CVIndependent

Thu08222019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Democratic legislators say they've settled their differences on net neutrality in California, advancing bills that, if passed, would create the most far-reaching internet regulation in the country.

In December, the Federal Communications Commission voted to repeal net-neutrality protections that ensured internet service providers such as Comcast and AT&T give consumers and partners equal access to the web. It jettisoned those rules as of June, saying they were unnecessary and “heavy-handed” market interference. Critics characterize this as a play by the Trump administration to undermine consumer safeguards.

California—if this bill were to become law—would restore the old nationwide net neutrality regulations within the state.

“The Internet wasn't broken in 2015, when the previous FCC imposed 1930s-era regulations on Internet service providers. And ironically, these regulations made things worse by limiting investment in high-speed networks and slowing broadband deployment,” said the FCC.

Last month, net-neutrality bill author Sen. Scott Wiener, a San Francisco Democrat, said his bill was “gutted” in a committee hearing chaired by Assemblyman Miguel Santiago, a Los Angeles Democrat. Santiago’s committee elbowed through—without time for comment—amendments stripping out key prohibitions, including one designed to block internet providers from charging its customers access fees, and another intended to bar them from creating “zero-rating” services to steer consumers away from competitor content.

In response, Wiener had said he would withdraw the “hijacked” bill if those key protections from the FCC’s regulation were not restored.

After weeks of negotiation along with Los Angeles Democratic Sen. Kevin de Léon, author of a related net neutrality bill in the Senate, and Alameda Democratic Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a co-author of Wiener’s bill, announced Thursday, July 5, that they had reached a deal to advance bills they say provide the same protections for Californians that the FCC temporarily provided to all Americans.

“We know that the federal government is not going to fix things in the foreseeable future,” Wiener said.

Without such regulations in place, internet providers would be free to speed up or slow down services like calls or video streaming, based on who pays for “fast lane” access. Advocates say these practices would hurt small businesses and consumers who cannot afford more expensive service. For consumers, that could mean higher prices and fewer choices.

The bills by Wiener and de Léon would ban internet companies from charging businesses access fees in order to reach its online customers.

They also prohibit “zero-rating” services, which allow internet providers to charge consumers for data when accessing competitors’ content, and interference and manipulation at the point where data enters the network. Without that protection, an internet provider could, for instance, slow down competing video applications to give itself a competitive advantage.

“Generally speaking, the bill is great. They are right that it’s the strongest protection in the country … with the three provisions back,” said Ryan Singel, media and strategy fellow at Stanford University’s Center for Internet and Society.

He added that grassroots organizations and consumers rallying for net-neutrality regulation got legislators to listen. The gutting of Wiener’s bill sparked thousands of calls to legislators, a flood of social media comments and $14,000 in crowdfunding to install a billboard in Santiago’s district.

“Basically, we won. Literally, this is what a grassroots effort looks like. When the internet is mad at you, it’s really loud and really hard to deal with. We had three things we wanted to defend, and we got all of them back,” Singel said.

Democrats know a battle is coming, but are hopeful the bills—assuming they win approval of the full Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown’s signature—will stand up to a legal challenge. Republican leaders, however, have warned from the beginning that such regulation will face litigation from internet companies.

“To be clear, we are not out of the woods … This is going to be a fight,” Wiener acknowledged.

The internet giants have denied that they slow down or throttle internet traffic and violate other net neutrality rules. In an open letter earlier this year, AT&T Chairman and CEO Randall Stephenson said: “We don’t block websites. We don’t censor online content. And we don’t throttle, discriminate or degrade network performance based on content. Period.”

These providers also argue that net neutrality regulation will drive up their costs to operate in the state. They say rural areas are more expensive to provide service in, and this regulation would discourage expanding broadband service there.

The Internet Association, an organization representing tech companies like Airbnb and Uber, found broadband business did not slow down after the FCC first adopted net-neutrality regulations three years ago. Fixed broadband subscriptions increased 3.5 percent, and wireless broadband subscriptions increased 10 percent from June 2015 to June 2016.

Net-neutrality supporters, including labor groups and technology companies like Amazon and Twitter, say a fair and protected web is crucial for workers and businesses relying on open communication and access to do their jobs. More than 20 states have recently introduced bills meant to reinstate the federal net neutrality protections. Washington and Oregon have already passed legislation.

