California has long been known for its progressive attitude, free spirit and social experimentation. It’s why it comes as much surprise to many that California has struggled to regulate medical marijuana and has failed so far at legalization. As of the November 2014 Election 23 states and the District of Columbia have voted to legalize marijuana in some form but California still fails to reach consensus on the issue.
The problem is exclusion. The California State Legislature and well-funded, national policy organizations have shut out local grassroots advocates and authentic compassionate providers from the policy-drafting table for many years. Ironically, these excluded voices are those of local advocates successful in getting marijuana regulations implemented in cities throughout California, and have significant experience in the cannabis industry, unlike most Sacramento politicians and DC policy org. directors.
The result has been flawed bills and initiatives ultimately abandoned or unsupported by their own peers and constituents. Examples of this include former Assemblymember Tom Ammiano withdrawing his bill AB 2312 and the defeat of the voter initiative Proposition 19. As these experienced advocates toil for a seat at the table, national policy organizations use ‘unity’ as a shield for closed-door deals with legislators and funders to create severely restrictive and unaffordable policies that benefit only a few rich players and force out ‘mom and pop’ collectives and cultivators.
This exclusion appears in the form of classism, sexism and racism in California’s elite marijuana policy movement. Take a look at the speaker line-up of any marijuana related conference or panel in California. You will see no people of color, very select women, and no one that represents low-income, disabled patients invited to speak despite their expertise. You will find many middle-class, self-proclaimed experts with maybe moderate experience, taking credit for the years of hard work by tireless, grassroots advocates operating with little to no budget.
Though, this is nothing new in our American society; those with more money and influence proclaim to be in-charge due to status and political relationships, excluding good players because they are lower-income, women or people of color. However, while political bullying by the elite works most of the time, it has only stymied progress for cannabis legalization in California. Maybe those controlling the purse strings for 2016 will choose to truly unite the community. As long as the marijuana elite continues to disguise exclusivity as unity in California, they may continue to be defeated at the polls.
by Degé Coutee – President, PAN
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