At Las Vegas ReLeaf, which opened first for medical marijuana, recreational has seen business — and hiring — boom.
“We probably went from 25 total employees before recreation and we’re not getting closer to 100 employees for our three businesses,” says General Manager Lissa Lawatsch.
It’s not just staffing dispensaries. It’s also cultivation farms, marijuana labs, and production facilities.
All Nevada’s new frontier … and Bratton wants a place in it.
“As I find the correct landing spot, I’m going to be there for a very long time,” Bratton says.
Other job seekers today said they want to join an industry in its infancy.
“Well, my logic behind it is that it’s going to be one of the largest expanding industries out there,” says Grove job seeker Brandon Jones. “It’s like the new cigarette, I guess, and so if you can get in on the ground floor, why wouldn’t you?”
For more information or to learn how to apply for jobs online, click here.
NEVADA CITY, Calif. – During the fall, in the quaint corners of Nevada City, California, a unique seasonal business has been budding. It’s almost entirely illegal, and draws new faces to town from all over the globe.
It’s harvest season for marijuana growers all across the state. They need extra hands to trim leaves and stems from the bud. So, hundreds of visitors from out-of-state and abroad, known as “trimmigrants,” are more than happy to help.
Rita Fuenzalida runs Java John’s, a coffee shop in downtown Nevada City. She doesn’t mind when the trimmigrants come through.
“It’s kind of dead in here,” Fuenzalida admitted to KTXL. “So when the trimmigrants come into town, it’s a business boom.”
But while these visitors are welcome to come, technically they’re not welcome to work. Visitors like Victor, who we’re identifying with a false name.
“It’s important to make this money now in this season, because it’s quite illegal, our situation,” said Victor.
“It’s quite illegal, our situation.” Victor is from Spain. He, like many other trimmigrants, heard about Nevada City from his friends abroad.
“I need this money to continue to travel,” said Victor. “Now in this moment I’m searching for work for trimmers, you know?”
Unsure what the going rate is this year, Victor says he heard some trimmers make anywhere from $1000 to $3000 a month. They work 10 to 15-hour shifts per day.
Most of the people in the Nevada City area know trimming happens, but it’s still largely under the table. There’s no signup sheet. People who are looking to trim line up outside of bars, taverns, and markets, waiting for someone to come offer them work.
Duane Strawser, Mayor of Nevada City, told KTXL that “the only people hiring them are the out of town illegal grows, because they want the cheapest labor they can find.”
Mayor Strawser called the trimmigrants a nuisance. He says petty crimes rise during harvest season. He also says that big groups of immigrant travelers set up illegal camps, and leave piles of garbage behind. He’s hoping come January, when recreational pot becomes legal, more regulation statewide will naturally phase out the illegal workers.
“These same folks hit Colorado a few years ago and got pushed out,” said Strawser. “Then they hit Oregon and got pushed out. Now they’re coming here.”
But as long as there’s bud to trim, and not enough hands to trim it, people like Victor will be willing and waiting—scissors in hand.
Attorney General Adam Laxalt’s office has declined to issue a legal opinion to its client, marijuana regulators at the Nevada Department of Taxation, on whether state law allows pot consumption lounges, saying the issue is not under the purview of the tax agency.
The matter of using marijuana in the open has been a gray area since the state first legalized recreational pot at the ballot in 2016. The law prohibits public consumption, but there’s some confusion about what private and controlled access settings — such as an age-restricted lounge — might be legal should local governments approve them.
“With one possible exception, as suggested in your letter, the Department does not regulate the time, place or manner of consumption of marijuana,” wrote Gregory Zunino of the AG’s office in a letter dated Oct. 12, responding to a detailed inquiry from the taxation department. “In the context of your request, the Office of the Attorney General office has no authority to issue an opinion addressing general questions about the lawful time, place and manner of consumption of marijuana.”
The letter comes after the Legislative Counsel Bureau, which advises Nevada lawmakers, issued an opinion that concluded nothing in state law would prevent a local government from regulating recreational marijuana consumption lounges. Gov. Brian Sandoval said he disagreed with the opinion and indicated at the time that the taxation agency was seeking more clarity from the attorney general.
Armed with the LCB’s positive opinion, Clark County Commissioner Chris Giunchigliani requested the commission consider the possibility of regulating lounges in the state’s largest county. She’s concerned that consumers in state’s fast-growing recreational market can buy the substance but have nowhere except a private residence to consume it; that generally excludes the 43 million tourists who come to Las Vegas each year from legal consumption.
