Technology aimed at improving safety for cops and private gun owners gets a push from the White House.
Josh HarkinsonApr. 29, 2016 2:38 PM
On Friday, President Barack Obama released a plan for the federal government to promote the development of smart-gun technology. The guns, also known as "personalized firearms," employ biometric or other sensor technologies to prevent them from being fired by anyone other than their owners.
"Today, many gun injuries and deaths are the result of legal guns that were stolen, misused, or discharged accidentally," Obama said in a Facebook post. "As long as we've got the technology to prevent a criminal from stealing and using your smartphone, then we should be able to prevent the wrong person from pulling a trigger on a gun."
Obama began advocating smart guns in January, as part of his latest push to confront America's costly gun violence crisis. He ordered the departments of Justice, Defense, and Homeland Security to develop a strategy to promote the technologies and expedite government procurement of the weapons. The report released Friday details the following initiatives:
By October, the departments of Justice and Homeland Security will establish requirements that smart-gun manufacturers need to meet in order for their guns to be purchased by law enforcement agencies. They will also identify agencies willing to participate in a smart-gun pilot program.
The Department of Defense will help manufacturers test smart-gun technologies at the US Army Aberdeen Test Center in Maryland. Manufacturers will be eligible to win cash prizes for successful designs.
The Department of Justice has authorized agencies to apply certain federal grants to the purchase of smart guns.
Gun companies first pursued smart guns in the 1990s, in part at the urging of the Clinton administration. Colt, Smith & Wesson, and O.F. Mossberg & Sons developed prototypes. The products were shelved, however, when market research showed consumers didn't trust the weapons—and after the National Rifle Association and other gun rights activists denounced the companies for a product they claimed was a Trojan horse for gun control.
The recent rise in mass shootings has helped renew interest in smart guns, including among investors in Silicon Valley. The Smart Tech Challenges Foundation, created by angel investor Ron Conway after the 2012 Newtown massacre, has handed out about $1 million in funding to gun safety startups. One grant recipient was Jonathan Mossberg, a former Mossberg & Sons VP and the developer of the iGun, a shotgun that will only fire if the shooter is wearing a special ring. Mossberg, who is working on miniaturizing his technology for handguns, told me by phone on Friday that Obama's efforts could "raise a whole lot of interest and give people a sense of this market."
By one estimate, smart guns may be a $1 billion slice of the industry. The White House initiative could help create more opportunity in the major market for supplying law enforcement agencies. Mossberg and a handful of other smart-gun developers have long been trying to get police departments interested in their weapons; an estimated 5 to 10 percent of police deaths occur when officers' own firearms are used against them. Some law enforcement leaders have shown support for adopting the technology, including San Francisco Police Chief Greg Suhr.
But strong opposition continues: The NRA remains sharply critical of Obama's policy, which suggests the gun industry is likely to follow suit and ignore efforts on the technology. The Fraternal Order of Police, a national interest group representing the rank and file, is also signaling skepticism. "Police officers in general, federal officers in particular, shouldn't be asked to be guinea pigs in evaluating a firearm nobody's even seen yet," FOP Director James Pasco told Politico. "We have some very, very serious questions." (Politico failed to note that a charity run by the FOP has received at least $125,000 since 2010 from another conservative gun lobbying group, the National Shooting Sports Foundation.)
Obama on Friday also announced several other gun safety initiatives, including a proposed rule requiring the Social Security Administration to better report mental-illness information to the federal background check system, and a gun violence prevention conference to be hosted by the White House in May.
With legalization on the horizon, Emerald Triangle growers are squaring off against "Big Marijuana."
Josh HarkinsonApr. 18, 2016 6:00 AM
A mock-up of an ad that will appear this week on Bay Area newspapers, billboards, and buses
On Monday, just in time for 4/20, residents of San Francisco, Oakland, and Berkeley will witness the nation's first multichannel marketing campaign for an actual brand of pot—a campaign that should be instantly recognizable to any bearded, Blue Bottle-drinking hipster: "Craft farmers, small-batch, sustainable," say ads that will appear in newspapers and social media and on billboards and buses. "That's cannabis the California way."
The ads are paid for by Flow Kana, a collaborative of small, organic marijuana farmers from Northern California's rugged and remote Emerald Triangle region. The campaign features scenic shots of the region's mist-shrouded hills, home to many of the state's original hippie growers and their descendants. It's one of several marketing efforts recently launched to promote small farmers in the face of the increasing corporatization and vertical integration of California pot.
California will vote on a legalization initiative in November, but unlike other states that permit the sale of recreational marijuana, it already has a world-famous cannabis industry. The pot trade by far dwarfs all other sectors of the economy in the Emerald Triangle's Humboldt, Mendocino, and Trinity counties. In fact, voters there have historically opposed legalization for fear that it would expose them to competition from venture-backed corporate farms—fears that have resurfaced with this year's legalization initiative.
Except this time many Emerald Triangle farmers see an opening. Months of vigorous lobbying by their trade organization, the California Growers Association, has tailored this year's leading legalization initiative to their interests. The Adult Use of Marijuana Act will initially restrict the size of legal pot farms to one acre and prevent any single entity from simultaneously cultivating, manufacturing, and retailing marijuana. It's the opposite of the approach taken in other legal-pot states, which typically control the market by limiting licenses to large, vertically integrated growers. "It was critical to us that we be horizontally integrated and have the opportunity for lots and lots of small licenses," says California Growers director Hezekiah Allen. "And that's what we got."
