Why I support Prop. 19 and you should too…

There is a lot of talk going on about the upcoming Tax and Regulate vote in November that could legalize cannabis for adults over 21 in the State of California. People are questioning whether or not they should support this initiative for any number of reasons. Is one ounce enough? Will this put me out of business? Do the laws that regulate cannabis like alcohol increase current penalties? Is this real legalization? The critics range from uneasy farmers of cannabis to old school activists that claim to advocate legalization, but only if it is on their terms. There are dispensary operators that wonder what will happen to their organizations if it passes, and patients wondering if this vote will water down their medical need. There seems to be an awful lot of confusion regarding what is at stake, so let me make it clear…what is at stake is the beginning of the end of the war on cannabis. What is at stake is freedom. What is at stake is morality and justice. What is at stake is the future.

The first and most important reason I am asking you to support Tax and Regulate 2010 is because it is the right thing to do. Is the initiative perfect? No. Is it a hell of a lot better than the status quo? Absolutely.

The biggest upside is that this vote breaks the back of drug warriors who have for decades made a living of demonizing cannabis and jailing cannabis users. The world will be put on notice that the people of California no longer want to see their neighbors and loved ones made into criminals for the safe and responsible use of cannabis. That is huge. More than anything, sending a clear message that reason has trumped rhetoric will create a crack in the wall of prohibition that will continue to splinter and eventually lead to total cannabis freedom.

That is what we are fighting for, right? We want to be left alone in our choice to burn a joint or eat a cannabis brownie without looking over our shoulder and being made to feel like a second-class citizen. We want to be treated equally in our choice to alter our mental state with cannabis, like so many wine aficionados and beer lovers do everyday, without being scared to death of going to jail. We want to be able to have an ounce of marijuana in our car and not panic every time a cop pulls behind us in traffic. In fact, this completely nullifies a cops “probable cause” for smelling cannabis in your car. You can look right at them and say, “Why yes officer, that is my cannabis you smell.” As long as you are not under the influence there should be no issue. You can set it next to you on the seat if you want to.

This is the kind of freedom I want, and the Tax and Regulate Initiative gives me that. Peace of mind is invaluable to me. I hate being scared of cops over cannabis. The initiative normalizes the use of cannabis, which for too long has created unnecessary obstacles and hardships in people’s lives.

This initiative preserves the existing medical marijuana laws and is a humongous improvement over the current criminal laws that govern cannabis. It enables the legislature to improve upon the law but removes their power to limit it any further. It empowers municipalities to set up legitimate access points for cannabis and makes it legal for me to grow a 5×5 garden without fear of prosecution. And as a patient, I can continue to grow more if my doctor has approved it. Awesome. It lets me share cannabis with a neighbor without it being a crime and enables me to have an affirmative defense for possessing more than the ounce limit. That changes my world for the better in so many ways.

Tax and Regulate gives a person the right to possess and use cannabis. That in its self should be reason enough to get your vote; but let’s look at some of the arguments being used by people in the movement to belittle the initiative in favor of the status quo.

Some say the ounce limit is too restrictive and are upset that it is legal to buy unlimited quantities of booze and this law limits cannabis to an ounce. Unfortunately after decades of misinformation and lies about cannabis there is a need to ease voters minds about cannabis. Limiting the quantity is a concession that was made with the calculated hope of getting the thing to pass.  Obviously I would like to see less limitation, but in life we often must compromise idealism for the greater good. There are simply not enough cannabis users in the State of California to pass this on our own. We need the support of hundreds of thousands of people who do not use cannabis. Many non-cannabis users are not going to vote for an initiative that creates a virtual free for all. By ensuring the voter that there are reasonable and responsible limits in place we may win the hearts and minds of enough of them to get it passed.

Others complain that the initiative’s 21-year-old age limit is unfair to those 18-20. The big red herring argument is that by making the penalty for furnishing cannabis to a person under 21 the same as alcohol, that this “increases” or “adds” new punishments to cannabis use.  If we really want this initiative to pass (and I do), it is necessary to present the initiative in a light that is understandable to the society we live in. The most common adult use drug on the market is by far alcohol, so naturally the authors of this initiative did their best to model the structure to relate to that industry. In doing that, there are certain realities created that may seem less than reasonable to the average cannabis user who understands the safety of cannabis.

