Medical Marijuana Activists Occupy the Capitol

May 21, 2012

Chris Roberts, SF Weekly

As the pleasant Sacramento spring turns into the furnace of the Central Valley summer, so too is the heat turned up in the corridors of the state Capitol: It's budget season, and it's also last call for certain bills stalled in the Legislature to get a hearing before a June 1 deadline sends them into limbo.
This means it's also prime time for rallies on the Capitol steps. And Monday was a busy day at the podium for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. The San Francisco Democrat was out front of the state dome twice, rallying for bills he's authored reforming work rules for domestic workers and -- what else? -- revamping the state's medical marijuana system.

Ammiano wasn't alone -- and neither were his colleagues in the Legislature. Some 300 cannabis advocates from across California shared the steps with Ammiano -- and then shared the air with 120 of his fellow lawmakers, on whose Capitol office doors they spent the afternoon knocking to drum up support for AB 2312. You see, not only was it rally day, it was Lobby Day. Occupy kids, take note.

The Lobby Day culminated a weekend-long organizing effort. Advocacy group Americans for Safe Access's two-day Unity Conference, held over the weekend in a Sacramento union hall, was intended to focus the often cacophonous pro-marijuana voices into something legislators could listen to -- and, hopefully, be swayed by.

There is a sense in Sacramento that the medical marijuana industry as is has spun out of control and that something must be done. Other legislators have sponsored pot-related bills -- to impose DUI testing (dropped), to create a statewide patient ID registry, to verify that dispensaries are in fact legal. Ammiano's bill goes a few leaps further in creating a state-level medical marijuana bureaucracy.

Ammiano's bill does have some very familiar opposition, however -- as in all the Sacramento law enforcement lobbies. The California District Attorneys Association, the California Narcotic Officers Association, the California Police Chiefs Association, and the California State Sheriffs' Association are all opposing the bill, and they all have significant clout with lawmakers in risky districts.

Nonetheless, there's nothing quite like constituent face time, even if it's with Capitol office staffers.

"Today the medical cannabis movement has shown state legislators that we're diverse and we're organized," said Steph Sherer, ASA's executive director, in a statement. "We've come together to pass AB2312, to create sensible statewide regulations for safe access for patients and safe communities across the state of California."

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