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This morning, the San Francisco Chronicle published an op-ed piece authored by California Senator Carole Migden and Board of Equalization Chairwoman Betty Yee decrying the Drug Enforcement Administration’s (DEA) crack down on medical cannabis and the impact it has on property owners, state coffers, and legal patients. The letter urges the federal government to “back off and respect state compassionate use laws that authorize a network of responsible, law abiding and tax-paying medical marijuana providers.” This is a far cry from the usually sensationalized rhetoric to which we are more accustomed, and is a breath of fresh air – and common sense – for patients and their loved ones statewide. Senator Migden introduced Senate Joint Resolution 20 into the State Legislature this month calling for an end to the federal interference that she says costs the state millions of dollars in lost revenue, forces medical cannabis providers underground, and harms legal patients. If adopted, the resolution will send the strong message to Washington, DC, that California lawmakers remain committed to fully implementing the 1996 voter initiative that legalized medical cannabis in the state and to ending federal persecution of patients and providers. Board of Equalization Chairwoman Betty Yee joined the Senator in criticizing the impact the DEA raids, saying that federal interference and intimidation cost the state millions of dollars in lost tax revenue and badly needed jobs. As Chairwoman of the elected body charged with assessing and collecting sales tax for the cash-strapped state, Yee has a special interest seeing to it that medical cannabis facilities remain open and pay their fair share. She worries, however, that providers will be forced to close their doors or move underground to avoid federal attacks – a very real concern. The significance of having a State Senator and the Chairwoman of the Board of Equalization speak out on behalf of medical cannabis should not be missed. Elected officials are just now feeling the hardship caused by DEA interference – which escalated to new heights last year with more than 50 raids, several indictments, and more than 300 letters threatening property owners who rent to medical cannabis facilities with prosecution and civil asset forfeiture. US House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers is finally getting some high-level support for his stance against the DEA tactics and promised investigation. The op-ed piece was timely, appearing in Migden and Yee’s hometown paper on the same day the ASA Chief of Staff Rebecca Saltzman, Legal Director Kris Heremes, and I met for the first time with representatives from Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s’ office to discuss federal interference and what the Governor can do to help. It is too soon to know if the Governor will take visible action in response to ASA’s grassroots campaign, but Senator Migden and Chairwoman Yee are certainly pointing him in the right direction. With today’s op-ed, these two leaders join police veteran and Los Angeles City Councilmember Dennis Zine, Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums, Santa Cruz Mayor Ryan Coonerty, and thousands of medical cannabis advocates in calling on the Governor to defend patients’ access and the will of voters. We may be approaching a sea change in the state and federal debate over medical cannabis, but what happens from here depends on whether or not grassroots advocates can persuade the Governor and Legislature to put their considerable clout behind Representative Conyers’ effort to stop DEA interference in California. Local and state leaders should stand up… and the Governor should lead the way.
In case you haven't heard, February 11-17 is Medical Marijuana Week - a week to learn, take action, and to educate others. This will be the sixth annual Medical Marijuana Week, held during the week of 2/15 to commemorate the passage of Proposition 215, California's medical cannabis law. While helping Sonnet, ASA's field coordinator, brainstorm national action alerts for each day of the week, I couldn't help but reflect on the history of this week. Medical Marijuana Week was conceived of in 2003 in ASA's old office in Berkeley. ASA staff and volunteers joined together to organize a week of actions and events celebrating Prop 215. At the time, I was a student at UC Berkeley, leading our chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy. It was a natural fit for our chapter to work with ASA to put on what would become the first annual Medical Marijuana University. Students and community member joined together to take courses on the law, political activism, the medical benefits of cannabis, and more. Though all of the instructors were excellent, two stand out in my mind - Joe Elford and Dr. Michael Alcalay. It was the first time I had heard Joe, ASA's chief counsel, speak, and he blew me away with his vast knowledge of medical cannabis law. Not even the most specific or random questions could throw him off. Dr. Mike was an expert on the medical properties of cannabis, as both a patient and a practicing physician, and he shared his knowledge with the group. But what impressed me most about both Joe and Mike was not what they knew, but how they presented. They treated every student with respect and explained complex subjects in a way that the participants could easily understand. Years later, the San Francisco chapter of ASA still hosts Medical Marijuana University. Joe is still one of the instructors. Dr. Mike passed away in 2006, but new instructors have been found to carry the torch. When I participated in that first Medical Marijuana Week, I never could have imagined how much our movement would have evolved and grown in the coming years. Even less could I have imagined that I would be lucky enough to still be involved with this movement and helping to coordinate this important week. So if you haven't participated in one of this week's actions yet, do it now. Who knows where it will lead you? And if you have participated in Medical marijuana Week before, what are some of your favorite memories?
