Advocacy in a Hurry

November 05, 2007 | Don Duncan

Sometimes, medical cannabis advocates have plenty of time to prepare in advance for an important vote at their City Council or County Board of Supervisors. We can write letters and make phone calls to elected officials, prepare a speech for public comments, and even rally the troops by inviting friends and loved ones to attend a meeting.

In other cases, however, you may have to jump and run when you learn about a challenge or opportunity in your community. That is exactly what happened last week in Orange County, when Supervisor Bates quietly introduced an ordinance that would have prohibited the County from issuing any licenses, permits, or allowances for an activity that violates local, state, or federal law. Nothing in her ordinance mentioned medical cannabis, but if adopted, it would have been a de facto ban on medical cannabis patients’ dispensaries in the unincorporated areas of Orange County. This is a tactic already used successfully in at least two Orange County cities.

County staff failed to realize the significance of Bates’ eleventh-hour proposal for medical cannabis patients until an alert aide in Supervisor’s Norby’s office realized what was about to happen – less than twenty-four hours before the vote! Supervisor Norby has always been a strong supporter of medical cannabis, and asked his staff to contact ASA right away. News reached our office at 3 PM on Monday, October 29. By that time, there were only two hours left in the workday before the Board convened to vote at 9 AM on Tuesday morning.

I left short telephone message for all five supervisors, then followed up with a longer email explaining that regulating collectives was a better option than banning them. I asked them to table the matter until they had a chance to read ASA’s report on the positive outcomes of regulations statewide and review LA County’s year-old ordinance. Then I called a handful of dedicated local advocates to invite them to speak at the Board meeting the next morning. Finally, I used ASA’s Southern California announcement list and new discussion forums to alert the grassroots of the challenge.

The other speakers and I were successful in persuading the Board to table the issue for more study, giving us the time we need to sell them on the benefits of regulation. I anticipate Orange County will now follow LA’s lead towards sensible regulations, instead of San Diego’s path of obstruction. That’s good news for patients in Orange County, and a strategic victory for the statewide campaign! As an added benefit, we were able to show some grassroots support for Supervisor Norby, who recently joined ASA in calling on Governor Schwarzenegger to stand up for patients.

The lesson from Orange County is to be prepared in advance to act quickly. Do you know where to find the telephone numbers and email addresses of your local representatives? Most cities and counties have web sites list this information. Do you know what to say if you have to speak at a meeting or to the media? (You can find talking points for issues like these on the ASA web site.) Do you know whom to call to help you out? You could organize a small group of advocates in your city to be a medical cannabis “strike force” that can act on short notice. Your local ASA Chapter is a great place to find your team.

Perhaps the most important thing to do is to make a personal commitment to act in your community when there is a challenge or an opportunity. The outcome in your city or county may depend on whether or not you and your neighbors are prepared to take responsibility for defending patients’ rights and safe access. So get prepared, stay alert, and take action… no matter how short the notice!


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