Monday, October 20, 2008

PAC has ties to pro-pot backers

Coalition donates money to several local politicians

By Tania Chatila, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/19/2008 11:29:57 PM PDT

A political action committee that has donated $17,425 to area politicians has close ties to the medical marijuana lobby, according to campaign finance documents and other official records.

Founded in 2006, the Coalition for a Safe and Clean Environment has donated $7,200 to the campaigns of Assemblyman Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, campaign finance statements show.

It also donated $10,225 to campaigns for city council members and hopefuls in Azusa, Covina, La Puente, Baldwin Park and El Monte, records show.

The political action committee was started by Philip Lujan - La Puente Mayor Louie Lujan's brother - and Liz McDuffie, who are prominent activists in the effort to reform marijuana laws.

Philip Lujan, 26, said he also founded the Southern California branch of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) about four years ago. He said he currently serves on its board.

And the business license for McDuffie's retail store at 46 N. Mentor Ave. in Pasadena is for the physicians referral service, according to Pasadena officials. is the Web Site for Medical Cannabis Caregivers, a directory with doctors who provide "consultation and recommendation regarding medical cannabis," according to the site.

Pasadena prohibits the establishment of medical marijuana dispensaries.

McDuffie's shop doubles as Ritz Resale, a clothing store. She resigned from the environmental PAC in June due to time constraints. McDuffie did not return several calls seeking comment over the past week.

Lujan said the environmental and his marijuana-related activism are not connected.

The PAC's mission statement is to "support candidates that believe in protecting the natural environment."

"You know what, activism is very dear to my heart and the coalition doesn't have anything to do with any other entity," Philip Lujan said.

He and McDuffie started the Coalition for a Safe and Clean Environment after college professors encouraged Philip Lujan to act on his passion for the environment, he said.

The PAC has no official Web site and its address in Los Angeles is Philip Lujan's office. He also does some work for NORML at the same address, he said.

A previous West Hollywood address listed on the PAC's state records from 2006 is also the address listed for the Southern California chapter of NORML, according to the NORML Web site.

Up until last week, the Web site dedicated to the Coalition for a Safe and Clean Environment listed as "friends" several marijuana-related organizations, such as the "Black Dog 420 Bakery," "SoCal NORML," "420 Girls" and "Puff Mama's Bakery."

The number 420 is commonly used when referring to marijuana. The site has since been taken down.

Lujan said the page was an experiment and was not the environmental PAC's site. He had not logged on since January.

Hernandez, who received the most donations from the PAC, said the entity's mission statement "says absolutely nothing about medical marijuana."

"It's completely separate issues," Hernandez said of the marijuana activism and the environment.

Generally speaking, Hernandez said "if it's truly for medical purposes" and if medical marijuana could be dispensed safely, he would have no concerns about the issue.

"But some of these (dispensaries) aren't set up that way," he said.

In August Hernandez - an optometrist by trade - voted for AB 2279, a bill that would have prohibited employers from discriminating against employees based on their qualifications as a medical marijuana patient, state records show.

The bill was vetoed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last month.

"I make my decisions based on policy," Hernandez said, "not on the money given to me by an entity or individual."

Many politicians who took money from the Coalition for a Safe and Clean Environment voted against allowing the sale of marijuana in their cities.

That PAC paid for $5,100.59 in dual mailers for Azusa Councilman Angel Carrillo and former Azusa Councilwoman Diana Chagnon, $700 to Baldwin Park Councilwoman Monica Garcia and a combined $4,025 in mailers and money to La Puente council members Dan Holloway, Nadia Mendoza and Louie Lujan, campaign finance records show.

At an August 2007 City Council meeting, Holloway voiced his support for banning dispensaries in La Puente.

"I'm not opposed to medical marijuana," Holloway said last week. "I'm just opposed to having dispensaries in our city at this time."

Holloway said he supported the PAC's stated goals of creating a safe and clean environment.

"As long as I don't see any sort of cross use of funds (I'm fine)," he said.

In Baldwin Park, Garcia also supported extending a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in the city. She did not return calls seeking comment on Friday.

In Azusa, a 2007 ordinance supported by Chagnon and Carrillo prohibits the use of "businesses, operations or uses contravening state or federal law."

In 1996 California voters approved Proposition 215, which allows marijuana to be used for medicinal purposes. But it is still banned by federal law.

Carrillo did not return calls for comment.

The environmental PAC's close ties to the marijuana reform lobby did not sit well with Industry Mayor Dave Perez, who gave the committee $1,000 in 2007.

Dispensaries are illegal in Industry.

"It's the perception," Perez said. "If I would have known the correlation, I wouldn't have gotten involved. In other words, I should have done my research."

Perez said his initial decision to donate to the Coalition for a Safe and Clean Environment was based on recommendations from business owners.

"I thought it was for a better environment and enhancing the city of La Puente ... (I didn't know) the leaders of this organization had other menus," Perez said. "They definitely won't get any more of my money."

Louie Lujan voted for a moratorium on medical marijuana dispensaries in La Puente in 2007, but failed to support a permanent ban on the shops in August, official city minutes show.

Philip Lujan said the Coalition for a Safe and Clean Environment held a single fund-raiser at Vive Lounge in Pasadena that was not "very successful."

(626) 962-8811, Ext. 2109

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