It amazes me that this distraction of an argument would influence a person to continue to make criminals out of the vast majority of cannabis users who ARE 21 and over. Furthermore, it is insulting to dismiss the entire initiative over a statute that is the same as people buying booze for a kid in a parking lot. I guarantee you that our prisons are not filled with people caught fishing for beer. I do know that prisons are filled with people who have used, grown, sold, given or violated their probation by using cannabis.  Know there are parents who have lost custody of their children for their use of cannabis. Is it really worth tearing down the opportunities the initiative affords so that we can give a joint to a 19-year-old? These kids get booze just fine if they want it. The same will go for cannabis. Every day parents let their adult but not 21 kids have a glass of wine in the safety of their own home. Does the ATF kick their doors in and put them in prison or take away their kids? No. So this unfortunate argument is just weak and lacks substance.

The fake outrage over these “added penalties” can only be attributed to nitpicking. Would it be great if the law were written for 18 and over? Sure. I firmly believe that if you can join the army and fly to other countries to kill people that you should be able to smoke a joint or have a beer at the and of your day. Unfortunately, my extremely liberal views are not shared by the vast majority of people and I am willing to concede an increased age limit and an agreement of penalties that parallel alcohol to get the votes needed to actually pass it. My experience in talking to people that do not use cannabis is that people are willing to support the initiative because of its limitations and relation to the legal status of alcohol.

Still others argue that legalization will devalue their crop and essentially put them out of business. I have two words for these people….”YOU SUCK.” I mean, really? Really? You would continue to make criminals out of hundreds of thousands of people to make an extra buck? That is simply the worst logic ever expressed and frankly, it is offensive. What you will find is an increased competition, as outlaws will not be in total control of the production. This type of real market competition scares some. That is understandable, but it is unfathomable to consider not legalizing cannabis because you suck at business and marketing. Look at the wine industry. There are a number of cheap, average, mass-produced wines on the market, but there are also $500 bottles on the market. Why? Do you think the $500 bottle of wine is made with magic grapes? No. It is made with a higher quality, and the producers have done a great job of marketing their product. They have created a desire for their limited high-end product line. Cannabis will be no different. People who create great products will continue to see a demand for their services. Those who cut corners and lack the ability to create desirable products will fail; whereas now they get by because prohibition has created a demand even for mediocre cannabis.

Some have estimated that the price of cannabis would be cut in half. Well grow twice as much then. Lobby your local officials to allow for economic viability through cannabis production. But voting against legalization to protect your own financial interest is despicable. How could you sleep at night if the initiative fails and people continue to lose their jobs, kids, and freedoms so that you could make more money without having to truly compete in a legitimate market? Your income level is an irrelevant conclusion in a much larger argument.

Talented and hard-working people will thrive in a legitimized industry. Those who have dedicated their lives to growing and producing cannabis will be the leaders of this industry. Those who simply use cannabis as a means to an end and would put their pocketbook over reason will have a special place in hell I am sure.

I also believe that the initiative will create a substantial tourism industry that people can tap into. California will always produce the finest cannabis and be the birthplace of the movement in America.  The millions of people who enjoy cannabis around the world will want to come to California to be immersed in the culture of it all. There will be “Bud and Breakfasts” that open to accommodate cannabis enthusiasts and farm tours that will attract folks to spend money. As it is embraced by the culture over time, could we see “Cannaland,” the world’s first cannabis-themed amusement park? Maybe we will; but not if we do not get the vote out.

The time is now and the opportunity has never been greater. It is our responsibility to do our part to get this passed and take a huge step towards ending the war on cannabis. Talk to the people in your lives. Encourage the person at work or in line at the grocery store to vote to legalize cannabis because it is the morally right thing to do. Tell the hesitant soccer mom you know that it is not a matter of whether or not her baby will have access to cannabis- they will. The choice is whether her baby should go to jail for their decision to use cannabis. Talk to your religious relative and explain that cannabis is a plant and that he true sin is to continue to lock a person up for using God’s natural wonder plant. This campaign is all of ours. We will sink or swim in the process.

Already the initiative has accomplished more than could have been expected even a couple of years ago. It has created a national dialogue that continues to make people question prohibition. The opposition will come out in force as the election grows near. It is all of our responsibilities to ensure that we do not allow those forces to get away with continuing the failed policy of making criminals out of cannabis users.

