Pubdate: Wed, 01 Jan 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts
Column: Chem Tales


Could the Marijuana Lobby Finally Show Its Strength in This Year's 
Assembly Race?

A businessman with interests in San Francisco, including a storefront 
retail location on Mission Street, is lately one of the country's 
most-talked about politicians. But despite a recent profile in The 
New York Times, Robert Jacob is virtually unknown in town.

This is because Jacob is the mayor of Sebastopol, a small town in 
Sonoma County, and because he deals in marijuana.

Young and affable, intelligent and self-made, Jacob is a perfect 
pitchman for the modern-day marijuana movement, and is respected and 
well-known in Sonoma County. But he won't likely be invited to 
Chamber of Commerce lunches in San Francisco, or rub elbows with 
Mayor Ed Lee at election parties.

That is not how one does marijuana business in the city.

It wasn't long ago that marijuana dispensaries advertised on city 
buses and tried to buy billboards on Interstate-280. That was before 
the United States Attorney shut down almost half of the permitted 
dispensaries in town. Cannabis businesses are quiet now, preferring 
not to kick up dust lest they be next.

To describe cannabis traders as a closeted bunch might seem offensive 
- - a disservice to the gay men and AIDS victims to whom the modern 
legalization movement owes an irredeemable debt of gratitude. But it 
also has a nugget of truth. In this business, discretion is not only 
a virtue, it's a means of self-preservation.

Things might be different if the city's business establishment needed 
weed like it does in Oakland and Berkeley, where mayors and city 
attorneys file lawsuits and challenge the Obama administration on 
behalf of legal weed. San Francisco does not do these things, and 
with corporate titans like PG&E, AT&T, and now Twitter and Salesforce 
wielding clout pot growers could only dream of, it may never start.

There are businessmen close to the city's political establishment 
dealing in cannabis - such as Gus Murad, the former Mission District 
restaurateur, who hosted fundraisers for a generation of political 
power players in the building where he now sells weed. But to date, 
cannabis has not made itself known as a serious force in City Hall.

Weed people have had an uneasy time fitting into the local political 
scene. There have been slick fundraisers: an evening of catered 
French food and a speech from a former Board of Supervisors president 
before the room filled with smoke to the tune of Ben Harper's "Burn 
One Down." More prevalent, though, are stories like the time pro-pot 
volunteers were asked by Chris Daly campaign staffers not to roll 
joints at their phone-banking desks.

Weed is expendable - you can win without it, so why bother with it? 
And even here, it can be a liability. But to taste some political 
power, cannabis might not need to win at City Hall. It might be able 
to skip the local dome and go straight to Sacramento. For the state 
Legislature is soon losing its Lion of Judah: Tom Ammiano, the 
most-marijuana friendly legislator in California, will be termed out 
in a year's time.

The former challenger to Willie Brown for mayor and ex-Board of 
Supervisors president doesn't consider marijuana reform his signature 
issue, but his biographers may differ. Within weeks of landing in 
Sacramento in 2009, he proposed an outright legalization initiative, 
and has tried to change California's approach to cannabis every year since.

These efforts have gone nowhere aside from the headlines, but they 
have set a tone. This is Ammiano's last year before he's termed out, 
and his last chance for a big move.

It's also a perfect chance for political hopefuls with drug-reform 
leanings. One of two very similar men will replace Ammiano in 
Sacramento. The next Assemblyman will be a Harvard-educated non-white 
man who sits on the Board of Supervisors. To find their differences, 
one goes to the surface - Board president David Chiu is 
Chinese-American and straight, and David Campos is Latino and, like 
Ammiano, openly gay - and to the grittiest of details to find slight 
deviations on tenant-friendly land use, universal health care, and 
immigration reform.

Political observers will scoff, and large donations from real estate 
and technology will dwarf any campaign cash cannabis providers dare 
to show. But in a close race, drug reform-minded voters and 
volunteers could provide the edge in what will be the major political 
battle in San Francisco in 2014.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom