Marijuana's short game

Forget 2014 or 2016: What's going to happen with cannabis next year in California?

Ngaio Bealum writes SN&R's weekly marijuana column, The 420, and is also a local comedian and cannabis activist.

While “wait and see” seems to be the prevailing attitude when it comes to sweeping cannabis-law reform in California, leaders in the state's marijuana industry say 2013 will be a year of action.

In Sacramento County, the Committee for Safe Patient Access to Regulated Cannabis recently presented a petition to the board of supervisors to allow 22 medical-cannabis collectives to open for business. And next year, local activists will look to put continued political pressure on the county.

“It is in the county's interest to place well-regulated dispensaries into play,” Sacramento-based Crusaders for Patients Rights' Lanette Davies argued. “It is foolish and bigoted to deny patients safe access and deny the county residents much-needed jobs and tax revenue.”

This fight may be a bit uphill, as the county has shown no sign of lifting its moratorium on dispensaries. And local initiatives to overturn bans in San Diego County failed at the ballot box, showing that the medical-cannabis movement still has a tough time delivering enough votes to spur real action.

Amanda Reiman, California policy director with legislative-advocacy outfit the Drug Policy Alliance, said her organization will continue to work on improving and developing “state-level medical-cannabis regulations” as a “blue print” for how things work in the pot business. “Additionally, we will be working to reduce [or] eliminate the civil sanctions associated with marijuana convictions, such as loss of employment, housing and financial aid for college,” she said.

When it comes to legalization, however, the DPA and others are looking at 2016 for a ballot measure. “It takes about $10 million to run a successful initiative in California,” Reiman said during a panel at The Emerald Cup in Humboldt County in December 2012. “We know California has the deep pockets, we just need to get the initiative right.” She added that she hopes to talk to more small- and large-scale cannabis farmers to get an understanding of what they would like cannabis-law reform to look like.

The ranks of unionized marijuana workers also likely will grow in 2013. Over at the United Food and Commercial Workers, the director of the Medical Cannabis and Hemp Division, Dan Rush, anticipates “5,000 new members in the door by May 2013.”

He added that he hoped to announce a few more major clubs joining the union early this year, and the UFCW will also work on fixing the mess that is medical-cannabis regulation in Los Angeles, as well as working on regulations for “sun-grown” (that's the new fancy appellation for outdoor weed) medical marijuana.

Medical-cannabis advocacy group Americans for Safe Access plans to continue the fight for patients' rights. “We will continue to work toward ending housing and employment discrimination toward medical-cannabis patients,” said California director Don Duncan.

Within the city limits, matters seem to have smoothed out, and some dispensaries are re-emerging. Florin Wellness Center has reopened after a brief hiatus, although it isn't accepting any new members, and a few new clubs and delivery services also have opened in recent months. Activists say they hope to bring clarity and a few changes to the city's outdoor-growing ordinance as well.

Meanwhile, some California activists are becoming impatient with the state falling behind others when it comes to full-on legalization.

“Four years?!” one activist shouted during the panel at The Emerald Cup. “That's four more years of people going to jail, of people losing their houses and children, four more years of wasted taxpayer money and resources!”