At the time, Giunchigliani brushed aside the idea of seeking an opinion from the office of Laxalt, who opposed the ballot measure legalizing recreational marijuana. She said that might yield a “twisted, in my opinion, opinion.” (The two are both expected to run for governor — Giunchigliani as a Democrat and Laxalt as a Republican.)
Democratic state Sen. Tick Segerblom, a proponent of the marijuana industry and consumption lounges, said he thinks the response from the attorney general’s office is a positive sign in the effort to clear the way for public consumption. He said it reaffirms that the public consumption policy is in the hands of local government and the state doesn’t need to be involved.
Nevada would be part of the vanguard if it moves forward on the issue. Denver, Colorado voters last year approved a first-in-the-nation law allowing people to use cannabis at bars and other public spaces, but requires approval from neighbors and prohibits smoking. City officials began accepting applications for “social consumption areas” in August.
Nevada’s market is quickly growing. Recreational marijuana sales in August, the second month of legal sales, totaled $34 million, blowing past the $21 million state projection for that month.
Between November 2016 and May 2017, Jonathan Fruchter, a 37-year-old Navy veteran, was receiving care at a post-traumatic stress disorder inpatient clinic with the Lyons New Jersey VA Medical Center. He spent his days in meetings that started with a check-in meeting every morning at 8 a.m., then briefly break before group therapy sessions at 9 and 10 a.m. and again at 1 and 2 p.m.
After therapy, Fruchter would leave the VA grounds and head to a nearby park where he kept a stash of medical marijuana — made legal in New Jersey in September 2016 to treat PTSD — prescribed by a private-care physician. He’d find his pot wherever he hid it last, usually in a white paper bag in a flower bed, pack the buds into an apple he’d fashion into a pipe, and get stoned. Occasionally, he’d walk up to the fence outside the clinic while smoking, watching as the cloud wafted over the perimeter, before drifting onto federal property. On one side, the pot was a way for Fruchter to manage his PTSD, free of the side affects of his pill-heavy treatment plan. On the other, it was an illegal drug that could leave him with a misdemeanor charge or worse.
Depending on the day, Fruchter would pee into a cup for his urinalysis screening, administered weekly at the zero-drug tolerance facility. When the results came back, he’d test positive for cannabis. But Fruchter was never reprimanded or kicked out of the program for violating its drug policy.
“While on federal property in a federal rehab program, [veterans] can be allowed to use a federally illegal substance,” Fruchter told Task & Purpose by phone. “On a patient-doctor level, if this is what you want, it’s doable.” Through a combination of persistence, vague regulations, and an open-minded medical team, Fruchter had stumbled upon an unusual loophole in the VA’s approach to medical marijuana — one that is putting individual VA clinics at odds with the department’s publicly stated policy.
In the 21 years since California became the first state to legalize medical marijuana, 29 others, along with the District of Columbia, Guam, and Puerto Rico, have followed suit, legalizing medicinal cannabis amid a growing body of research indicating the health benefits of the drug. However, even within these states, the extent of legalization varies in terms of diseases that it can be used to treat and in what form. For instance, in New York, medical marijuana can only be used for “debilitating or life threatening conditions,” such as cancer, Huntington’s disease, and multiple sclerosis, and can only be ingested as a liquid, capsule, or with a vaporizer.
Still, under the Obama administration, it seemed like the decriminalization of the sticky green herb was a matter of when, not if. It was Obama’s Deputy Attorney General James Cole who issued guidance in 2013 stipulating that drug enforcement was already carried out at state and local levels and that the federal government should remain hands off, cementing a policy of “non interference” that enabled Colorado, Oregon, and Washington to launch their marijuana markets.
While pot remains a Schedule 1 substance — “drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse,” according to the Drug Enforcement Administration — states remain free to pass laws allowing for the creation of recreational or medical weed programs. However, at the federal level, one government agency is facing mounting pressure to adopt a different position on the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes: the Department of Veterans Affairs.
The VA and its medical arm, the Veterans Health Administration — which provides healthcare services to more than 9 million enrolled veterans — have maintained consistent, but vague guidelines on medical pot. VA doctors cannot prescribe medical cannabis (often misconstrued to mean recommend, or even discuss); and department must rely on the results of state research (the same state-run research currently in Sessions’ crosshairs) even though the VA has a federally approved study running in its backyard that it has so far chosen not to participate in.
