Modest Tax Relief Comes to California’s Cannabis Growers

“One of California’s many oppressive taxes on the cannabis industry has been laid to rest. Gov. Gavin Newsom has signed into law A.B. 195, which eliminates the state’s cultivation tax.

California’s cultivation tax, unique among the states that have legalized marijuana sales, forced growers to pay the state for each ounce of cannabis grown. This tax was separate from the state’s 15 percent excise tax and state and local sales taxes.

Because the cultivation tax rate was automatically indexed to inflation, it had actually been increasing thanks to the state of the economy. Anybody attempting to legally grow marijuana shouldered a heavy tax burden, which then flowed downstream to consumers, many of whom realized it was cheaper to continue purchasing marijuana on the black market. The end result: two-thirds of marijuana purchases in the Golden State take place through unlicensed vendors. Because it’s so expensive to grow legally, illegal grow operations abound within the state, leading to more police raids, arrests, and prosecutions, not to mention corrupt practices among local governments who have the power to pick and choose which businesses can open up shop legally.”

“A.B. 195 also bends the knee to the state’s labor unions by reducing the threshold from 20 to 10 employees to require that aspiring licensees enter into a labor peace agreement with a qualifying labor organization. A labor peace agreement is a deal between a business and a labor union that the business will not oppose a unionization effort and the union will not encourage strikes or work stoppages. Making it a mandatory requirement in order to get a license essentially gives labor unions a type of veto power over who can and can’t operate a marijuana business. These agreements also, by their nature, require both sides to waive certain rights under the federal National Labor Relations Act.”

Nukes and Natural Gas Are ‘Green,’ Votes E.U. Parliament

“Global known reserves of natural gas would last nearly 50 years at current rates of consumption. Burning natural gas to generate electricity emits about half of the carbon dioxide that coal does. This is why many environmental activist groups a little more than a decade ago hailed natural gas as “the bridge to the clean energy future.”

In fact, the mostly market-driven switch from coal to natural gas to generate electricity in the U.S. has served as a bridge to a cleaner energy future. The replacement in the U.S. of coal-fired power plants by those fueled by natural gas is responsible for a 32 percent reduction since 2005 in carbon dioxide emissions from that sector. Overall, annual U.S. carbon dioxide emissions have fallen by around 23 percent since 2005. Despite the undeniable role that the switch from coal to natural gas has played in significantly reducing U.S. carbon dioxide emissions, many environmental activists now perplexingly denounce natural gas as a “bridge to nowhere.””

“What about nuclear power? The fact that splitting atoms to generate electricity produces no greenhouse gas emissions should be enough to establish nuclear power as a “climate-friendly” energy technology. Last week, the International Energy Agency released a report arguing that global nuclear power capacity needs to double from 413 gigawatts now to 812 gigawatts by 2050 in order to meet greenhouse gas emissions targets set in international agreements addressing the problem of man-made climate change. Meanwhile, in response to pressure from environmental activists, Germany is going in the opposite direction, shutting down perfectly good nuclear power plants while firing up electricity generation fueled by coal.

The ecomodernist Breakthrough Institute has just released a new study setting out various scenarios of how the development and deployment of advanced nuclear reactors in the U.S. could unfold over the next 30 years. In the optimistic scenario, U.S. nuclear power generation capacity would rise from 95 gigawatts from conventional nuclear plants today to as much as 470 gigawatts generated by advanced reactors in 2050. Expanding nuclear power production would both help smooth out the intermittency of wind and solar generation and further cut climate-warming greenhouse gas emissions.”

Why Didn’t a ‘Red Flag’ Law Prevent the Illinois Mass Shooting, and Would New Federal Rules Have Mattered?

“Gun controls that look sensible in theory frequently fail in practice, either because they are ill-suited to prevent mass shootings, do not apply, or were not enforced. That does not mean such laws have no effect on violent crime. But it does mean that Americans should be skeptical when politicians tout the lifesaving potential of a particular policy, especially when it also has the potential to deprive innocent people of their constitutional rights.

The New York Times notes that the 21-year-old man who prosecutors say admitted to murdering seven people and injuring dozens of others in Highland Park on Monday “was known to police” because of two incidents in 2019. In April 2019, Reuters reports, police visited his Highland Park home in response to a 911 caller who said he “had attempted suicide.” That September, police returned in response to “alleged threats ‘to kill everyone’ that he had directed at family members.”