Up to a point. After the first five years, the law's size limitations would expire, potentially opening the door to massive dispensary chains supplied by their own 100-acre Central Valley farms—what Allen describes as his "doomsday scenario." If that were to happen, Allen believes that most of the Emerald Triangle's 25,000 or so growers would simply return to selling cannabis on the black market, shipping it to buyers in states where it's still illegal and fetches higher prices. With the spread of legalization to other states, Emerald Triangle growers might eventually go the way of Appalachian moonshiners, rendered irrelevant by a regulated marketplace.
Hence Flow Kana's advertising campaign, which is aimed at convincing consumers to pay a premium for sustainably grown artisanal marijuana. "I think that evolution will take time, just like it did with cacao and coffee products," says Flow Kana founder Michael Steinmetz Mishkin. Yet the evolution isn't happening as fast as he'd like: "If we don't get this company to be massively big over the next two years," he adds, "then we won't be able to compete with the bigger forces that come in. So we are going all out."
A Flow Kana bus advertisement
Flow Kana is spending about $200,000 on the marketing effort, which also includes a series of videos and a sponsorship deal with San Francisco's Earth Day Film Festival. Other similar efforts are also underway. Cooperatives such as Humboldt Sun Growers Guild and Emerald Family Farms sell responsibly grown, "mom and pop" marijuana under their own brands in medical-pot dispensaries, though their advertising efforts to date have mostly been limited to stoner magazines.
In response to increasing concerns about marijuana's environmental costs, many California pot dispensaries offer their own lines of (informally) organic, sun-grown pot. Yet few will say exactly where it came from. That used to suit farmers, who feared any exposure could lead to their arrest, but the practice is now being seen as anti-competitive. Growers complain that an increasing amount of dispensary marijuana is grown in-house as a cost-cutting measure. "They want to control the market," says Chrystal Ortiz, the operations manager of Humboldt Sun Growers. "From a financial standpoint, it's not in their best interest to allow a brand because then we can set a price."
By bringing yeoman growers out of the shadows, the new pot brands aim to empower them. "Right now in the black market, if you grow organic and under the sun with love and care, or you grow it in the basement, you get treated in the same way," Mishkin says. "The idea with this campaign is to really showcase who we are, and in so doing create a value for customers that will trickle down for the benefit of the planet."
The concept is in many ways a return to the Emerald Triangle's hippie roots, albeit with a modern marketing sensibility. "It's not like we have to go out and recreate these systems," Mishkin says. "We just have to leverage the people who have been doing it."
The passage of a $15-an-hour minimum wage in New York and California may have come as a shock to the Council of State Chambers, the umbrella group for America's notoriously anti-worker state chambers of commerce. But in a recent video briefing by LuntzGlobal, a Republican polling firm, the group got an even bigger shock: 80 percent of C-suite business executives surveyed by Luntz supported raising the minimum wage.
"A few helpful hints" for those who "want to give folks more benefits or more leave or more income."
That's not all: 73 percent of those execs supported more paid sick leave for workers—and 82 percent supported mandatory, paid paternity leave. Among state chamber members, support for mandatory paid paternity leave was even higher, at 89 percent.
"What do these results have in common?" he asked. "Well, quite frankly, they are all empathetic. If you ask about them in isolation, of course we want to take care of people who are caring for a loved one. Of course we want to give folks more benefits or more leave or more income."
But the people who actually run state chambers of commerce don't feel this way—at least not always. So Merritt went on to give "a few helpful hints on how to actually, um, combat these [feelings of empathy] in your state." Check it out:
David Erlich never thought of himself as a kingmaker. He chairs the Alameda County Republican Party, a lonely redoubt of conservatism situated on the east side of San Francisco Bay amid ultra-lefty Berkeley and Oakland. Served by Barbara Lee, arguably the nation's most liberal member of Congress, the district's 400,000 registered voters include fewer than 30,000 Republicans. "We have not been relevant," Erlich concedes, putting it lightly.
Erlich gleefully rips a Rubio sign from the wall and throws it in the trash. "I guess this one we can take down. Thank God."
But that's about to change. With Republicans fiercely divided between Donald Trump and Ted Cruz so late into primary season, the race for the GOP's presidential nomination will—for the first time in at least a half century—likely hinge on the June 7 vote in deep-blue California. "It's exciting," says Erlich, an electrician and enthusiastic Trump supporter. "We can probably make it cool to be Republican again."
California's GOP primary, like its Republicans, is deeply idiosyncratic: Open only to registered party members, the balloting does not take into account the GOP's uneven support across the state. Each district confers exactly three delegates in a winner-take-all election, regardless of how many Republicans actually live there. So the district that represents 166,000 Republicans in conservative Orange County, for example, is worth as many delegates as the one representing San Francisco or Marin or Berkeley—which have fewer than 150,000 Republicans combined. This means the Republicans whose votes matter most are the ones living in the most liberal districts—like Erlich's.
David Erlich is GOP chair in an ultra-liberal California county. Josh Harkinson