But a change may already be coming to the VA, and instead of taking place in back rooms around Capitol Hill, it’s occurring at the doctor’s office with conversations between veterans and their physicians.
“While on federal property in a federal rehab program, [veterans] can be allowed to use a federally illegal substance.”
In states where medical marijuana is legal, the VA’s existing policy allows for veterans and their care providers to candidly discuss cannabis use as part of their overall treatment plan, and in some cases, even test positive on a urinalysis for the drug without consequence — many of the same official changes to VA policy that veteran service organizations have been aggressively advocating for in 2017.
Under VA policy, veterans who participate in state-approved marijuana programs won’t lose access to VA health care, however, due to the drug’s Schedule 1 classification, the VA doesn’t allow physicians to prescribe pot; fill out forms for veterans seeking to participate in state weed programs; or pay for the drug. Nor is its use permitted on VA grounds, hence Fruchter’s daily trips to the park to get high.
What leaves VA guidelines open to interpretation is what they don’t address. The VA doesn’t explicitly bar patients from discussing their medicinal weed use with their doctors. The policy even leaves room for physicians to alter a veteran’s treatment plan to account for their pot use, but stops short of stating exactly what that entails. When it comes to specifics on how this all plays out in a doctor’s office, the policy at large, and the VA in particular, are quite vague.
In response to repeated requests by Task & Purpose for clarification on how the policy works at the clinical level, the department stated that its position was “covered” in a May 31, 2017 statement VA Secretary David Shulkin made at the White House.
“My opinion is, is that some of the states that have put in appropriate controls, there may be some evidence that this is beginning to be helpful,” Shulkin said. “But until the time that federal law changes, we are not able to prescribe medical marijuana for conditions that may be helpful.”
A July 7 letter from Shulkin to Rep. J. Louis Correa, a California Democrat, expands on how administration’s policy plays out on the ground:
“The policy does not administratively prohibit Veterans who participate in State marijuana programs from also participating in VHA substance abuse programs, pain control programs, or other clinical programs where the use of marijuana may be considered inconsistent with treatment goals,” reads the letter, which references VHA Directive 2011-004 — the administration’s policy on access to clinical programs for veterans like Fruchter, who are in state-approved medical cannabis studies. (The directive cited in the July 7 letter expired Jan. 31, 2016, but officials with American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars explained to Task & Purpose that VA policy is to follow expired directives unless specifically told not to do so.)
Shulkin’s letter goes on to say: “If the Veteran is using medicinal marijuana, however, individual treatment plans need to be modified to account for that use, if doing so is clinically appropriate.”
And it’s this line — if doing so is clinically appropriate —that’s relevant for vets interested in state-legal medical pot, and not just those at inpatient clinics. The policy as it is described in the letter implies there’s a level of discretion, permitted by the most senior official at the VA, for doctors to make decisions based on what is in their patients’ best interest and to adjust their treatment plans accordingly.
In Fruchter’s case, he and his care providers at the Lyons VA clinic reached an agreement: Every three months he had to print out his medicinal cannabis prescription and present it to his physician, psychologist, and care team. He had to agree not to consume or keep the weed on site and to give his VA doctors permission to contact the private-care doctor who wrote the prescription. The terms are noted in Fruchter’s VA medical file, which he provided to Task & Purpose; once he agreed to the conditions and followed them, “that was that,” Fruchter said.
“By the fact that they’re allowing him to stay in the program, they’re essentially blessing it in some way,” Marshall Spevak told Task & Purpose. Spevak is chief of staff for New Jersey Assemblyman Vince Mazzeo, who worked on New Jersey’s 2016 legislation to legalize cannabis for PTSD treatment.
“If it is a loophole on the VA’s part, they’re obviously okay with it,” he added.
A former Navy aviation warfare systems operator, Fruchter manned a door gun and served as a rescue swimmer aboard a Knighthawk helicopter during deployments to Bahrain, Kuwait, Iraq, and Qatar between 2004 and 2008. However, Fruchter’s time in the Navy came to a sudden halt when he tested positive for cannabis on a urinalysis — his first offense, he said — and he was administratively separated with a general (under honorable conditions) discharge in 2008.
