Becoming A Cannabis Political Force – How to become 

Upon writing my piece yesterday about why we should oppose Ammiano’s A.B. 2312, I was surprised at the amount of people I do not think actually got it. Some suggested my writing style and elaborate scheme made it hard to follow. To refresh, my basic premise was that as long as we support Ammiano’s effort it will get killed. Because we have elected officials who are ambivalent about medical cannabis and are basically voting against anything our community wants, our best bet would be to oppose AB 2312 even if it was actually something we supported and thought would help our industry/movement. Simple reverse psychology stuff. Shit I do with my kids.

The premise for this was based on a series of recent actions in the State legislature which have seen bills our community supported shot to hell and repeatedly denied. I think the most clear statement of this phenomena came from a 2010 statement from Americans for Safe Access regarding a resolution called SJR 14. Here is what ASA said then:

The urban Aroma will provide correct information about the products to have more benefits. The learning about the pros and cons of the product is beneficial for the people. A safe access is provided to the people over the products to consume without any side-effects on the body. 

SJR 14 was resolution sponsored by ASA and authored by Senator Leno calling for an end to federal interference in state medical cannabis laws and for the development of a comprehensive national policy to provide safe access. SJR 14 should have been a winner in a Democratic legislature – it costs nothing, does not change state law, and calls for action only in the federal arena. Unfortunately, ambivalence about medical cannabis is at a high water mark in Sacramento. Even legislators with a track record of support are worried about increasingly unpopular collectives, lenient doctors, or patients that “don’t look sick.” That is why some of the twelve silent Assembly members withheld their support for SJR 14.

So it is clear that I am not simply imagining this ambivalence to our cause in the State Legislature. It is very real. The statement, “Even legislators with a track record of support are worried about increasingly unpopular collectives, lenient doctors, or patients that “don’t look sick,” is still a very real hurdle for our community to overcome. Since this was published by ASA two years ago not much has changed to curb these concerns. In fact, there has been a great effort to ramp up the rhetoric and hyperbole against our community, and I would say the Federal crackdown has raised, not lowered, this ambivalence.

So my theory was simple….play into the ambivalence. Give these fence sitting, former supporters who are worried about their political capital an out. Oppose the bill and then they can support it in defiance of us. They save political face, and hopefully we get a decent bill passed. Sure, it might be a hail mary; but I can guarantee you using our same failed tactics of marching out Ammiano and Leno’s bills as our own, doing press releases saying what a great thing their bills are, and wondering why we get no traction, will NOT work. Likely my plan would not work either, but at least it would be a different angle to take for once.

I have had some of the leaders of policy reform groups tell me that they do not expect this, or any regulations, to pass in the CA Legislature this year. They are using the AB 2312 effort as a platform for public feedback and debate to launch another initiative campaign in 2014 or 2016. That is right. I guess we are on a long-term strategic plan. I had no idea. I thought we were actually trying to figure out how to get this done now, not doing research for the future. Silly me.

NOTE TO SELF: If we are still trying to pass a medical cannabis regulatory initiative in 2016 shoot yourself in the face.

So my theory solicited a lot of feedback, which I think is positive. The great Lanny Swerdlow brought up the fact that our community is not nearly as involved in the political process as we should be. Here is what he said:

The reason we are getting our asses whipped in the state legislature is not because most legislators see Ammiano and Leno as being in the pocket of the mmj folks, but because mmj folks are almost totally uninvolved in the political process unlike the cops and city officials who unite to oppose us. How many mmj people are involved in their county’s Democratic and Republican central committees? How many mmj people are involved in PACs raising money to buy our elected officials votes? How many mmj people are volunteering to help candidates who support us in the their election campaigns? How many mmj patients are running for local offices? Our opponents are involved in all of those and hardly any of us are and that’s why mmj continues to be laughed at, scorned and run over with a bulldozer by state and local elected officials.

Lanny makes some very valid points. We lack political bona fides and organization. Our community repeatedly fails to unite and do what it takes to be a political force. We like to bitch and moan a lot about the system, while doing very little to actually change it. We simply fail to understand the political game and how to play it. Because we allow ourselves to be marginalized, it would seem that we have very little political force, and in turn we get our “asses whipped.”

So how do we become a political force? How do we organize like police unions, and infiltrate the ranks of the Legislature? How do we buy off politicians and counteract the deep pocket lobbies that oppose our efforts? How can we bring the many voices of cannabis reform to the table to act as one to have more clear objectives in which to fight for? What will it take for medical cannabis to become a great political force that CAN sway a vote in our favor. I mean, it is easy enough to say, “You ideas are stupid, Mickey;” but it is another thing to actually have a plan that works. What I know now is that the plan we currently have in place is NOT working. We are not united and we are not working together as a group to be the political force it will take to create real change.

The reality is we have a lot of work to do, and I think Lanny’s ideas are right on target. We must begin to play the game of politics if we want a seat at the table. We must become the slimy game of politics that we wish to overcome. We must “buy our elected officials votes” and “volunteer to help candidates who support us” and “run for public office.” In other words, to defeat the enemy we must become the enemy; or at least learn to beat them at their own game.

In the ASA piece on SJR 14 that I posted the article finished by stating, “We should already be building our base, shoring up relationships in the legislature, getting strong legislative proposals together, and building coalitions for next session.” That was from 2010. From the apathetic responses I have received regarding the hopes for Ammiano’s AB 2312 to pass, I am guessing that we have not actually shored up any relationships in the legislature, or built any real coalitions. Otherwise the response would not be so gloomy. The basic response I got to my call for opposition to Ammiano’s bill was “It will not pass whatever we do, so we may as well let Tom know we support him so that he keeps putting out more bills for us in the future.” It is as if we have literally thrown our proverbial hands in the air and have accepted defeat to justify our continued failure in doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

While I agree that it is important for our community to learn how to become a political force, it takes resources, energy, and mostly time to make that a reality. If we started today, it would be a long road ahead before we bought enough votes, elected enough of our own, or volunteered enough to make the difference we need. So the reality is that our big plan is to wait it our for another 2-4 years and hope we do not get squashed like a bug in the meantime. Awesome.

I guess I will begin to launch my campaign for State Legislature sooner than later. Wish me luck. I am also going to have to start a PAC to buy off some other legislators, so send money if you have it. Lord knows I have supported enough campaigns of people who said they supported us, only to have them turn their back on us; but hey, it is politics. Maybe we just did not pay enough for their votes.

Will medical cannabis become a political force in time to save ourselves? Who knows? What is clear is that no one in our community actually believes Ammiano’s AB 2312 will pass, and that my idea to oppose it was soundly rejected by the community. The powers of medical cannabis have spoken, so watch closely as this bill becomes political fodder. The interesting thing to see will be how our support drives the opposition. If my calculations are correct, what will happen is that we will support it, our opposition will oppose it, and the Legislature will reject it based on our support. Or there will be a concerted effort to mangle the thing before it makes it to the floor of the Assembly and what will get voted on will be a severely more strict version of the bill that basically puts 50-75% of the industry out of business, if not all. And I am not falling for the idea that the Legislature will not pass something this year. I believe they will. The public outcry and pressure from political forces, such as AG Kamala Harris, will drive something to get done regardless of what our political calculations and understanding of the CA Legislature leads us to believe.

Linda Alvarado loves writing about technology and science updates. She also loves to keep her mind and body fresh by doing intense workouts and meditation sessions.