During the second visit, police asked the young man if he was suicidal, which he denied. They “seized a collection of 16 knives, a dagger and a sword” that belonged to the 18-year-old’s father, which they later returned to him.

Police did not arrest the son because they lacked probable cause to believe he had committed a crime. “There were no complaints that were signed by any of the victims,” Chris Covelli, a sergeant with the Lake County Sheriff’s Office, told reporters yesterday. But Highland Park police reported the incident to the Illinois State Police, which took no action.

State police offered two explanations for that. First, the future mass murderer at that point did not have a firearm owners identification card (FOID), which is required to legally buy or own guns in Illinois, and had not applied for one. Second, Reuters reports, state police “said no relative or anyone else was willing ‘to move forward with a formal complaint’ or to provide ‘information on threats or mental health that would have allowed law enforcement to take additional action.'”

The state’s red flag law, which took effect at the beginning of 2019, authorizes police as well as family members to seek a “firearms restraining order” that bars the respondent from purchasing or possessing guns. But if the future killer’s relatives were uncooperative, collecting evidence to support a petition would have been difficult, since the case hinged on their account of his words and actions.

Like the other states with red flag laws, Illinois gives people who are concerned that someone poses a danger two options. They can obtain an “emergency” order, which is issued without a hearing or notice, if a judge decides there is “probable cause to believe that the respondent poses an immediate and present danger of causing personal injury to himself, herself, or another.” Such ex parte orders last up to two weeks, at which point the respondent actually gets a chance to respond.

Alternatively, or when an ex parte order is about to expire, a petitioner can seek a six-month order, which requires a hearing. The standard at that point is “clear and convincing evidence” that the respondent poses “a significant danger…in the near future.” If an order is issued, it can be renewed for another six months based on a showing that the respondent continues to pose a significant danger.

The evidence that a judge is required to consider includes “threats of violence or acts of violence by the respondent directed toward himself, herself, or another.” That certainly seems relevant in this case. But again, police would have had a hard time presenting such evidence without the family’s cooperation.

Three months after his second encounter with police, the alleged killer, then 19, obtained an FOID. Because he was younger than 21, he needed the written consent of a parent or guardian, which his father supplied. A lawyer representing the father told the Times “his client did not believe there was an issue” and “might not have understood what happened with the knife seizure because it did not happen in his house.”

If the father had recognized the threat his son posed, he presumably would not have supported the FOID application, which would have prevented the killer from legally buying guns until he turned 21—i.e., last September. But in that case, the father probably would have been willing to file or support a red flag petition.

The other requirements for an FOID largely track federal restrictions on gun ownership, which among other things disqualify people with certain kinds of criminal or psychiatric records. None of those disqualifications applied.

For the same reason, the alleged murderer passed background checks when he bought several guns, including the Smith & Wesson M&P 15 rifle that police say was used in the attack, in 2020 and 2021. According to Reuters, “police said the only offense detected…during background checks was for unlawful possession of tobacco in 2016.” There were “no mental health prohibiter reports.”

In retrospect, it is easy to say that state police made a disastrous mistake by failing to seek a red flag order. Based on documentation of the two police calls, they might have met the probable-cause requirement for an ex parte order. But presenting clear and convincing evidence of a continuing threat to justify a six-month order was another matter. If no one with relevant knowledge was willing to come forward, it is hard to see how police could have satisfied that standard. And even if they had, the order would have had to be repeatedly renewed to block the gun purchases, the last of which happened two years later.”

Donald Trump’s Handling of Classified Material Looks Worse Than Hillary Clinton’s

“According to a search warrant inventory that was unsealed on Friday, the FBI found 11 sets of classified documents, ranging from “confidential” to “top secret,” when it searched former President Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach last Monday. The top-secret documents included some that were labeled “SCI,” or “sensitive compartmented information,” an especially restricted category derived from intelligence sources.

On the face of it, Trump’s handling of this information, which he took with him from the White House when he left office in January 2021, raises national security concerns at least as serious as those raised by Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state. Trump has long maintained that Clinton’s mishandling of classified material when she ran the State Department was egregious enough to justify sending her to prison. But in his case, he says, the documents at Mar-a-Lago, despite their labeling, were not actually classified.