Do what is right. Join me in supporting the Tax and Regulate initiative and make your voice heard on November 2, 2010. United we stand and divided we fall. Put the petty differences aside and let the egos rest. Make the simple choice; if you want to end prohibition, as we know it, vote yes. If you want to continue to allow for tyranny and chaos to rule, vote no. The choice is yours.

Oakland’s plan for mega-grows basically sucks

Below are my basic issues with the proposed cultivation ordinance and plans for the city of Oakland. As a person who loves Oakland, it is sad to see them moving further from good policy and implementing their desires for progress through ill-conceived legislation. Oakland is a great city, but the officials pressing this issue forward should think about the ramifications of their decision. Their decisions are based on some flawed principles, including assuming that the cannabis industry will conform to the standards of normal big business practice, assuming that their regulation will protect these large scale producers on their own merit, and assuming that they are somehow within the bounds of State law as it applies to collectives. I welcome a healthy discussion on the matter.
The ISSUES:
  • While the intentions of Rebecca Kaplan and the oakland City Council are admirable and face the reality that there must be some regulation and control on the production side of the industry, they essentially fail to protect any of the established producers who are the backbone of the industry. Instead they have planned to allow for four mega-organizations to produce a crop that will lack the integrity and variety that patients currently depend on.
  • As the last person raided by Federal Drug Enforcement Agents in the City of Oakland, I would urge caution to the council, as these organizations purpose and intent are outside of the bounds of the collective or cooperative standards set forth in California State Law. The council seems to believe the directive from the Obama Administration will protect these organizations simply on the merits that they are licensed and regulated, but the key phrase in the US Attorney General’s memo is “clear and unambiguous compliance with State law.” These organizations will, at best be pushing the bounds of legality, and at worse be unlawful organizations that will be targets of the Federal Government. Their extreme and capitalistic nature alone seem to conflict with the spirit of Prop. 215 and SB420. With the massive plant numbers that are being proposed at these locations, the investors/directors would be held accountable as “Organizers/Leaders of a Criminal Enterprise,” a charge that can result in 20 years in prison.
  • When I was raided in September of 2007 in Oakland the Federal Government’s complaint showed that Oakland Police Department participated in the investigation by performing a traffic stop on two of my employees, who were in turn charged by the Federal Government, where they were forced to admit guilt because there is no medical cannabis defense in Federal court. At the time of the traffic stop Oakland voters had passed Measure Z and made cannabis enforcement the lowest priority. The question I hold to the council is, “If they cannot ensure their own police force is not assisting the Feds in their prosecution of medical cannabis providers, how can they be so sure that Federal policy will protect these four mammoth organizations?”
  • For years patient providers in Oakland have risked their freedom and have lived in fear of the Federal government in order to provide high quality medicines. Many have crafted their skills over many years. Now they are being deemed a danger and a nuisance for their actions. Some thanks for the many people who have literally grew the movement to what it is today. Are they supposed to go get one of these “union” jobs now? Really? I do not remember asking for a job…
  • The council persons sponsoring this legislation claim it is aimed at regulating the supply better and avoiding some of the problems that come from cultivators that are forced to play cat and mouse games do to prohibition. Sometimes these situations result in fires, floods, or disturbances due to their lack of proper oversight and clear rules of operation. This legislation does none of that. Instead of providing framework to standardize and legitimize the existing cultivation infrastructure, they have chosen to create 4 new entities with 4 new sets of problems, and will essentially be 4 large targets. The “illegal” cultivators will still be forced to hide their facilities and some will surely lack security, run afoul of electrical code, and create the same issues that currently exist in Oakland; the ones they claim to be trying to solve. If the intention of the legislation is to regulate cultivation and provide a safe means for producing safe and effective cannabis medicines, then it should do that. Not further push legitimate providers further into the dark.
  • The persons or organizations that seem to have the resources to invest in such a mammoth organization, particularly Jeff Wilcox and Dhar Mann, lack the real experience to even comprehend what goes into providing the high quality and versatile supply of medicine that patients have come to demand. Their attempts to buy industry leaders and lobbyist to do their bidding is all fine and dandy, but when the rubber hits the road and cannabis is coming off the vine a t a record and feverish pace, will they have the talent and knowledge necessary to put out a high quality and desirable product? If the product or the organization is deemed inferior, or if the political aspects of these arrangements become barriers to entry in the market, then there will be a breakdown in the organization and market chaos could ensue to attempt to rescue the huge investment risk. The fee to operate is over $200,000 a year just for the license. Heck. It’s $5000 just to apply, I hear. What small business owner has those type of liquid resources around to even apply for these permits.
  • If the City’s large collectives are granted the permit it will lower the competitive quality of the supply and the collectives will hold a larger oligopoly in the market than already exists at this time. Eventually under these circumstances, the industry will be controlled by a few large organizations and the “McDonald’s of Marijuana” moniker will no longer be just a humorous talking point for the press. While vertical integration has normally benefited industry’s, resulting in lower prices for consumers, this phenomenon does not exist in cannabis distribution, as the limited access points allow for organizations to charge $60-65 per eighth ounce of cannabis, even as the wholesale price has continued to fall with abundance of supply.

