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Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Medical Marijuana Bills Killed by Odd Bedfellows -- Labor and Business Groups

Posted By on Wed, Jun 8, 2011 at 9:15 AM

click to enlarge You can't really win against business AND labor
  • You can't really win against business AND labor

Public safety and jobs. To a California politician, they are

the bread and butter -- if bread and butter means getting elected, that is. There are fewer worse labels for a politician than

"job-killer" or the pejorative "soft on crime."

You'd think, then, that a public safety bill introduced by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco), at the urging of Northern California district attorneys, would sail right through the Legislature. Or what about Sen. Mark Leno's (D-San Francisco) bill guaranteeing employment

protection rights? That would seemingly be popular in Sacramento.

Leave it to medical cannabis to break the mold and create odd bedfellows: The California Chamber of Commerce and organized labor, whose combined opposition felled Leno's bill this legislative session. As for Ammiano's? It depends on how you define "soft on crime."

Ammiano's AB 1017 would have granted the state's district attorneys the ability to charge marijuana cultivation as a misdemeanor. Leno's SB 129 would have amended the state's medical marijuana laws to bring them up to par with Arizona's. In Arizona, you cannot be fired solely for being a medical cannabis patient.

District attorneys from Mendocino, Humboldt, Lake, and Del Norte counties -- part of the state's Emerald Triangle, where pot patches are as common as garden tomatoes -- urged Ammiano to push for AB 1017, despite opposition from their state District Attorneys Association.

None of that support mattered when AB 1017 failed last week, with Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo) joining Republicans to deny DAs that leeway when it comes to charging for marijuana crimes in their districts.

Leno did not even try putting SB 129 forward for a vote. This means both bills are dead for now. The lawmakers plan to reintroduce them in January when they might garner more support, they told SF Weekly this week.

"A lot of these members are worried about redistricting," Ammiano said. "They don't want to be rezoned and end up in a heavily-Republican district" where the soft-on-crime label is a death sentence. "But the fact we got this on the floor at all is a good thing."

He then noted that the law enforcement community was divided over the bill, which he called progress, "considering we were at zero just two years ago." 

In Leno's case, labor failed to come through when he needed it most. Instead, he saw "bizarre arguments" by the California Chamber of Commerce (often labor's mortal enemy, as in Brown vs. Whitman) take root, he told us Monday.  "Oddly enough, they called it a job killer," he said.

But the biggest fail moment came from labor. SEIU, one of the state's biggest labor unions, failed to support SB 129 after endorsing a similar measure in 2008. That measure passed the Legislature, yet it died after then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger vetoed it. Without SEIU to tell Democrats to step in line, Leno pulled the plug.
Now, he says he will spend the next six months "personally" lobbying his colleagues to get them to back the bil.

While United Food and Commercial Workers, which has organized dispensary and other medical marijuana employees, supported SB 129 late in the game, pot advocates are not letting SEIU off lightly.

"Big labor needs to come to the support of their members' right to use medical marijuana," says Dale Gieringer, director of California NORML. "Or else explain who the hell they think they're representing."

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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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