“California is the world’s fifth largest economy and home to the globe’s most important tech companies,” said Robert Cruickshank, campaigns director of Demand Progress, an internet-activism organization based in Washington, D.C. “Passage of this bill will also give huge new momentum to the effort to get the U.S. House of Representatives to follow the U.S. Senate and restore the net neutrality protections the FCC gutted last winter.”

The bills have passed the Senate and have until Aug. 31 to pass the Assembly and move to the governor for a signature.

“What happens now is good old-fashioned politics—just securing the votes. No more negotiating,” said de Léon.

CALmatters.org is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media venture explaining California policies and politics.

Published in Local Issues

The passage of Proposition 64 not only decriminalized the adult use of marijuana; the Adult Use of Marijuana Act created a path for people to have prior pot convictions reduced—or entirely cleared from their records.

The legislation specifies that people can initiate this process on their own, but in some counties—most notably San Francisco and San Diego—district attorneys have taken it upon themselves to review cases and reduce or dismiss convictions.

Those who oppose relief from prior convictions often say that since a crime was committed—marijuana was illegal then, after all—people need to face the consequences. But this same argument did not hold water for alcohol Prohibition—and should people continue to pay for a crime that was the result of misguided government policies?

This is a social-justice issue—one that all of us who care about our democracy should pay attention to. Why? People of color were much more likely to be arrested and convicted under the old laws. In fact, recent studies have shown that although whites and people of color use marijuana at about the same rate, black people are almost four times as likely, and Latinos two to three times as likely, to have faced arrest—even for possession of a small amount of marijuana. An old pot conviction can negatively impact a person’s ability to vote, get a job, rent an apartment and get student loans—and it can affect child-custody and immigration decisions. Therefore, it is particularly important for the government to ensure everyone is treated fairly under the law.

Prop 64 makes it clear that not everyone is eligible for conviction reductions or dismissals: The law specifies that this relief is reserved for those with relatively low-level offenses. A person with a history of violence, multiple convictions or convictions for selling to minors is not eligible to have his or her records expunged or reduced. In other words, hard-core drug dealers and people working for drug cartels are unlikely to somehow be set free.

Here’s hoping that other district attorneys around the state choose to follow the lead of San Diego and San Francisco counties and review old convictions—because it can be expensive and intimidating for people to initiate the process on their own. If someone can’t get a job or student loans because of a past marijuana conviction, it’s unlikely that person can afford a lawyer. The Drug Policy Alliance and other organizations are hosting free expungement clinics, where lawyers and paralegals are present to help, but they tend to happen in and around larger cities—with none planned here in the Coachella Valley that I could find. (If you know of any, please let us know.) That means someone from here would need to drive into Los Angeles on the chance they might get to speak to a lawyer about possibly having an old conviction reduced. Also: This is not the most well-known piece of the law, and the government is unlikely to publicize this information—so spread the word.

San Diego has already reduced the records of more than 700 people, and has identified more than 4,000 people who may be able to access this relief—yet Riverside County so far has reminded silent. Although a great number of people in the county have applied to have their records reduced or cleared, as of this writing, the office of District Attorney Mike Hestrin has made no public comment, nor did anyone from the office respond to my inquiries about plans to relive this burden. As a community that prides itself on progressive values, it’s incumbent upon us to put pressure on our local elected officials.

Legislative help may be on the way: Assemblyman Rob Bonta, a Democrat from Alameda, introduced Assembly Bill 1793 in January to “to allow automatic expungement or reduction of a prior cannabis conviction,” but the legislative process is a slow one. The bill went through its first reading in early January, and there has been no movement since. One possible reason for inaction: The Legislature would also need to provide financial resources to assist the counties in doing this work.

Real people continue to be harmed by old laws that the voters of the state of California have thrown out. Old felony convictions that today would be, at worst, misdemeanors—and possibly not even worthy of arrest—are keeping a disproportionate number of African Americans and Mexican Americans from fully participating in our democracy. After all, a right delayed is a right denied.

Published in Cannabis in the CV

No, Jefferson. Let it go …

Our evil elf of a U.S attorney general is whining about pot again, this time in a letter asking Congress not to renew the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment.

The Rohrabacher-Farr amendment, which became law in December of 2014, prohibits the Department of Justice from spending any federal funds to interfere with state medical cannabis laws. It must be renewed each year—and Sessions is requesting it not be renewed this time around.