He bounced from job to job for the next few years until he was fired from a gig as a medical support assistant at the East Orange VA Hospital in New Jersey in 2014, which Fruchter attributes to both his outspoken affection for weed, and what he said his employers deemed inappropriate behavior: being argumentative and combative — “Symptoms of the PTSD,” Fruchter said. “I kept getting fired from each job. I wouldn’t last more than a year.”
After leaving the VA, his finances took a dive, he turned to selling pot to make ends meet, and his personal life suffered amid a string of short-lived romantic relationships.
“When I got out of the service, I noticed I was using [pot] to self-medicate, to sleep at night and to get up in the morning, but I was in denial,” Fruchter said. He was eventually diagnosed by the VA with service-related PTSD in 2015. Then in August 2016, a motorcycle accident left him hospitalized. Around that time, he ended up homeless and living out of his car, drowning in a sea of medical expenses. “I was depressed all the time,” he told Task & Purpose. “Suicidal — all that shit.”
Desperate for help, in November 2016, Fruchter checked into a clinic with the Lyons New Jersey VA Medical Center, where he would receive care for the next seven months.
Though Fruchter’s specific situation was covered by the VA’s policy, he still faced some initial resistance over his pot use.
“I basically had to fight them not to treat me like a drug addict, and had to sit through daily classes on the dangers of drug abuse, but they started to not make me go to those classes, because I wasn’t an addict,” Fruchter, who received his New Jersey medicinal marijuana card in October 2016, told Task & Purpose. “I was just using it as a medicine. It saved my life and it got me off of other medications that were driving me nuts.”
“If it is a loophole on the VA’s part, they’re obviously okay with it.”
While at the facility — he spent time in two inpatient units in Lyon, first at a domiciliary for homeless vets, then at an in-treatment clinic for PTSD — Fruchter was on a variety of anti-depression and anxiety medications and non-narcotic pain pills, but over time, the side effects of the drugs became harder to deal with than the symptoms they were meant to treat and left Fruchter feeling “like a zombie.” He weaned himself off the pills, going back on one here or there at a doctor’s recommendation, but as often as he could, Fruchter stuck to medical weed to treat his ailments.
“Being in the PTSD program last year really helped me, as far as the therapy — I learned how to cope better,” Fruchter said. “I was a complete mess. I don’t know how I’m alive sometimes.”
Fruchter isn’t the only person to successfully navigate the loopholes in the VA’s cannabis policy. There’s 46-year-old Boone Cutler, who served in the Army across three enlistments between 1990 and 2010. While deployed to Iraq’s Sadr City from 2005 to 2006, Cutler suffered a traumatic brain injury following a mortar attack. He was later diagnosed by the VA with post-traumatic stress disorder and early-onset Parkinson’s Disease.
After his injury, Cutler was wracked with chronic migraines and insomnia — at best, he could count on just a few hours of fitful sleep each night. Between 2006 and 2010, he was prescribed a range of drugs at Walter Reed Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, and later at a VA clinic in Reno, Nevada. To help treat his insomnia and the pain from his sore joints and relentless headaches, Cutler received a prescription cocktail he called “zombie dope” and said it left him feeling disconnected, unable to feel or think clearly. Out of desperation, Cutler checked into a VA psychiatric ward in Reno in 2010. While there, he decided to try medical pot — made legal in Nevada in 2000 — to help him rest.
The first night he smoked, Cutler said he slept five hours and woke up “refreshed,” a feeling that had eluded him for nearly half a decade. Though he currently relies on just cannabis-based extracts, like cannabidiol, for a while, he medicated with a mix of painkillers and herb, and informed his doctors he was doing so.
“What I found out was that there was this secret everybody used and nobody talked about it,” Cutler said. “My doctor’s just flat out didn’t have a problem with it. My VA docs — I had two at that time — they asked how my sleep was, and I said, ‘it’s fine, I use cannabis,’ and they asked how that’s working, I said, ‘it works great,’ and that was basically it.”
Cutler’s dealings with his care team lines up with what VA physicians told Task & Purpose: While they cannot write a prescription for medicinal weed, there’s no clear rule saying care providers can’t discuss it as a non-VA treatment option.
“I think the policy is clear, but I don’t think it’s well disseminated,” Dr. Jordan Tishler, who has worked as a physician in the Boston, Massachusetts VA emergency department for the last 15 years, told Task & Purpose.
