000 feet, but was also light. The main effects were colder temperatures and gusty winds. Wind gusts reached around 40 mph along the west side of the San Joaquin Valley and 50 mph in the Kern County desert and mountain areas. Low temperatures fell into the 20s in many San Joaquin Valley locations on the morning of the 21st and the 22nd. Enough moisture remained from the previous storm system to allow for development of freezing fog in the San Joaquin Valley.

High pressure returned by the 23rd, and temperatures gradually rose over the next several days with mostly clear skies, except for some mid-level cloudiness during the 24th. Typically chilly temperatures remained during the nights and mornings, including in the lower elevations. Patchy fog continued to develop at times in the San Joaquin Valley at night and during the morning hour; otherwise, hazy sunshine was the rule during the daylight hours. Dry air once again returned to the mountain areas and caused concerns in terms of fire prevention, including on the 23rd through Christmas Day.

The last week of the month remained dry with above average daytime high temperatures. Low temperatures remained near to below average in the lower elevations, including the San Joaquin Valley. Poor air quality once again persisted during this last week throughout the Central Valley.

Locations in the mountain areas, especially above 6,000 feet, continued to experience prolonged periods of very low relative humidity (below 10 percent) for much of the period from the 26th through the end of the month. A blocked jet stream pattern with high pressure over central California persisted for much of the month of December, so the month ended warmer than average in much of the area with much below average precipitation in the entire forecast area. Very little snow fell in the mountain areas for the entire month.

Table 1 – December 2017 Summary Statistics for ASOS locations 

 Location

Monthly Average Temp (deg F)

Departure
From
Average
(deg F)

Total Monthly
Precipitation
(inches)

Departure
From Normal
(inches)

Bakersfield50.0 +2.20.04 -0.98 
Fresno 48.0+1.5 0.04 -1.73 
Hanford 46.6 +2.1 0.04 -1.59 
Madera 46.7 +1.4 0.09 -1.61 
Merced 46.3 +1.7 0.08 -1.44 

 

Temperature/Precipitation Rankings for December

Bakersfield – 32nd warmest December on record; 12th driest December on record.

Fresno – 32nd warmest December on record; 5th driest December on record.