It was interesting today to see three local newspapers (SF Chronicle, Associated Press, and Bay Area Reporter) cover the issue of Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) interference in California's medical marijuana law and its impact on San Francisco dispensaries. No less than seven of the twenty-eight operating facilities are shutting down or have already closed due to fearful landlords. The closures are in direct response to threats of asset forfeiture and criminal prosecution the DEA has made to more than 300 landlords across California. This cynical tactic, unveiled by the DEA in July 2007 in southern California, was opposed by the Los Angeles Times and has also met with significant political opposition. Local elected officials from Los Angeles City Council member and former police officer Dennis Zine to Orange County Supervisor Chris Norby, from Oakland Mayor Ronald Dellums to SF Supervisors and Berkeley City Council have condemned the DEA tactics against patients and providers. SF State Senator Carole Migden recently introduced legislation calling on the DEA to end its interference in California and threw her support, with others, behind House Judiciary Chair John Conyers, who expressed his deep concern and called for DEA oversight hearings. So where is Mayor Newsom? It seems that Mayor Newsom is in hiding. Alex, at Drug Law Blog, rightly notes Newsom's silence on the issue and links it to the political vulnerability found around the issues of both medical marijuana and gay marriage, with pragmatism as the possible reason for his silence. However, unlike gay marriage, medical marijuana enjoys the support of at least 80% of Americans, not to mention a full 91% in SF. Regardless of any potential political justification for his actions, it is unconscionable that Newsom is refusing to say anything. Let's hope that this round of media compels Newsom, the anti-drug war Mayor, to not only defend safe access to medical marijuana for thousands of patients in his city, but to also protect the same facilities that contribute millions of dollars in sales tax to the state budget. The time for Newsom to act is now. Local and state officials must seize the opportunity to defend safe access to medical marijuana and the will of San Franciscans, Californians, and states that have fought for such assumed protections.
Berkeley City Council Votes to Provide Sanctuary to Patients and Providers On Tuesday, the Berkeley City Council voted to adopt a Sanctuary Resolution, which will provide protection for patients and providers in the event of a DEA raid. The Berkeley City Council unanimously approved the Medical Cannabis Sanctuary Resolution co-sponsored by Councilmembers Moore and Worthington, thereby designating Berkeley a "sanctuary for medicinal cannabis patients, providers, and landlords." The resolution also called on the Governor to stand up against the DEA and call for an end to the interference in the implementation of state and local laws. This resolution came as a result of months of lobbing and outreach to the City Council by medical cannabis activists, patients, providers, and supporters. This is an important victory for patients, providers, and now third-party landlords in Berkeley and the East Bay. Congratulations to all of those who worked on this important resolution to ensure protection and safe access in the Bay Area. To learn more about the City Council's resolution read the San Jose Mercury and Berkeley Daily Planet articles. California Legislation to Help and Protect Patients As the anti-medical marijuana efforts escalate with the most recent examples being the surge of DEA raids and the California Supreme Court's decision to deny a patient's right to work, several California state representatives are stepping forward to protect patients and providers in California. The following is a brief legislative update on medical cannabis bills and a resolution that are being worked on in Sacramento currently. Last week, ASA reported that Assemblyman Mark Leno was introducing a bill that would protect a patient's right to work. This bill came on the heels of the California Supreme Court's ruling last week in the Ross vs. Raging Wire Communications case. California Assemblyman Mark Leno and ASA were waiting to respond in case of an adverse ruling like this. Assemblyman Leno announced only hours after the decision on Thursday that he will be introducing an ASA-sponsored piece of legislation that will amend California law to protect patients from this kind of discrimination. Senator Carol Migden has been a long time medical cannabis supporter. Last month, working with medical cannabis supporters, the senator introduced a California Senate Joint Resolution calling on Congress, the President, and federal law enforcement to stop raiding legal medical cannabis collectives and respect California’s law. Senator Migden’s resolution follows an unprecedented escalation in Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) attacks on medical cannabis providers and threats against property owners who rent to