According to Tishler, most vets “are concerned with retribution, within the context of testing positive” on a required drug test due to a contract called a narcotics agreement, which stipulates that a patient must agree to a urinalysis screening to ensure they’re taking their medication, and nothing else, or face losing their narcotics prescription. Both Fruchter and Cutler had to sign narcotics agreements, and both their provider-care teams understood the two veterans would test positive for marijuana. Because they reached an agreement with their physicians, Fruchter was able to remain in the zero-drug-tolerance PTSD program, and Cutler continued to receive his pain meds.
These candid chats make sense from a medical standpoint: Doctors should know what their patients are putting in their bodies.
According Dr. Sam Foote, a primary care clinic director who blew the whistle on the Phoenix VA Healthcare System waitlist scandal in 2013, a VA physician can and probably should take a patient’s drug use into account to ensure the right drugs, at the right dosages, are being prescribed. This applies to patients using medical marijuana in states where it’s legal.
“The VA neither forces you nor does it prohibit you from doing that in that particular situation,” Foote said.
However, if this is allowed, then why is it such a well-kept secret? It may have to do with a mix of politics, and poor communication from the top levels of the VA down to the clinics. The end result: Different interpretations of the department’s pot policy depending on where you are, and who you ask, which leaves many veterans in the dark about their healthcare options.
“I’ve heard a couple of different things,” Lou Celli, American Legion’s director of national veterans affairs and rehabilitation division told Task & Purpose. “One, that the actual law and VA policy supports physicians being able to have these kinds of conversations with veterans. I’ve also heard that local policy and political pressure has caused them to believe that that’s not true.”
Though Fruchter successfully reached an agreement with his doctors at the Lyons VA clinic, he said “it was kind of like a silent approval.” Fruchter said he was asked not tell other patients of the arrangement he reached with his care team for fear it would “upset the status quo.”
Unclear guidance, while good for bureaucrats looking to shift responsibility by quoting a loophole, is ultimately bad for patients and their doctors.
“What I found out was that there was this secret everybody used and nobody talked about it.”
“This is where the federal government needs to get on board,” Celli said. “The federal government needs to recognize that administering medicine needs to be in the best interest of the patient, absent the political pressure, and absent the side-argument of whether they’re going to accept cannabis as a legal form of medication or not.”
Advocates of medicinal marijuana use for veterans — and those simply in favor of more research into its potential benefits — often point to its effectiveness in treating chronic pain, especially compared to highly addictive medications, like opioids. Its efficacy has been well-documented, with one observational study indicating a marked dip in opiate-related deaths in states where medicinal weed is legal, The Washington Post reported earlier this year. Still, when it comes to pot as a treatment option for veterans with PTSD and TBI, hard results are less readily available.
One of the consequences of the VA’s reliance on results from state-run studies and its lack of involvement in an ongoing federal study near a major VA hospital in Phoenix, Arizona, is that much of the research needed to further this conversation at the federal level, in any direction, remains out of reach, and it could stay that way for quite some time.
Currently, the marijuana PTSD study, the only federally approved research into the effects of herb on PTSD, has stagnated, with just 26 veterans enrolled out of the required 76 needed to be viable as of Sept. 19, and the hang-up stems from the VA’s refusal to recommend veteran patients for the study, due to the drug’s classification as Schedule 1. The lack of VA involvement, coupled with the study’s strict requirements — roughly 99% of applicants fail to meet the standards — has limited its recruitment pool. The federal research was further stymied by substandard pot — it had a low concentration of THC, but high levels of mold and lead — provided to the researchers by the federal government’s official grow operation at the University of Mississippi.
“What I want is access to safe and legal cannabis. I didn’t serve in the military to become a criminal. I didn’t set out in my civilian life after the military to become a criminal. This being a medical option I don’t legally have access to turns me into one.”
“More than half the states have legalized cannabis for medical use and the federal government now has a decision make,” Celli said. “Do we flip the switch and enact prohibition and clamp down on all of these states, or do we get on the bus and figure out a way to make it right for everyone?”
For now, in medical weed-legal states, VA policy leaves some room for interpretation, allowing for candid exchanges between physicians and their veteran patients. But when it comes to states where weed is illegal — it changes.
“That’s the crux of the current policy. VA policy is essentially: If it’s okay as a civilian, you can act as a civilian,” Tishler said. “If you’re in a state where it’s not legal for civilians, then it’s not legal for you as a veteran.”
