Culture: All (Cannabis) Politics Is Local

All (Cannabis) Politics Is Local

By Sean Donahoe 5/1/2015


There’s no way around it: California is a big state, a really big state. Population-wise, we’re six times the size of Washington State and seven-and-a-half times the size of Colorado. Not only are we numerous, but somehow despite all the geographic differences, from the extreme northern tip of the Emerald Triangle to the arid Coachella Valley, we seem to somehow make it all work, across 58 counties and 482 cities. It’s not always pretty, in fact it’s often a total clusterf*ck, but it is what it is. California is a crazy big state, and it’s hard not to be impressed that somehow we keep it all together, more or less. Perhaps because of this sheer size and diversity, we keep pushing the envelope on culture, commerce and cannabis.

The recent moves to open up licensed access in the high desert, in Yucca Valley, Desert Hot Springs and Cathedral City should be celebrated. Palm Springs is adding another licensed collective and more licenses are being granted in San Diego as the city’s (problematic) ordinance stumbles along. The jury is literally still out on the experiment and enforcement in Santa Ana, as the hype and high of the lottery process hasn’t yet resulted in anything more than headlines and newly-converted council members to the benefits of medical cannabis (revenues). Will Long Beach ever see an ordinance up and running, now over a year after its citizens voted 74 percent to tax and regulate medical cannabis? The city has kicked the can, yet again, this time to a special task force. But one could reasonably suspect that the powers that be still aren’t willing to move forward, to follow the clear will of the people. For that matter, it would be a great time to see licensed collectives anywhere between Santa Cruz and Los Angeles. Don’t hold your breath. From Shasta to San Luis Obispo, the local politics of cannabis policy reform here in California matters.

To be blunt, your elected officials aren’t particularly well-informed. I have seen planning commissioners in Santa Monica contemplate placing collectives only on second floors of buildings, to prevent lines of patients being visible from the street. I have seen city staff reports on state legislation delivered to San Jose City Council that are literally a year out of date. If one was sympathetic, one might simply believe that city staff and bloviating police chiefs are underpaid and over-worked, and misinformed by the organizations who represent them in Sacramento, such as the League of California Cities or the California Police Chiefs Association. Or perhaps they simply fear what they don’t understand, and all it takes is more dialog, and they’ll eventually see the error of their ways. (Again, don’t hold your breath . . .) Let’s be a bit more realistic, though, and acknowledge that politics may be a game but when it comes to cannabis, winners end up with resources to buy shiny toys, and the losers can lose student aid, have their children taken away, or end up in prison. The politics of cannabis policy reform matters, and ensuring that our local elected officials are properly informed and in tune with voter sentiment, will help them enact better laws at the local level.

Remember that today’s neighborhood association president is tomorrow’s school board candidate, on a path to city council and perhaps all the way to Sacramento. Elected county sheriffs have clout locally and statewide, with ability to move budget resources for enforcement and jails, while simultaneously influencing legislation in a way that the infamous prison guards unions wished they still could do in Sacramento. And the revolving door works both ways, as four out of the five Los Angeles County Supervisors and seven of the 15 members of L.A. City Council spent time in the Capitol before coming back to local politics. In short, as the presidential candidates start outlining their campaigns and the 2016 legalization initiative(s) begin to suck up all the smoke in the hookah, try to remember who your local elected officials are, what they look like. You just might run into them at your local coffee shop. But wouldn’t it be nicer to see them at a local licensed collective? Or at least, if you run into them, invite them by for a tour, and let them know that they have nothing to fear. Nothing but (continuing) to be out of touch.