As for questions regarding legalizing the existing growers and concerns about residential growing; first off the ordinance proposed ALLOWS for residential growing. 32 square feet for a person and up to three people for a total of 96 square feet per residence, or (3) 4×8 grow trays. This does not change, nor does it provide a safety framework for these smaller personal growers to adhere to. What you may see is people renting extra residences to accommodate the restrictions and still meet the needs of their collective of patients or to feed the demand of the current market. In turn, rental property rates will increase and more low income people will be driven out of Oakland as a result.

But most of the supply currently comes from commercial style, medium size cultivation collectives, usually between 20-50 lights, or roughly 10-25 grow trays. These small organizations normally employ a staff of 2-5 regular staffers and a group of trimmers to hand trim the harvest to ensure quality and attention to detail. These organizations grow different strains or types of marijuana. They grow in different mediums, with different feeding regiments, different environmental conditions, and unique plant maintenance technique that create a market place with a WIDE variety of choice, flavor, effect, and lasting properties for patients to choose from. By homogenizing the industry with these massive grow organizations, quality will go down, as hand trimming, properly curing, and care taking of small batches is much less cumbersome than in a mega facility setting.

Most of these modest organizations operate from smaller warehouse/production areas in a commercial environment. Some do skirt the importance of electrical safety and others downright steal power to avoid detection. Instead of bringing these people into the fold by providing an avenue to upgrade their facilities and apply for a production license to continue their work, the City is virtually voting to extend (and ENHANCE) the quasi-legal status quo. That is unacceptable. My solution would be this. Create an application process that allows for persons or collective organizations to submit their organizational plan, facility design, security standards, operational standards, and other relative information, with a fee to cover the application processing/facility inspection services. I am sure up to 1000 or more people would be interested. Charge a $1000 application fee. This is relative to about 4-6 ounces of medicine at wholesale rates, which is doable by even the most meager organization. The income generated could be upward of $1,000,000,000- plenty to pay staff for the process and have plenty left over for the City coffers. Then instead of the $211,000 fee on 4 mega-facilities, a more reasonable and fair license fee of $2500-$5000 per year could be charged and regulations regarding staffing, safe medicines, and responsible community interaction could be agreed to. Even if only 400 of the 1000 that apply are granted licenses, that is still another $1,000,000 to $2,000,000 per year, which is more than the $800,000+ quick money grab they are proposing now to make it a millionaire only event. The City could develop a code enforcement position that was responsible for ongoing oversight, much like most municipalities already do for bars, liquor stores, or even body shops that paint cars. The notion that overseeing a few hundred well run businesses who have an interest in following the rules strictly to ensure their license is renewed is ludicrous, and frankly lazy. This is an accomplishable process. Hundreds of businesses are overseen by the City every year. Why should some cannabis production areas be such an issue?