How so? According to a statement that Trump representative John Solomon read on Fox News after the search warrant and inventory were unsealed, Trump had a “standing order” as president that automatically declassified material he moved from the Oval Office to his residence at the White House. That explanation raises additional questions about Trump’s seemingly cavalier treatment of sensitive information”

“In July 2016, when then–FBI Director James Comey announced that the FBI had not found enough evidence to justify criminal charges against Clinton, he reported that 110 messages in 52 unsecured email chains had been “determined by the owning agency to contain classified information at the time they were sent or received.” He said “eight of those chains contained information that was Top Secret at the time they were sent; 36 chains contained Secret information at the time; and eight contained Confidential information, which is the lowest level of classification.”

By comparison, the FBI’s list of items seized at Mar-a-Lago includes five mentions of “various” or “miscellaneous” top-secret documents, three mentions of “miscellaneous secret documents,” and three mentions of “confidential documents.” We don’t know how many documents were in each set or the precise nature of the information they discussed. But five sets of top-secret documents could easily contain more sensitive information than eight email chains that may have referred to top-secret material only briefly and/or in passing.

Comey said Clinton’s treatment of “very sensitive, highly classified information” was “extremely careless.” On its face, that judgment could support charges under 18 USC 793, which encompasses “gross negligence” in the handling of information “relating to the national defense”—a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison. But Comey concluded that was not enough to justify prosecuting Clinton”

“Although there is evidence of potential violations of the statutes regarding the handling of classified information, our judgment is that no reasonable prosecutor would bring such a case….In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice.”

The Mar-a-Lago search warrant was based on U.S. Magistrate Judge Bruce Reinhart’s determination that there was probable cause to believe the FBI would find “items illegally possessed” in violation of three statutes, including 18 USC 793. Although Trump has not been charged with any crime and may never face prosecution, his conduct arguably included some of the aggravating factors that Comey mentioned.

To start with, there is some evidence to support the inference that Trump’s alleged mishandling of classified material was “intentional and willful.” In January, after the National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) raised concerns that Trump had improperly removed documents that were covered by the Presidential Records Act, Trump’s representatives turned over 15 boxes. Noticing that some of the documents were marked as classified, NARA referred the matter to the Justice Department, which obtained additional documents from Mar-a-Lago under a grand jury subpoena in June. Around the same time, The New York Times reports, “a Trump lawyer” gave the Justice Department “a written declaration” saying “all the material marked classified in the boxes had been turned over.”

Judging from what the FBI says it found last week, that was not true. The FBI presumably presented evidence to that effect, possibly based on a Trump insider’s tip, in its search warrant affidavit (which, unlike the warrant itself and the inventory, remains sealed). That apparent misrepresentation may help explain why the search warrant cites not only 18 USC 793 but also 18 USC 1519, which makes it a felony, punishable by up to 20 years in prison, to knowingly conceal “any record, document, or tangible object” with “the intent to impede, obstruct, or influence” a federal investigation. Such concealment, if proven, would qualify as “efforts to obstruct justice,” another aggravating factor that Comey mentioned.

Because the volume, contents, and exact location of the documents seized by the FBI are uncertain, it is not clear whether the records at Mar-a-Lago amounted to “vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct,” another Comey criterion. The difficulty of assessing that question underlines how little information we have about the documents that were seized.

“Here is where Trump’s defense comes in. “The very fact that these documents were present at Mar-a-Lago means they couldn’t have been classified,” his office says. “As we can all relate to, everyone ends up having to bring home their work from time to time. American presidents are no different. President Trump, in order to prepare for work the next day, often took documents including classified documents from the Oval Office to the residence.” In light of that practice, the statement says, Trump “had a standing order that documents removed from the Oval Office and taken into the residence were deemed to be declassified.” It notes that “the power to classify and declassify documents rests solely with the President of the United States.”

Without denying that point, Trump’s critics argue that such a policy would be highly irregular and careless. “Whatever POTUS’ ‘powers’ might be to declassify docs,” former FBI agent Asha Rangappa says on Twitter, “there are good policy and practical reasons…to follow a process, and for that process to be documented and reflected on the document markings themselves.”

Rangappa says “accountability” requires that declassification of a given document be justified by a rationale dealing with the national security implications, which “allows for objections from others if the reasoning is based on an incorrect premise.” She also cites the need to protect intelligence sources from “blowback.” In addition to “being dangerous and bad for [national security],” she says, automatic declassification of any documents that the president happens to remove from the Oval Office would cause “confusion and inefficiency and distortions in our intelligence collection, foreign policy, and defense efforts.”