For Tom Brennan, a Marine infantry veteran who suffered a TBI in Afghanistan in 2010, his decision to switch from VA-prescribed antidepressants, sedatives, amphetamines, and mood stabilizers to medical pot for treatment places him in a precarious position. Brennan, an Iraq and Afghanistan combat veteran and journalist lives in North Carolina, one of the 21 states where weed remains completely illegal.
“I don’t want a life of crime,” Brennan told Task & Purpose by phone. “What I want is access to safe and legal cannabis. I didn’t serve in the military to become a criminal. I didn’t set out in my civilian life after the military to become a criminal. This being a medical option I don’t legally have access to turns me into one.”
Until something changes, Veterans in states where weed is illegal are forced to use pot medically knowing they are committing a crime.As for those in weed-friendly states, the VA remains an option for vets looking for input on how cannabis will affect their treatment plan and interact with current prescriptions — really, everything short of a prescription, so long as they stay in policy’s gray area, and consult with physicians sympathetic to the idea.
When Task & Purpose spoke to Fruchter by phone in early October, he was staying with his mother in Florida and sleeping on her floor while he waited for his paperwork to go through at an inpatient PTSD clinic in Miami. And just as he did before, he has a state medicinal marijuana card and a prescription from his private-care doctor.
But unlike the clinic in New Jersey, his new physicians have a different interpretation of where the VA stands when it comes to pot. According to Fruchter, he was told he wouldn’t be allowed to smoke pot while enrolled in the inpatient clinic.
“I’m currently fighting it and will probably win the same way as in New Jersey,” Fruchter said in an email to Task & Purpose. “I already called them back and told them officially over the phone that I was a registered patient with the Department of Health in Florida. I am in the process now of trying to get access to the PTSD inpatient clinic without having to give up my state-approved medicine.”
The reason Fruchter was told he couldn’t use cannabis in the program: It would be against VA policy.
The legalization of marijuana for medicinal or recreational use, has not, as some politicians proclaimed, eliminated the black market for cannabis. Illicit weed grows are common in California, often manned by U.S. citizens or Mexican nationals in the country illegally. Like Sollozzo in The Godfather, the Chinese are now moving in on the market.
As the Sacramento Bee reports, in recent police raids, “the occupants of these grow houses have turned out to be Chinese nationals, raising questions about who is recruiting them and financing their operations.” In four California counties, police made “multiple arrests of people with Chinese passports, some of them speaking no English and apparently providing little help to investigators.”
In one case, “money from a southern China bank account was transferred to California to pay for down payments on homes that later became grow houses, suggesting that at least some in China are investing in the illicit U.S. marijuana market.”
Police call it a “sophisticated operation” run by businessmen. They purchase suburban houses with cash and hire electricians to bypass the electricity meters, “so growers can tap a free source of power to run grow lights and fans.”
According to police officials interviewed by the Bee, the arrestees are “experienced farmers from poor Chinese provinces, often in their 50s and 60s. Some have been smuggled into the United States, but many arrive with Chinese passports, presumably arranged by the grow-house operators.” Their B-1 or B-2 visas allow them to stay in the United States up to six months.
In Colorado, which legalized marijuana in 2015, grow houses are popping up in every neighborhood, and in one case all 14 suspects were Chinese citizens. In Nevada, Chinese national Jianguo Han, 66, was convicted of running a large-scale marijuana operation in two Las Vegas houses.
China summarily executes drug dealers, foreign and domestic, but when their overseas nationals get busted, China refuses to take them back. This saddles the United States with more costs, and makes China’s stateside weed business even more profitable. The regime is also busily cultivating regions where the soil is even more fertile.
“Some American universities have established ties with China through what are called Confucius Institutes (CI),” notes columnist George Leef. Beginning in 2005, the Chinese government has established more than 100 CI American colleges and universities, and “hundreds more in primary and secondary schools” and it’s all “funded by an agency of the Chinese government’s Ministry of Education called the Hanban.”
Leef finds nothing objectionable about the study of Chinese language and culture. Trouble is, “academic freedom is an alien concept in China, where the tradition of state control over most aspects of life means that universities must conform to the official ideology.” This comes through in the Confucius Institute agenda.