hundreds of collectives all over California. Senator Migden also recently introduced to the Senate floor a bill that will ensure back tax relief for medical cannabis dispensaries. The medical cannabis dispensaries would have back sales tax amnesty for all sales prior to October 1, 2005. Senator Migden's sales tax relief comes in response to the 2005 decision by the California Board of Equalization (BoE) to adopt a policy to collect sales tax from dispensaries and other medical marijuana providers. At the time, ASA testified at several public hearings, presenting a position paper against collection of sales tax, as it would invariably be a cost absorbed by the patients. To read about ASA's position on sales tax, click here. This bill is an important compromise for both dispensaries and the Board of Equalization, because it relieves the burden of paying large amounts of back taxes whilst encouraging compliance with and participation in the BoE's sales tax scheme. Read more about Senator Migden's tax relief bill in the Bay Area Reporter. ASA will keep you updated as news comes in on the status of these three important pieces of legislation. New Northern California U.S. Attorney Says Raids Should be a Low Priority This week, the San Francisco station KCBS released a story about the new U.S. Attorney for Northern California, Russoniello. The story highlighted a recent quote by Russoniello regarding DEA raids of state sanctioned and regulated medical cannabis dispensaries. The new U.S. Attorney said, "We could spend a lifetime closing dispensaries and doing other kinds of things and enforcement actions, bringing cases and prosecuting people, shoveling sand against the tide, it would be terribly unproductive and probably not an efficient use of precious federal resources." While the new U.S. Attorney's sentiments about funding raids are encouraging, the federal government and current Bush Administration has made it clear that they intend to shut out access for patients. To listen to the full story on KCBS and the new U.S. Attorney for Northern California's statements click here.
Tony Bowles was a plaintiff in ASA's successful lawsuit against the California Highway Patrol. He has taken action time and time again on behalf of patients in need of medical marijuana. He now lives in Silver Spring, Maryland, where he is working hard to help improve Maryland's medical marijuana law. Tony can be reached at [email protected] Last year’s attempt to introduce HB 1040, The Maryland Compassionate Use Act, which would have replaced the current law with comprehensive language concerning cultivation, identification cards, confidentiality issues, fees, transportation, and possession, was blocked by Chair of the Judiciary, Joseph Vallario. The very same lawmaker who gutted the 2003 legislation. Despite the fact that we had more than enough support in the Judiciary Committee to pass the new law with improvements, Chairman Vallario wouldn’t put the improved legislation up for vote. Why? Because he’s still worried that letting qualified individuals suffering from severe or chronic illness use medical marijuana will bring the wrath of the Federal Government down on Maryland. He even said way back in 2002 "I am not going to have a part in something that is in violation of federal law." This year we’re taking a new approach in Maryland to help tackle this problem. I am working with ASA and the Drug Policy Alliance to build up grassroots support to compliment our next legislative efforts. We’ll be focusing on recruitment, training, and developing strong, vocal and representative leadership that will be crucial for helping policymakers move far-reaching legislation aimed at establishing full legal protections for Maryland’s most vulnerable citizens and the people who care for them. Between now and early spring we will hold several regional teach-ins and know your rights trainings. These forums will provide an opportunity to introduce patients, their care providers and other grassroots supporters to each other, briefly recap previous efforts to improve the law, and explain the strategy and tactics while covering all of the basic legal information for interactions with law enforcement. We are hoping to bring interested medical marijuana supporters to Annapolis for a tour of the Capital where they can take advantage of the activity of the legislative session, meet their state lawmakers, deepen their understanding of the legislative process, and raise enthusiasm around working on a legislative campaign in the future. Maryland’s existing medical marijuana law, “The Darrell Putman Compassionate Use Act” does not go far enough; it slaps patients with a criminal conviction even if they successfully offer a medical necessity defense in court. This means that even a successful defense results in a permanent criminal record, which poses barriers to financial aid, housing, employment, and more. Maryland’s medical marijuana law is the only state medical marijuana law that does not shield patients from arrest! We need real compassion and honest protection now!
Nationwide campaign launched today to end federal enforcement against medical marijuana With only a week left until Super Tuesday, medical marijuana advocates launched a nationwide campaign today to urge presidential candidates to end federal raids in states with medical marijuana laws. The campaign urges candidates to issue an Executive Order upon taking office that would end federal interference in state-sanctioned medical marijuana laws. The proposed Executive Order would deny funds to the Department of Justice for federal enforcement efforts against patients and providers in states that have adopted medical marijuana laws. "To match the increased level of federal interference in states with medical marijuana laws, we're asking candidates to clearly state their opposition by pledging to issue an Executive Order, if elected." said Caren Woodson, Director of Government Affairs at Americans for Safe Access, the advocacy group that launched the campaign. "We're spending millions of dollars on law enforcement actions that harm our most vulnerable citizens," continued Woodson. "And, the President wields the power to stop it at any time." Ever since the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Gonzales v. Raich (2005), the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has stepped up its enforcement actions against medial marijuana patients and providers. While federal interference has occurred in multiple medical marijuana states, some have been hit harder than others. In California, the DEA has conducted more than 100 raids and threatened more than 300 landlords with criminal prosecution and asset forfeiture if they continue to lease to medical marijuana dispensing collectives (dispensaries). In addition, the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) is currently prosecuting more than 100 medical marijuana-related cases. The campaign focuses on candidates that have already made supportive statements on medical marijuana: Senators Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, former Senator John Edwards, and Representative Ron Paul. These candidates are being asked to officiate their support by pledging to issue an Executive Order, which states that:
"No funds made available to the Department of Justice shall be used to prevent States from implementing adopted laws that authorize the use, distribution, possession, or cultivation of medical marijuana. In particular, no funds shall be used to investigate, seize, arrest or prosecute in association with the distribution of medical marijuana, unless such distribution has been found by adjudication to violate state or local law."DEA actions have already garnered opposition from both local and federal lawmakers, including Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums and House Judiciary Chair John Conyers. In December, Mayor Dellums made a public statement condemning DEA tactics. The same month, Chairman Conyers publicly voiced his "deep concern" over DEA "efforts to undermine California state law," and he committed to sharply question these tactics in oversight hearings.
California Court Rules Against Patients' Rights- Assemblyman Mark Leno and ASA Respond with Legislation
This week, the California Supreme Court delivered a major blow to patients' civil rights. On Thursday, the California Supreme Court ruled that Proposition 215 does not protect legal patients from being fired if they test positive for medical cannabis use. In a 5-2 decision, the Supreme Court claimed that Ross could not rely on the Fair Housing and Employment Act or the state's medical marijuana law to prevent discrimination at the workplace. Gary Ross, a 45-year old disabled veteran and a medical marijuana patient, was fired in 2001 by his then-employer Raging Wire Telecommunications after he disclosed that he was a medical cannabis patient and would test positive to the company's mandatory drug test. Following this event, Ross filed a lawsuit arguing that Raging Wire illegally discriminated against him because of his condition. However, a Sacramento Superior Court, and then the Third Appellate District Court both rejected his argument. In October 2005, ASA appealed to the California Supreme Court on behalf of Ross. The California Supreme Court's decision on Thursday was a major blow to medical marijuana patients' rights, with the potential to limit a patients' right to work. ASA's Chief Counsel, Joe Elford, played a significant role in Mr. Ross' case, helping write the appeal and serving as co-counsel to Mr. Ross starting in 2005. For more information on the Ross case read Mr. Elford's blog on the case and the California Supreme Court Decision at: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/RossDecisionBlog
The good news is that California Assemblyman Mark Leno and ASA were waiting to respond in case of an adverse ruling like this. Assemblyman Leno announced only hours after the decision on Thursday that he will be introducing an ASA-sponsored piece of legislation that will amend California law to protect patients from this kind of discrimination. In his press release, Assemblyman Leno wrote, "Today's California Supreme Court ruling strikes a serious blow to patients' rights. In the coming weeks I will introduce legislation that secures a medical cannabis patient's right to use their doctor recommended medication outside the workplace. Through the passage of Proposition 215 in 1996 and SB 420 in 2004, the people of California did not intend that patients be unemployed in order to use medical marijuana." Assemblyman Leno's legislation will accomplish what the California Supreme Court's decision has diminished. This bill will properly protect legal medical cannabis patients and ensure their right to work.