If “Trump telepathically declassifies hundreds of docs on his way out,” Rangappa adds, President Joe Biden “can telepathically reclassify them immediately, too. See how stupid this gets? Markings would mean nothing. No one would know how to store things.”

Accepting Trump’s argument that any documents at Mar-a-Lago were ipso facto declassified, notwithstanding markings to the contrary, that information would be legally available not just to him but also to the general public, assuming there was no other statutory justification for restricting access. Unless classification decisions are utterly arbitrary or were clearly wrong with regard to every document that Trump retained, that seems like a pretty reckless way to handle sensitive material. But it would be of a piece with Trump’s behavior as president, which reportedly included tearing up and flushing documents that were supposed to be preserved under the Presidential Records Act.

The issues that critics like Rangappa raise go beyond the question of criminal liability. Let’s say Trump’s purported “standing order” means he is in the clear under 18 USC 793. Let’s also stipulate that meeting the mens rea requirements for convicting him of obstruction or “willfully” concealing documents that belonged in the National Archives would be a tall order. Trump’s behavior and excuses for it nevertheless provide further evidence, in case any was needed, that he is not the sort of person who can be trusted to hold any position of political power, let alone the presidency.

Back in 2016, when Trump was intent on making his opponent look bad, he claimed to be moved by the concerns of “long-term workers at the FBI,” who he said were “furious” that Clinton got off with a wrist slap for recklessly endangering national security. Now that the shoe is on the other foot, Trump dismisses the FBI’s avowed concerns as transparent excuses for the partisan “witch hunt” that supposedly has victimized him throughout his political career. One need not be a fan of the FBI to see that Trump’s view of what qualifies as shameful and disgraceful is based on no principle beyond his petty personal interests.”

Blocking a Highway Is Not a Legitimate or Effective Form of Protest

“Blocking highways is dangerous no matter the target of the protester’s ire. Canadian truckers recently used the same tactic to push back on vaccine mandates, creating a traffic bottleneck on the busiest international crossing on the continent and cutting off some people from their livelihoods. Whether you’re protesting COVID dictates from the government, climate change, or the issue du jour, consider that your demonstration will not win hearts and minds if it’s hurting people.”

India Wants Twitter To Participate in Government Censorship

“On Tuesday, Twitter announced that it had filed suit against the Indian government alleging that it interpreted a suite of 2021 laws too broadly when ordering the company to censor dissident users in the country. The lawsuit comes in response to increased pressure from the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which in recent weeks has ordered Twitter to block the posts and accounts of dissidents. According to CNN, a source familiar with the suit said that the company will attempt to show that the government’s orders “demonstrate excessive use of powers and are disproportionate.”

The 2021 regulations Twitter is now fighting gave India’s government the ability to demand that social media companies block certain posts or accounts in the country. Further, the Indian government has required social media companies to locate their compliance officers within the country so that they can be held criminally liable if the company fails to comply with government orders.

While Twitter has complied with orders, the suit marks a major act of resistance against the Indian government’s calls to censor dissident content. In 2021, WhatsApp filed a similar suit, attempting to prevent the government from forcing the company to make all messages “traceable” upon request. That order, according to the company, would “severely undermine the privacy of billions of people who communicate digitally[.]” WhatApp’s suit is still ongoing.”

Title 42 Expulsions Made the Border Less Secure

“Customs and Border Protection (CBP) invoked Title 42 in nearly 1.8 million migrant encounters between April 2020 and March 2022, amounting to 61 percent of total encounters. Title 42 allowed immediate expulsion and barred affected migrants from applying for asylum.

Although immigration opponents pointed to those numbers as proof of the policy’s necessity, the figures were inflated. Because Title 42 is a health measure, immigration officials could not impose reentry penalties on expelled migrants. With no disincentive for reentry, the share of encounters that involved repeat crossers jumped to 27 percent in 2021, nearly four times higher than in 2019.

Excluding repeat crossings, the number of border apprehensions resembled pre-pandemic levels. Border hard-liners ignored that point, pointing to headlines announcing record CBP apprehensions. Meanwhile, most would-be migrants were unable to request asylum at a port of entry, opting instead to congregate at the border. That was the natural result of shutting down more orderly immigration channels.”

” The Title 42 order has led to more frequent and less predictable migrant inflows. With proper planning, its phaseout could result in more efficient processing at the border. Restoring the asylum-seeking process, coupled with expanding opportunities for temporary work visas and economic migration, could help prevent both harm to migrants and chaotic scenes at the border.”