Pubdate: Wed, 22 Oct 2014
Source: SF Weekly (CA)
Column: Chem Tales
Copyright: 2014 Village Voice Media
Author: Chris Roberts

Politicians Can Embrace Marijuana and Not Risk Their Jobs. for Now, 
They Can Also Safely Ignore It


Power players in Sacramento are finally taking Nate Bradley's phone calls.

It only took a few years, a couple billion dollars in future business 
potential, and as many as one million votes.

In 2010, the former Northern California sheriff's deputy was a toxic 
commodity. A combination of budget cuts and mental strain had put him 
out of law enforcement. His choice of a second career, an ex-cop 
preaching the value of cannabis and the foolishness of the drug war, 
meant politicians wanted nothing to do with him.

This has changed. "I've had two or three members of Congress come up 
to me and ask, 'Are you running an initiative? We really need the 
votes,'" Bradley says from his Sacramento office, where he's now half 
the full-time paid staff of the California Cannabis Industry Association.

He isn't blowing smoke. Other Capitol staffers say marijuana industry 
types have become some of the most popular people in the room. Even 
aides to straight-laced law-and-order types are taking their business 
cards. "They're saying, 'I can't work with you yet, but I want to 
know you,'" an Assembly aide tells me.

This makes sense. Power in America originates in two places: money 
and votes. And as a billion-dollar industry - a 2010 estimate pegged 
the state's pot crop, illegal and legal, at $14.8 billion, seven 
times as big as wine; state tax collectors peg legal weed sales at 
around $1 billion - with at least 750,000 card-carrying medical 
marijuana users around the state, cannabis has plenty of both.

The weed vote was here all along. Failed legalization measure Prop. 
19 received more votes than Republican gubernatorial hopeful Meg 
Whitman in 2010. The federal Justice Department's crackdown on 
state-legal medical weed, active in California in 2011, never quite 
spread to swing state Colorado, where legalization was on the ballot 
(and where President Barack Obama picked up electoral votes in 2012).

Within six weeks of Colorado and Washington going legal, Lt. Gov. 
Gavin Newsom declared his support for legalization to the New York 
Times - just two years after he'd opposed it. At the same time, poll 
after poll revealed record support across the country for change on 
cannabis. The weed vote hadn't arrived; it had become impossible to ignore.

With this proven base of support, politicians can declare support for 
ending marijuana prohibition in the best way possible: safely. "It's 
becoming less and less of a liability," says political consultant Jim 
Ross, who managed Newsom's first run for San Francisco mayor in 2003. 
"There's no negative. That's a big deal."

The consequence is that marijuana is now being used without getting 
pushed across the goal line by the politicians, who say that 
legalization must come via the ballot.

And meanwhile, big-time names, Democrat and Republican alike, still 
ignore or trivialize drug reform when they feel the urge.

Whenever marijuana is on the ballot, a youthful, center-left voting 
bloc turns out. And it's not small: One exit poll Bradley saw after 
Prop. 19 said that 10 percent of voters in California came out to 
vote just for weed, he says. That's a million marijuana votes.

Combined with aggressive campaigning from cannabis activists on her 
behalf, pot voters may have given California's Attorney General 
Kamala Harris the edge in her narrow win in 2010 (she won by 75,000 
votes, or half a percentage point).

However, weed is not the top issue with most voters. It's not even in 
the top ten, Ross says. Hence Gov. Jerry Brown's silly and 
regrettable old-man fears that legalizing weed would lead to a state 
of non-productive "potheads" ripe for the picking by the likes of 
China. There's not yet enough juice to make a pot-hater pay.

This is ceding the field to fringe candidates. In California, that 
means marijuana-friendly Republicans.

Harris' long-shot challenger in the Nov. 4 election, Ron Gold, has 
made marijuana his signature issue {see related story on page 14). 
And at the same time the state GOP (or what's left of it) has been a 
reliable roadblock to regulating the state's marijuana industry in 
Sacramento, Republican political consultants are telling wannabe 
lawmakers in Southern California that decriminalization measures 
could help them get elected.

In the East Bay, where marijuana dispensaries are among the biggest 
taxpayers in Oakland and Berkeley, cannabis has some decent clout. 
Compare that to San Francisco, where nobody has touched the issue of 
marijuana at City Hall for several years.

Marijuana is a nonstarter with Mayor Ed Lee. But so are innovative 
ideas on anything other than the housing and affordability crises. If 
it's not about building housing, Lee can't afford to hear it, insiders say.

Weed is a sideshow even in the only interesting local race for 
elected office, where the winner will succeed California's most 
marijuana-friendly lawmaker.

One of termed-out Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's first moves upon reaching 
Sacramento in 2009 was to introduce a short-lived and fruitless 
marijuana legalization initiative. It went nowhere, but it set the tone.

Local activists say there are about 10,000 solid pot votes in San 
Francisco. We could find out: David Chiu, the frontrunner to replace 
Ammiano, skipped his meeting with the city's pot-friendly Democratic 
club. David Campos received their endorsement.

And he may need it.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom