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Burning Down the House: Democrats Vote for Pot Laws Yet Work Against Them 

Wednesday, Mar 19 2014

It's only one item, just a few lines in a 21-page document full of bold pronouncements and promises.

And yet, if you knew that the California Democratic Party had had a convention at all, you knew it because an item pledging support for marijuana legalization, "in a manner similar to that of tobacco or alcohol," was added to the statewide party's platform on March 9.

Sounds a bit ho-hum, now that other states are already raking in millions on legal marijuana. Yet this was a "major shift," as the Chronicle's political writers reported.

Ever one to seize the moment — and to perhaps rub some dirt in the eye of Gov. Jerry Brown, who had told national media just the week before that he wasn't interested in running a state full of "stoners" — Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom intoned that it's "time to step up and step in, and lead once again in California" on the issue.

This should be a big deal. And maybe it will be. But not just yet.

Because while the California Democrats are trumpeting their support for legal weed, other California Democrats are busy writing laws making it harder and harder for what legal weed there already is to exist.

And the biggest Democrats in California, like Brown and the ones in Washington to whom the president listens, are still squarely in the prohibitionist camp.

Hard to pursue a platform the party bosses don't support.

The challenge to step up is resonating with the state's cops. Rather than obstructing and undermining efforts to regulate medical marijuana, as it had done for years, the California Police Chiefs' Association presented its own version of regulation (which is, the common wisdom dictates, what needs to happen before the state can catch up with legalized-it-already Colorado).

Medical weed would be under the control of the Department of Public Health, doctors writing weed recommendations would be regulated and scrutinized, and no non-organic compounds would be allowed for pot farmers. Children would be allowed to use CBD-high strains to soothe epilepsy. Finally: Points that police and potheads could agree on. Not just progress — this was huge.

Or, not. State Sen. Lou Correa's proposal would allow only a Californian's primary care physician, rather than the storefront pot doctors, to write a weed recommendation.

In other words, your doctor at Kaiser Permanente would choose whether to put his or her federal approval to prescribe powerful pharmaceuticals at risk in order to get you some weed. Doctors would also not be allowed to recommend, "under any circumstances," butane hash oil or other "concentrates."

So no hash and no wax. No going completely dumb at the dab bar — but quite possibly also no full-extract plant oil like Rick Simpson oil, which cancer patients swear shrinks their tumors away.

On closer read of Correa's bill (he is a Democrat, of course), a cop-regulated weed industry in California would barely resemble the billion-dollar business we have now and would put the brakes on legalization, not push it forward.

In a statement, Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, the San Francisco Democrat who has been trying to legalize or at least regulate for five years now, said that if Correa's bill ever got out of the Senate, it would be "heavily" modified. That sounds good to the weed industry... but it also sounds like a recipe for more delays.

It's awful hard to stand on a platform your own people are busy dismantling.

In San Francisco, where local politicians did what the state can't quite seem to figure out and regulated medical cannabis almost a decade ago, Democrats are also faithfully making things difficult for the weed movement.

Strict regulations on e-cigarettes are being pushed by Supervisor Eric Mar. The proposed restrictions would prohibit using an e-cigarette or cigarette-resembling vaporizer anywhere it's illegal to use a cigarette — and these rules would also apply to "cigarette-resembling" cannabis vaporizers.

That is: most portable vapes currently on the market.

Why are Democrats trying to ban proven harm-reduction techniques for tobacco smokers, and sweep up cannabis users along with them? Because preliminary findings from a UC San Francisco study say e-cigarettes have "some" toxins. Further, the nascent vape industry is (like any good Tech 2.0 business) utterly unregulated, and very attractive to teens.

Or it could be every Tea Partiers' warning come true, a nanny state "run amok," as California NORML chief Dale Gieringer put it. He pointed out the sad scene, post-smoking ban: park police handing out tickets to any and all smokers at a Labor Day marijuana event.

"Whatever happened to San Francisco's reputation for tolerance?" he asked.

Ask the Democrats. But maybe ask after November.

It is, after all, an election year.

About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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