Stirring the pot

There are some inherent problems with potheads as a political force. In fact, marijuana smokers as an advocacy group have many of the same problems that individuals have when they get stoned: concentration and organizational difficulties, low grade paranoia, euphoria masking reality and the tendency to pursue wild tangents.

So while the shared appreciation for cannabis—combined with sympathy for those with illnesses who want to ease their pain—created a public that in 1996 voted overwhelmingly to legalize medical marijuana through Proposition 215, even pot’s most high-profile backers are divided by ideological, strategic and egomaniacal concerns.

Luckily for Bites, such situations tend to make for great controversies and debates, and that’s just what the California Legislature will confront next week when it returns from summer recess.

After years of wrestling with Prop. 215’s ambiguities and uneven application, some pro-marijuana groups are supporting Senator John Vasconcellos‘ Senate Bill 187, which would create a voluntary statewide registry for medical marijuana users that would prevent them and their caregivers from getting busted and having their plants seized, something that now happens to even bona fide users in some counties.

Yet Dennis Peron, the iconoclast pot advocate who founded Oakland’s Cannabis Buyer’s Club and helped create 215, has been firing off alarmist faxes for months on behalf of Californians for Compassionate Use, labeling SB 187 as an attack on 215 by cops, and portraying Vasconcellos as an enemy of decent dope smokers everywhere.

This is the same John Vasconcellos who, for years, has been one of the most tolerant and enlightened voices in the Capitol on the drug issue, consistently calling for an end to the war on drugs and a top-to-bottom reform of our criminal justice system.

In fact, Vasconcellos is such a darling of the drug culture that he is the only state legislator to be invited to the annual benefit party for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Tiburon on October 13, a swank affair featuring top drug reform advocates and the best munchies that you could possibly imagine.

But Peron sees Vasconcellos only as the author of a bill that is being supported by the California District Attorneys Association, California State Sheriffs’ Association and California Attorney General Bill Lockyer—all of whom consulted on its drafting.

The problem is that Prop. 215 was intentionally vague. That’s good for pot smokers who live in liberal counties that allowed wide latitude for who may grow pot and how much, but bad for stoners in conservative counties, where cops make arrests and plant seizures first and worry about the 215 defense later.

Such are the lines that have divided California NORML’s members, according to director Dale Gieringer, who said members in Southern California, where enforcement has been harsh, favor the bill’s reforms, while residents of more liberal California counties prefer the status quo.

That makes sense, right? But let’s complicate the issue further: liberal San Francisco County is the only county officially supporting the measure, while the conservative-leaning Sacramento County Board of Supervisors is the only government entity officially opposing it.

While San Francisco’s reasons for supporting the measure are similar to those of the Vasconcellos/Lockyer task force that created it—to make the law more clear so the wrong people aren’t being arrested—Sacramento County’s reasoning ostensibly has little to do with the rights of some people to smoke pot.

In its official letter of opposition, the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors fretted that the measure would be difficult to enforce and that it amounted to an unfunded mandate on local health departments, which would process the applications.

Geez, Bites is starting to feel some major league anxiety and confusion just trying to sort this sucker out. Is that something you can get a pot prescription for? Bites will have to look into it.