Culture: Capitol Cannabis Capers

Culture: Capitol Cannabis Capers


By: Sean Donahoe

To be blunt, the state capitol in Sacramento is best understood as a relatively small community of people who all know each other and agree that there are certain rules to the game of politics. Historically, this scene oscillates from rare moments of high drama to more typical patterns of low boredom. But then the cannabis industry showed up to the capitol . . . in the concluding years of a federal war on drugs and just a few short months before the expected economic boom of legalization.

Ironically, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano’s proposal that year (and the year before) would have expressly forbidden that setup. The federal agents also apparently tried to assess Republican support for cannabis reform legislation but were apparently brushed off. In the end Senators Leland Yee and Ron Calderon have been indicted, with former schoolteacher, Senator Yee pleading guilty earlier this summer to an outlandish set of charges which included taking cash from a businessman posing as an Arizona dispensary owner.

Back to last year, Ammiano’s reasonable set of cannabis policy regulations couldn’t compete with a proposal authored by the most conservative Orange County Democrat, and sponsored by the League of California Cities and the California Police Chiefs Association, Senator Lou Correa. This bill fundamentally was brought forward because cities wanted to write into law their ability to ban medical cannabis commercial activity within their borders, leaving patients to fend for themselves across much of the state. In the end, Senator Correa’s bill was weakened by doubts from more liberal assemblymembers and no interest from Republicans. It too failed to reach the Governor’s desk.

This legislation session began with a dramatic bang, as three assemblymembers proposed separate medical cannabis regulatory bills within the first week and a corresponding senate bill came shortly thereafter. We’ve seen agricultural committee meetings swarming with self-identifying cannabis farmers, a five-foot-tall cannabis plant brought into a senate committee room by an Assemblymember, trips by our Lieutenant Governor Newsom and Board of Equalization members Ma and Runner up to the Emerald Triangle, hearings on access to banking, a national article about a cannabis industry lobbyist handing out loaded vape pens and edibles to capitol staff, and energized support from labor unions and republicans alike. Oh yeah, we’ve also made some progress on legislation too, good and bad.

In all likelihood cannabis policy bills this session will go down to the wire, with all bills up for passage and/or amendment until September 11. There’s been recent news regarding a corrupt union official and there’s still mumblings that FBI agents are about, as lobbyists and grassroots groups are all showing up to speak for their interests, to be at the table rather than on the table. What the small community of capitol insiders want to know, however, are how will this legislative session end, what new surprises will we see, and how will this set the stage for 2016?