Will Kamala Harris Burn the Medical Marijuana Advocates Who Campaigned for Her?

July 31, 2011

Chris Roberts, SF Weekly

While marijuana legalization dominated the news last fall, unity was in short supply during the election season among medical cannabis patients and advocates. It may be hard for nonsmokers to grasp, but Proposition 19 splintered the medical cannabis community, with many growers and dispensaries opposing the semilegalization measure. However, one electoral contest had the full support of the medical marijuana community: the attorney general's race.

In her bid to defeat Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley for the state's top cop job, then-San Francisco District Attorney Harris had the full support of pro-pot groups like Americans for Safe Access, which mounted a full-on "Anybody But Cooley" campaign. And who knows? With fewer than 80,000 votes separating Harris from Cooley, the state's estimated 750,000 medical cannabis patients could very well have provided the margin of victory.

If Harris is thankful for this, she has a funny way of showing it.  Her draft guidelines on medical marijuana are "horrible" for the state's patients, advocates say. And what's more, they were likely written by law enforcement, which was no friend at all to Harris during the election season.

The new Attorney General guidelines are still in draft form, and it's unknown when Harris' office expects them to be finalized. However, a draft copy dated April 2011, has been floating around the medical cannabis community since early July. A copy was first made public by Toke of the Town, Village Voice Media's national cannabis blog, last week.

A spokesman for Americans for Safe Access, which crowed when Harris won, said the organization has no comment.

Shum Preston, a spokesman for Harris, would say only that the Attorney General's office "is reviewing case law on the topic [of medical cannabis] and is launching a discussion with stakeholders."

The city's Medical Cannabis Task Force was scheduled to discuss the proposed guidelines at its meeting Friday, but didn't get around to it.

From patients' perspectives, the key problems with the draft are threefold: First, a provision that a patient can only be a member of one collective at a time -- meaning you can buy pot from only one dispensary -- is untenable and impracticable. Second, the guidelines give too much leeway to law enforcement, which would be granted the power to determine on the spot whether an individual is indeed a medical cannabis patient. Lastly, the guidelines would restrict growers to distributing medicine to one collective only.

"It ends the voluntary nature of the state ID card program," says Mike Aldrich, a local luminary in the medical cannabis movement who operated CHAMP, a dispensary at the center of a landmark tax law case. "That's a violation of Proposition 215 ... no police officer should have the right to determine if someone has a medical condition or not. They're not doctors."

Sources say that Harris is waiting several cases to pass through the courts before finalizing the guidelines -- since it's meant to be an advisory document, not the rule of law.

It's very likely Harris is under pressure from law enforcement groups -- whose support she needs, as a law enforcement officer herself -- to edit Brown's version of the guidelines. That she has welcomed medical marijuana advocates to the discussion table at all is a good sign for pot advocates. That the current version seems skewed toward a police perspective is not.

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