The International Cannabis Business Conference (ICBC) in San Francisco this Valentine's Day/Presidents' Day weekend brings together many of the top cannabis law reformers and marijuana business people together to network and learn from one another so we can move our laws forward towards more freedom and prosperity. All eyes will be on California as our most populous state, and one of the major economic engines in the world looks to legalize marijuana in 2016. The Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform (CCPR) is the major group that is pulling together the winning coalition for a successful 2016 measure.
Members of the CCPR are really a who's who of California cannabis law reform advocates, chaired by Oaksterdam University's Dale Sky Jones. I have been admiring Ms. Jones work from afar as she is playing a similar role that I played in Oregon, listening to various interests groups that includes patients, growers, dispensary owners, politicians, lawyers and really all potential stakeholders to develop a successful measure that the cannabis community can rally behind. After getting an opportunity to meet Dale at a CCPR conference and speaking with her, I am confident that she is up to the task. She has valuable experience, is willing to learn from past successes and failures and patiently listen to the concerns of all stakeholders.
Dale got her start in cannabis politics because she was working for Richard Lee, who used his own small fortune to place Proposition 19 on the ballot in 2010. Dale was really thrust into a spokesperson role, almost always feeling like the "right spokesperson" would show up. Soon, she realized that all of her experience and lessons have brought her to the place where she had to accept her place as a prominent spokesperson and facilitator. She "feels the weight of this responsibility" and understands the "moral imperative" of ending cannabis prohibition, always taking into account what is best for the entire community.
Always looking to learn and improve how the cannabis law reform movement can move forward, Dale looked towards the Barack Obama campaigns ability to rally small donors from a vast amount of people. Her research brought her to the fact that the Obama campaign followed the Howard Dean model, crafted by political consultant Joe Trippi. Fortunately for all of us, Mr. Trippi is a believer in cannabis law reform and has worked for CCPR on a "good guy discount." I know from my experience in Oregon, that "good guy" (or "good gal" as well) are crucial to any fledgling legalization movement.
Ms Jones added, "Go to reformca.com and add your voice to this important measure; very important to hear from all stakeholders, including growers, patients and soccer moms. We have already held five stakeholder meetings and have four more already scheduled all across California. There are a lot of opportunities to have your voice heard. I urge everyone to have an open mind, nothing is written, but it's about to be. If you want to have a stake in this future, now is the time, don't say that you weren't asked."
Also brought into CCPR was Jim Gonzalez, who started his cannabis law reform activism as a member of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, endorsing Dennis Peron's San Francisco medical marijuana initiative in the early 1990s. Jim went on to co-manage the landmark Prop 215 medical campaign that passed in 1996 and consult on the successful Oregon and Washington medical measures that passed in 1998. Mr. Gonzalez has worked on several congressional and progressive campaigns, including organizing the Latino vote in Nevada to save the hide of Democratic Senator Harry Reid in 2010. Jim explained to me that getting back into the cannabis law reform movement, is a very "Rip Van Winkle" experience as so much as changed from the early 1990s and it is amazing how mainstream marijuana legalization has become.
Gonzalez has known Joe Trippi for years and understands that a wide network of supporters and donors is necessary for the California legalization effort as they can't necessarily count on billionaires to fund everything. Peter Lewis and John Sperling have passed away, leaving the great George Soros as the remaining major billionaire donor and Mr. Soros can't be expected to fund the entire California effort. A wide donor base is certainly essential, as is a relatively united California cannabis community.
Jim stated that, "The mainstream press and even bloggers seem to want to continue a narrative of disunity inside the movement, but frankly, what is really going on is a series of constructive discussions that is leading to a California measure that everyone can unite behind and resonate with California voters. Reports of disunity have been greatly exaggerated and not only are California advocates communicating, but we are also communicating with national organizations such as New Approach, the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance." I completely agree that the media loves conflict and look for every opportunity to report on anything that can be seen as infighting within the cannabis community. It is important that everyone keep such internal discussions in context and remember that there isn't any reason to openly trash the reputation of fellow advocates who likely agree with you on over 80%-90% of the issues.
Both Dale and Jim referred to one of the organizers of the ICBC, Debby Goldsberry, as one of the important grassroots connection on the CCPR board. Debby became an activist in the late 1980s, at the height of the Drug War, starting the Cannabis Action Network, "planting seeds" as she put it, putting on festivals, educating the public and helping organize reform organizations across the country. She went on to co-found the legendary Berkeley Patients Group and now works at Magnolia Wellness, one of the premiere medical cannabis dispensaries in the world. While she has experience in business, Debby has never forgotten her activist grassroots. Ms. Goldsbeery has helped blaze a trail for everyone, particularly women and mothers, in cannabis law reform. Dale remarked that she was amazed how Debby handled motherhood, especially during a time when mothers are put under even more pressure and stigmatized for having any involvement with marijuana law reform.
Working to move forward on an important social justice issue, when there are literally threats to take your children away, takes real bravery, that I certainly admire. These women, and others like them across the country, are key to the marijuana movement as women haven't supported legalization at as a high of a rate as men and the "soccer mom" vote is crucial as many women who may have had liberal feelings about cannabis in their college days feel conflicted following motherhood. Strong, successful mothers like Debby and Dale help dispel myths around marijuana and can demonstrate that cannabis legalization is a much better policy for our nation's children than the failed and harmful policy of prohibition.
In addition to representing the the long-time grassroots community, Debby is representing the rights of workers and the medical cannabis community. Goldsberry ended her talk with me, stating, "It is important the cannabis employees feed their families and that sick and disabled patients are still cared for. We are watching what is happening to the medical community in Washington State and are following the implementation of legalization in Oregon. Oregon passed a great measure on paper, but the devil is in the details of implementation and the California medical cannabis community is certainly paying attention to ensure that legalization measures don't trample the hard-earned gains of the medical cannabis community."
Helping put together a winning cannabis law reform coalition in Oregon was a daunting task that I am very proud to have played a part in, so I understand the monumental job ahead of California, which has the population of 9 Oregons and many vested financial, political and personal interests in the marijuana movement. However, with great activists like Dale Sky Jones, Jim Gonzalez, as well as Dan Rush of the UFCW and Dale Gieringer of California NORML and really too many to mention, CCPR and and the entire California cannabis community are moving a legalization measure forward the right way. They are listening, organizing and fundraising toward a goal that will help lead California, and the nation, if not most of the world, to more freedom and prosperity. As we have seen, California is very influential in both cannabis policy, and really in all things. I urge cannabis law reform advocates from across the country to support the efforts of CCPR.