Sacramento surge

May 30, 2012

David Downs, Sacramento News & Review

Sacramento lawmakers got an earful from California medical-cannabis patients last week when some 300 pissed-off voters flooded the Legislature’s halls. Some called it a historic day of lobbying to support bills ensuring safe access to the drug. The effort came in advance of a vote on San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s Assembly Bill 2312, which would set statewide rules on dispensaries in an attempt to end a seven-month federal crackdown on the billion-dollar California medical-cannabis industry.

Ammiano has proposed to create a new state regulatory body to license dispensaries in an attempt to emulate the more tightly controlled medical-cannabis system of Colorado.

The lobbying blitz capped a three-day unity conference in Sacramento, when at least five busloads of patients arrived from San Francisco, Berkeley, San Jose, Riverside and West Hollywood. Hundreds networked, received training on lobbying messages and listened to videotaped messages from Congress members.

Monday at noon, state Sen. Mark Leno (D-Marin) and Ammiano spoke before a crowd of several hundred on the lawn in front of the Capitol. The freak flag was not flying at the event, though: Male attendees wore suits and ties or polo shirts, while women wore dresses.

Organizers and Capitol police had agreed to a strict no-smoking rule.

Americans for Safe Access spokesman Jonathan Bair said registered attendees received specific lobbying assignments that corresponded to their localities. They worked in groups and tried to hit up each and every legislative office during the blitz.

“It’s a diverse group, too,” Bair said. “We have people whose only experience with politics is they need their medication and they’ve been thrown into the political system, all the way up to sophisticated labor organizers.”

The federal crackdown is galvanizing the industry. This despite many dispensaries being deliberately apolitical before it began, noted Matthew Witemyre, who organizes dispensaries and workers in Northern California for the United Food and Commercial Workers Local 5.

“A lot of attorneys, frankly, were telling dispensaries not to be engaged in the political process, as it might draw attention to them,” Witemyre said. “We’re really starting to see why that’s not the way to do this.”

Today, even the most unpolitical operators worry federal officials won’t stop after putting the competition out of business.

“They’re going to continue to pick us apart one by one if we don’t come together in solidarity,” Witemyre said.

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