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Hundreds of ASA members and allies staged a funeral procession through the streets of San Francisco yesterday to protest the closing of the Vapor Room, one of the city’s venerable and legally-permitted medical cannabis patients’ collectives. Protesters with full funeral regalia marched from Vapor Room in the Lower Haight-Ashbury District to Federal Building downtown. But they made a special stop along the way.
The march stopped briefly at an alley for a little creative street theatre. Activists produced a giant puppet depicting US Attorney Melinda Haag, who orchestrated the current federal crackdown in the San Francisco Bay Area, and performed a satirical ribbon-cutting ceremony to open a new “dispensary” for patients: the alley! The oversized action – complete with a long red ribbon, big ceremonial scissors, and the larger-than-life puppet – sent an unmistakable message to the crowd and the media. Closing legally-permitted patients’ associations sends legal patients back to the alleys to find the medicine they need. (More pictures after the jump...)
The Vapor Room was forced to close after the US Department of Justice (DOJ) threatened the landlord with civil asset forfeiture charges. Civil asset forfeiture is a procedure by which the federal government can confiscate property used to commit a crime. The law was intended to fight large-scale drug trafficking operations; but in this case, the “crime” is providing medical cannabis in accordance with state law! Threats of civil asset forfeiture are a central component of the latest federal crackdown on medical cannabis, which started with a press conference with Ms. Haag and her colleagues last October.
Unfortunately, they are not just making threats. The DOJ filed civil asset forfeiture actions against another model Bay Area patients’ association last month. Harborside Health Center, the largest medical cannabis facility in the state, is facing a tough fight in federal court now that their property owner is in the federal crosshairs. Federal pressure on Harborside Health Center and other kinds of federal intimidation drew hundreds of protesters to a rally in front of Oakland City Hall during a recent fundraising visit by President Obama.
San Francisco ASA members and their allies are to be commended for staging a creative and effective action. Events like this one dramatize the issues surrounding the federal crackdown for the community and the media, and that is important to getting the message out. A funeral march, coffins with flowers, a giant puppet, over-sized scissors, and the rest also make great photo opportunities for image-hungry reporters.
It behooves all of us fighting the federal attack on medical cannabis to be creative in how we tell our story. We are going to need the most effective messages and vehicles for messages that we can get. Do not underestimate the power of one good image in the public eye. Keep up that good work, and we will keep changing minds and winning allies in the fight for safe access!
Thanks to ASA Executive Director Steph Sherer for coming all the way from Washington, DC, for this event. ASA staff members Courtney Sheats, Tony Bowles, and Hunter Holliman were also present.