Read Assemblyman Leno's press release about this important piece of legislation: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/downloads/leno_ross_release.pdf For background on the Ross vs. Raging Wire case visit: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/Ross Read the California Supreme Court's decision at: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/downloads/Ross_Ruling.pdf San Francisco Democratic Committee Calls on Mayor Newsom to Take a Stand From San Francisco ASA Core Leader, Alex Franco In a huge step forward for the Stand Up Newsom Campaign and patients in San Francisco, the San Francisco Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee passed a resolution with the following amendment: "...that Mayor Gavin Newsom, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and San Francisco’s State legislators join with Oakland Mayor and former Congressman Ron Dellums in denouncing the DEA tactics surrounding the property rights of landlords who rent to medical cannabis dispensaries." At Wednesday night's San Francisco Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee meeting, party Vice Chair and San Francisco Marijuana Offenses Oversight Committee co-chair, Michael Goldstein, seeing the ineffectiveness of the resolution as presented proffered an amendment requesting Mayor Gavin Newsom to join Oakland Mayor Ron Dellums in condemning the DEA's recent tactics of intimidating property owners who rent to medical cannabis dispensaries. Upon hearing the loud applause from the public in attendance, committee member Robert Haaland was moved to ask to join Vice Chair Michael Goldstein's amendment by adding language that included the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and San Francisco's elected state officials. This added strength to a position of support already voiced to advocates by many of the Board members, and Senator Carole Migden who is currently moving legislation supporting medical cannabis dispensary owners and their landlords through the state legislature. San Francisco Assembly member Mark Leno has also voiced support of safe access of patients to their medication. Activists from Axis of Love SF, the Harvey Milk Club and Americans for Safe Access San Francisco spoke on behalf of the resolution. Some activists who were called minutes before the meeting rushed to the site and were able to demonstrate their support through their presence. The committee showed it understood the issue by first supporting the amendment, then by passing the entire resolution that included the amended language. Both votes were nearly unanimous with the exception of one abstention by Senator Diane Feinstein. Feinstein's proxy, George Broder, explained his vote by noting he was unable to vote without passing it by the Senator. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee (DCCC) is the official campaign arm of the Democrats in the House of Representatives. The DCCC is the only political committee in the country whose principal mission is to support Democratic House candidates every step of the way through this critical election year. Congratulations to ASA and the activists involved in getting this resolution passed. For more information about the DCCC's decision and to find out how you can get involved, contact Alex at: [email protected]
It was a very cold day today in the Bay Area. It was cold in San Francisco and, unusually, colder still in Oakland. Far colder was the California Supreme Court's decision in Ross v. Ragingwire, which limits the Compassionate Use Act to far less than a shell of its promise of "ensur[ing] that seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes where that medical use is deemed appropriate and has been recommended by a physician. . . ." And this is not even to mention the Fair Employment and Housing Act, which, though hardly mentioned by the Supreme Court, was the basis for our position. While the politics involved here, as well as the uninformed opinion of those that think this was case was governed by federal law, make this decision unsurprising to many, I can state with confidence, even in defeat, that our legal position was solid and we should have won. Rather than take my word for it, I will simply direct everyone to the dissenting Put simply, in the words of Justice Kennard, "The majority’s holding disrespects the will of California’s voters who, when they enacted the Compassionate Use Act, surely never intended that persons who availed themselves of its provisions would thereby disqualify themselves from employment." There is no federal law that required the employer to drug test under the facts of this case, much less to fire Ross for testing positive for marijuana. The only relevance of federal law to the facts of this case is to sell Ragingwire's legally disingenuous position to the press and public. Unless there is a conflict between state and federal law, and here there is none, federal law cannot defeat state law requirements, which require employers to provide a reasonable accommodation for persons with disabilities. Absent such conflict the Court was obliged to apply state law (the Fair Employment and Housing Act and the Compassionate Use Act), which requires Ragingwire to provide a reasonable accommodation (not fire him for using the substance, legal under California law, to treat his disability). Unfortunately, as an an attorney who must continue to litigate cases before this Court, there are limitations on what I can say. Suffice it to say, we would not lose this case before all judges in California (or elsewhere), but only before these five of seven judges who were appointed to sit on this Court. Judges make all the difference, and in this case, they made for a cold, cold day.