The CI program pressures American schools to disinvite speakers it doesn’t want students to hear. At North Carolina State, for example, CI was responsible for disinviting the Dalai Lama. CI bocks access to articles touching on the Tiananmen Square massacre, the Cultural Revolution, and Chinese control of Tibet. Under Mao Zedong one of the worst mass murderers in history, China’s Communist regime invaded and occupied Tibet in 1950 and quashed a revolt in 1959.
The University of Chicago dropped the Confucius Institute but other schools continue to collaborate. This troubles Leef because the Chinese government “is focused on control and therefore wants to prevent the spread of criticism and dissent.” Many American academics are okay with that, and by all indications so is the government of California.
The ongoing human rights violations of China’s one-party Communist regime proved no obstacle to the use of Chinese steel in the new span of the San Francisco-Oakland Bay Bridge. Politicians and the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans), the state’s equivalent of the Soviet Gosplan, claimed this would save money. It didn’t turn out that way.
Brown recently signed legislation making California a sanctuary state, open defiance of U.S. immigration law. Governor Brown and attorney Xavier Becerra don’t want to send anybody back to their native land, and China won’t take back its own criminals. That’s a dream dialectic for the Chinese, whose grow-houses are working three shifts all across the Golden State.
As Sidney Wang (Peter Sellers) might have put in in Murder by Death, “Confucius say, colonial policy good for China but bad deal for United States.”
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Brooklyn Borough President Eric L. Adams joined anti-violence advocates, community leaders, and local clergy in an interfaith community vigil to honor and remember those lives that were lost in the Las Vegas mass shooting incident — the worst in modern American history — which killed 58 people and injured over 500 others. Borough President Adams led a moment of silence, and called for common-sense reform to save lives.
A new Gallup poll shows that a record high percentage of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, including, for the first time, a majority of both Republicans and Democrats. Gallup found that 64 percent–or nearly two out of three people–believe that marijuana should be legal for adults. This total included 51 percent of Republicans, 72 percent of Democrats, and 67 percent of independents.
This is a stark increase since the poll was first conducted in the late 1960s, but especially among Republicans, who now approve of marijuana legalization in higher numbers than ever. Even two decades ago, only a quarter of Americans supported legalization. Ten years ago, fewer than 25 percent of Republicans thought marijuana should be legal. Just last year, only 42 percent of Republicans thought weed should be legal. Democrats have also seen a similar increase in percentage approval of legalization laws, but at a faster pace than Republicans.
The first state to legalize marijuana for recreational purposes was Colorado, which voted to do so in 2012. Marijuana sales did not begin until January 1, 2014. Since Colorado voted for legalization, it has been joined by Alaska, California, Washington, Nevada, Oregon, the District of Columbia, Massachusetts, and Maine. Additionally, most states have legalized some form of marijuana for medicinal purposes.
Vermont nearly passed cannabis legalization through its legislature earlier this year, but the bill was vetoed by Gov. Phil Scott (R). If this had passed, Vermont would have been the first state to legalize marijuana via the legislature, not by a referrendum vote.
SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Police are arresting large numbers of Chinese nationals in raids on illegal marijuana operations in California, Colorado and other states, raising questions about who is financing these grow houses and recruiting the immigrants to tend them.
In one recent indictment obtained by McClatchy, money from a southern China bank account was transferred to California to pay for down payments on homes that later become grow houses, suggesting that some investors in China are putting money into the illicit U.S. marijuana market.
“These are sophisticated operations,” said Thomas Yu, a longtime Asian gang investigator with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. “When we hear about Asian gangs, we think about young guys doing drive-by shootings. This isn’t like that. These are organized ad hoc enterprises, run by businessmen. They are in it for the profit.”
In and around Sacramento, police have arrested numerous Chinese suspects in recent raids on indoor pot farms. But raids have also taken place in more far-flung locations, such as Garfield County in Colorado’s northwest corner.
Last year, Garfield Sheriff Lou Vallario and his deputies descended on an illegal marijuana farm, arresting 14 suspects. To Vallario’s surprise, all 14 were Chinese nationals.
Vallario and other law enforcement officials are quick to note that people from many backgrounds — U.S. citizens, Mexicans, Russians — are involved in the illegal marijuana trade.
“We’ve had nationals from all over coming to this part of Colorado,” he said. “There are grow houses popping up in every neighborhood.”
But in recent years, Chinese operators seem to be expanding their reach:
In three separate raids in September, authorities in California’s Yolo County and the cities of Roseville and Elk Grove arrested 13 Chinese immigrants in raids on marijuana grow houses.