The City is attempting to model their process after the process they used to regulate dispensaries, but there is a catch. The two dozen or so dispensing collectives that they regulated down to 4 in 2005 were easy to locate and shut down if they did not comply. They were in the phonebook. They were operating in the open. This is trying to regulate a guerilla market by making it more guerilla than before. Odd approach if you ask me. The truth is that the council people putting this forward do not believe they can get the support to pass it unless they severely limit the amount of licenses available. They have called it a starting point. Well their starting point was 4 dispensaries in 2005 also, and here we are 6 years later still with 4 dispensing collectives, some of which serve 30,000 plus members that wait in long lines for medicines and still pay upwards of $60+ per eighth ounce of high grade medicine. That plan has not really worked in a lot of people’s opinions. I mean it has, but it could work a lot better with a more competitive market. Having large communities nearby like Hayward/San Leandro and entire counties in the Bay, like most of Contra Costa and Solano, with little access does not help either. It is time that cities quit pussyfooting around with what is politically viable and begin setting regulations and accepting that this industry is here to stay. These baby-step regulations do not reflect the competition in other industries and the severe limitations in most cities to single or very few collectives creates no place for real competition. The relative similarity in price structures throughout the industry give almost a cartel-like perception. There is no real competition in the pricing arena. At times there have been in areas where we have seen explosions of collectives like LA in 2007 or so, Sacramento in the last year, and San Jose in the recent past. When a market is flooded with qualified organizations with similar products and service, then what you see is places vying for member retention and loyalty with incentive pricing, patient offers, and extended services to make their organization more desirable. When this does not exist what you find are high prices, lack of special offerings, and just enough services to make  create a perception of goodwill for the press and interested parties.

Another issue for these organizations will be attracting and retaining talented cannabis cultivators. Growing good cannabis is an art form, and not for the faint of heart. Most of the trained industry are independent growers and would not choose to work for “Wilcox Megagrdens” or “Dhar Mann’s Marijuana Multiplex.” These organizations will be led by individuals with zero industry credibility and will have an impossible time finding, training, and maintaining the quality staff that it will take to consistently produce a high quality product free from contaminants that plague cannabis agricultural projects. It would be as if Budweiser, Miller, and Coors were the only person’s licensed to make beers. Imagine the beer market before the Microbrew craze came about. Lack of choice, flavor, quality, and craftsmanship. That is a step backwards for everyone. The cannabis industry is still a “who you know” industry, and who you know because you bought their loyalty will not fly very far in the inner circles of this movement. But I could be wrong. Stranger things have happened:).

I have heard the City’s comments on their plan to set forth separate regulations in the fall for small and medium growers. I don’t believe the hype. If that were the case a section could have been added to this legislation to do so. What is the rush on jamming this through? Ahhh, right…MONEY and getting the HUGE TAX BURDEN being proposed on the November ballot. This has nothing to do with cannabis progress and everything to do with selling out our loyal community for a few bucks. This is the epitome of VOO DOO CANNANOMICS  and what Oakland will see is a number of small to medium growers leaving the City for greener and less bullshit filled pastures. With them will go their rent money, their auxiliary incomes, and their good will for the City. I hope it was worth it.

Oakland deserves better. The cannabis producers who have held up a faltering economy for many years deserve better. The cannabis plant deserves better. Oakland must rethink this flawed measure, but if history tells tales they will press on in haste and we will still be arguing about this for years to come. Way to go, Oaktown. Way to go.

The Way of the Cannabis Warrior

In life, sometimes we come upon situations that bring out the warrior in all of us. This blog is dedicated to my warrior friends on the front lines of the war on cannabis. We are winning the battle and the wind is at our backs. While the battle is FAR FROM OVER, there is major progress being made.

This blog will follow the war closely and provide a dialogue for warriors of all sorts to engage one another on the next steps in the fight for cannabis freedom. There will be informative articles, personal opinions, and current happening that will all be open for discussion. This journey has consumed my life for over a decade and I have given my freedom and privacy to lead the charge and be a part of the solution.

This is a great time to be a cannabis warrior. Please join me in an ongoing discussion about the way of the cannabis warrior. Together we can continue to break down barriers and open the doors of intolerance. The prohibition of cannabis is still very much alive. People lose their freedoms, their livelihoods, their families, and their peace of mind simply because of their safe use of cannabis. This is no longer acceptable. The facts are in. Cannabis is safe and enjoyable. The war on cannabis has been a complete failure. It is time we, as a society, stand up and be accounted for.

I look forward to chronicling the beginning of the end of cannabis prohibition. Join me in my warrior stance and together we can ensure that the future looks much more kind and green.