“I believe it would be unwise for Congress to restrict the discretion of the department to fund particular prosecutions, particularly in the midst of an historic drug epidemic and potentially long-term uptick in violent crime. The department must be in a position to use all laws available to combat the transnational drug organizations and dangerous drug traffickers who threaten American lives,” Sessions wrote in the letter, first made public by Tom Angell of MassRoots.com.

This comes at a time when an overwhelming majority of Americans (including 65 percent of police officers!) are in favor of some form of legalization, and more and more states are starting to legalize marijuana for recreational use.

One of the law’s namesakes expressed annoyance with Sessions’ letter.

“Mr. Sessions stands athwart an overwhelming majority of Americans and even, sadly, against veterans and other suffering Americans who we now know conclusively are helped dramatically by medical marijuana.” said Rep. Dana Rohrabacher, a Republican who represents parts of Orange County, in a statement to the Washington Post.

Opioids are at the center of the worst drug epidemic facing Americans today—while marijuana is decidedly not. However, to Sessions, there is virtually no difference between opioids and marijuana, considering he recently described pot as just “slightly less awful” than heroin. Of course, the American Journal of Public Health published a study in September 2016 citing evidence that opioid use is lower in states with legal medical marijuana, but what do they know with their “statistics?” Pesky facts …

The DOJ actually challenged the amendment under President Obama, but it was upheld by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. This ruling leaves it up to Congress to decide whether to remove Rohrabacher-Farr from the yearly appropriations bill—but the amendment has received strong bipartisan support ever since it became law. Conventional wisdom dictates that Congress would be reluctant to go against the clear will of the people, but how often does conventional wisdom come into play in Washington, D.C., these days?

California is having none of this nonsense, and is making moves to become the first sanctuary state for cannabis. In anticipation of a legal showdown with Sessions’ DOJ, the State Assembly passed AB 1578 on June 1; the bill would prohibit state and local law enforcement from helping the feds enforce federal prohibitions against those adhering to California state law. The bill by Assemblyman Reggie Jones-Sawyer, a Los Angeles Democrat, passed in a close 41-33 vote.

The measure faces stiff opposition by law enforcement and Republicans, for reasons ranging from interference in federal and local interagency cooperation regarding other crimes, to claims that it violates federal law.

“The hubris of California Democrats believing they can flout federal law on immigration and drug policy is beyond words,” said Assemblyman Travis Allen (R-Huntington Beach) during the floor debate.

Jones-Sawyer’s retort: “AB 1578 ensures that our limited local and state resources are not spent on federal marijuana enforcement against individuals and entities that are in compliance with our laws.”

Rep. Rob Bonta (D-Alameda), a co-author of the bill, said: “People who are compliant with California law and operate within the legal cannabis market should not have to fear that a state or local agency will participate in efforts to punish or incarcerate them for activity that the state and its voters have deemed legal,” according to a Los Angeles Times report.

The Tenth Amendment Center, a constitutional-law and states’ rights advocacy group, claims there is solid legal standing for the measure. “Provisions withdrawing state and local enforcement of federal law in AB 1578 rest on a well-established legal principle known as the anti-commandeering doctrine. Simply put, the federal government cannot force states to help implement or enforce any federal act or program,” founder Michael Boldin said in a post on the group’s website.

Jones-Sawyer said the bill could be edited to make it clear that cooperation in moving against illegal operations according to state law could continue. A Newsweek report estimated that 1,400 dispensaries are operating illegally in Los Angeles alone, and Jones-Sawyer would like those businesses shuttered, while protecting those adhering to local and state law.

The bill faces an uncertain future as it moves to the State Senate.


MEANWHILE, HERE IN THE VALLEY…

The City Council of Cathedral City recently passed a moratorium on new dispensaries south of Interstate 10.

The city of 53,000 has 10 licensed dispensaries operating, with another opening soon—that’s around 4,800 residents per dispensary. By comparison, Palm Springs has six dispensaries servicing 44,552 residents (or 7,452 residents per dispensary). The move is designed to help ensure the continued success of existing dispensaries in what is a comparatively saturated market.

Cathedral City dispensaries may also see fewer customers in the future, as Palm Desert and Coachella are slowly moving toward allowing retail cannabis businesses.

The measure passed 3-2, with Greg Pettis and Shelley Kaplan opposing.

Published in Cannabis in the CV