In a case filed in U.S. District Court in July, prosecutors allege that 10 Chinese suspects with out-of-state driver’s licenses were growing marijuana inside nine Sacramento-area homes. More than 7,700 plants were seized.
North of Sacramento, Yuba County sheriffs arrested 14 Chinese — some U.S. citizens and some with Chinese passports — in three marijuana busts between March and May. Those raids hauled in 8,000 plants, six firearms and thousands of dollars in U.S. currency, according to the county, which says it has turned the case over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In July, a federal jury in Nevada convicted a 66-year-old Chinese man, Jianguo Han, on charges of running a large-scale marijuana operation in two Las Vegas houses. A month earlier, Colorado indicted five Chinese immigrants and 69 other defendants. They are accused of participating in what Colorado Attorney General Cynthia Coffman called “the largest illegal marijuana trafficking ring” since the state legalized the drug in 2015.
Coffman and other law enforcement officials say that marijuana growers and smugglers are targeting states such as Colorado and California assuming they can operate in the shadows of commercial enterprises that are licensed to grow pot. Coffman called the June indictment “a prime example that the black market for marijuana has not gone away since recreational marijuana was legalized in our state.”
Yu, who has investigated scores of large-scale marijuana operations, say the Chinese grow houses share much in common. Many are purchased with cash and are located in quiet, unassuming suburbs. Electricians are brought in to bypass the electricity meters, so growers can tap a free source of power to run grow lights and fans.
They can reap enormous profits. A single pot house can produce three crops annually, which can net a grower $1 million or more, depending on the size of the grow and the quality of the bud, Yu said. Often the marijuana is shipped to markets on the East Coast, one reason that Chinese immigrants from New York have recently been arrested in Sacramento-area raids.
Yu said that he’s seen a general pattern with the pot-house caretakers he’s arrested. Many are experienced farmers from poor Chinese provinces, often in their 50s and 60s. Some have been smuggled into the United States, but many arrive with Chinese passports, presumably arranged by the grow house operators, he said.
Having obtained B-1 or B-2 visas, they are allowed to stay in the United States up to six months. If arrested, they often provide little help to investigators, even when Mandarin translators are brought in.
In Garfield County, Vallario and his deputies dug up 3,000 marijuana plants from the Chinese grow operation they raided last year. But when investigators tried to question the 14 Chinese suspects they arrested, they quickly encountered language barriers. “We didn’t do a very thorough job of interrogating them,” said the sheriff. He later turned the case over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration, which declined to comment.
In Sacramento, attorney John B. Renwick has carved out a practice representing Chinese arrested on drug charges and other offenses. Fluent in Mandarin, with a bilingual website, Renwick said he’s represented 100 Chinese arrested for marijuana growing over the last decade. Often the court appoints him because of his language skills.
Like Yu, Renwick said many the Chinese arrested are recent arrivals, often misled into thinking that large-scale marijuana grow houses are legal under California medical marijuana law.
Yu said that China is a source for at least some the money financing grow houses, and the July indictment of 10 Chinese suspects supports his contention. Prosecutors in that case allege that one female suspect, Xiu Ping Li, received three separate wire transfers of $48,985 each in early 2016 to purchase three homes that ultimately became Sacramento grow houses.
The money was allegedly transferred from a China Construction Bank account in Fujian province to Li’s Bank of America account. According to the indictment, she is accused of international money laundering and other offenses. The money laundering charge could get her up to 20 years in prison.
In California and other states, Chinese busted in marijuana grow operations generally receive probation and face potential deportation. But for many years, China has generally refused to take back its citizens convicted of U.S. crimes, in part because the United States — out of human rights concerns — has refused to extradite Chinese that Beijing claims are criminal fugitives.
As a result, many Chinese busted for pot growing “end up in a legal limbo,” according to a California court interpreter involved in several of these proceedings.
“I’m aware of several cases where (Chinese) people have been waiting for months and months,” said the interpreter, who asked to remain nameless because he was not authorized to talk to the media. “China will not take them back. So they periodically report to an ICE agent in town and get on with their lives. But they have no legal status. Some are stateless. Their Chinese passports have expired.”
With the help of the interpreter, McClatchy contacted three Chinese currently on probation for involvement in a Elk Grove pot house that police raided last year. All three — Jiabin Haung, Jun Song Chen and Annie Hong — declined to be interviewed.