Earlier this month, there were two exciting developments for medical cannabis internationally. In Israel, a Tel Aviv medical clinic began dispensing medical cannabis to patients in need, while in Canada, a federal court ruling ended the monopoly a federal contractor has on supplying cannabis to patients, opening up possibilities for dispensaries and collective production of medicine. Our international counterparts may be surging ahead in their paths to provide safe access for patients who benefit from medical cannabis, but here in the US, it's sometimes hard to move to the conversation about access when our government barely budges on research issues. The DEA continues to uphold a monopoly on the production of cannabis for research, even though it's own administrative law judge recommended ending this monopoly by granting a license to Professor Lyle Craker to grow research material. While whole plant medical cannabis is being stonewalled though, GW Pharmaceuticals is moving rapidly through Phase III trials in the US for Sativex, a cannabis-based tincture. GW's chairman, Dr. Geoffrey Guy, had this to say about the progress of Sativex:
"2008 promises to be an equally eventful year for GW, with the results of a number of key Sativex Phase III trials in Europe and the US due to be reported. The momentum behind Sativex and the wider field of cannabinoid medicines, as highlighted today by the promising results of our THCV metabolic research programme, continues to grow..."It's good to know that GW recognizes the potential for a wider field of cannabis medicine, but until the monopoly on production of cannabis for research is ended, it will be difficult for researchers to push this field forward in the United States. Until then, at least patients in Israel are happy: "One cancer patient said the ministry's decision to offer the drug through the clinic was "a blessing," saying it prevents suffering patients from being driven to buy the drug illegally."
Medical Marijuana and the 2008 Presidential Candidates Next Tuesday, January 22, marks the deadline for Californians to register to vote in the 2008 Presidential Primaries, which will be held on February 5, 2008. The California Primaries will give voters the chance to choose which candidate they want to have represent their party in the 2008 general elections. Over the past several months, the medical marijuana community has interacted with many of the candidates in both the Republican and Democratic parties. Activists, patients,and supporters throughout the country have targeted the candidates, asking them to take a stand for patients and support safe access and an end to DEA raids. While ASA has not endorsed a candidate, ASA activists, chapters, and affiliates participated in bird-dogging events throughout the country, asking the candidates the tough questions about medical marijuana, DEA raids, and research. Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana out in New Hampshire spent the majority of 2007 focusing on the candidates' positions on medical marijuana and educating voters, with the culminating event being the New Hampshire primaries two weeks ago. Several organizations including the Granite Staters for Medical Marijuana and Pro/Con.org released report cards on the primary candidates and medical marijuana. The website 10 Questions.com went so far as to include a question about medical marijuana and the DEA raids in their presidential forum. ASA's Chief of Staff, Rebecca Saltzman wrote up a review on the candidates' answers to the 10 Questions forum. Rebecca Saltzman's blog features video answers from several candidates and highlights the strongest positions. Check out Rebecca's blog at: www.AmericansforSafeAccess.org/CandidateBlog With the deadline to register to vote less than a week away, we encourage you to consider registering to vote in time for the primary elections. All registration applications must be postmarked by Jan. 22nd to qualify in time for the primaries. As many of the reports mentioned above point out, the candidates' policies on medical marijuana vary greatly and it is up to us, the medical marijuana community, to vote for who we consider is the strongest candidate. To register to vote visit: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_vr.htm To find out where your polling place is visit: http://www.sos.ca.gov/elections/elections_ppl.htm For general information about the primary elections visit: http://www.voterguide.sos.ca.gov