President Barack Obama is in San Francisco today, and at this moment, he's somewhere between a fundraiser at the SFJazz Center and a much more expensive fundraiser at Salesforce.com founder Marc Benioff's house. Little of this is relevant for people not spending $32,500 on lunch. For them, having President Obama in town always means two things: traffic and protesters.
Every cause is here: Demonstrators opposed to the Keystone XL pipeline showed up today to say no to a 1,700-mile-long stream of tar sands oil, as they have at Obama fundraisers past at the Masonic Center Auditorium and at the W Hotel. There's an action in Hayes Valley from Codepink against "Obama the Drone Criminal," and in Chinatown this morning, Obama also received an earful on immigration reform. But at least for a day, the Choomer in Chief got a pass on drug reform.
There was no organized action from marijuana legalization backers or medical marijuana advocates, whose industry is still under constant threat of shutdown from the federal Department of Justice (and who had a presence at Obama visits in 2011 and 2012).
Though protesters let Obama have the day off, some Bay Area members of Congress did send official letters to the Obama Administration, slamming the DOJ's shutdowns. It just wasn't the ones who really matter (Feinstein, Pelosi, we're still looking at you).
Despite Attorney General Eric Holder's memo in August that suggested the feds would at last back off from drug reform movements in Colorado and Washington, there's still no peace -- or end -- after the four U.S. attorneys in California announced a coordinated "crackdown" on the state's medical marijuana industry.
To date, at least nine San Francisco medical cannabis dispensaries -- or about 1/3 of the marijuana businesses open at the time -- have shut down under pressure from the Justice Department. And the feds have sued to seize the building of another one, Shambhala Healing Center in the Mission District.
Add that to banks still refusing to process cannabis businesses' cash, credit card companies likewise declining weed transactions, and there's plenty to be upset about. But not enough to send people out of the offices and into the streets, at least not for today.
Instead, last week four members of Congress from the Bay Area sent U.S. Attorney for Northern California Melinda Haag a letter asking for an end to the crackdown.
Haag might well want an end to it herself -- legal action to shutter Oakland's Harborside Health Center, which Haag moved to seize in July 2012, could take until 2015 or beyond to be resolved -- but as lawyers say, once a case is filed, it's very hard to unfile it.
The letter from Reps. Barbara Lee, Eric Swalwell, George Miller and Sam Farr, the strongest action on drug reform Obama or his people will hear on this visit to the Bay Area, reads in part:
"It is counterproductive and economically prohibitive to continue a path of hostility toward dispensaries. Moreover, it appears to directly counter the spirit of Deputy Attorney General Cole's memo, and is in direct opposition to the evolving view toward medical marijuana, the will of the people and, by now, common sense. Additionally, the State of California has also received legislative direction and guidelines from California Attorney General Kamala Harris on responsibly delivering medical marijuana.
It is our view that the intent of the Justice Department is to not enforce its anti-marijuana laws in conflict with the laws of states that have chosen to decriminalize marijuana for medical and recreational uses. California understands the urgency toward putting together a statewide regulatory system, and we can all be helpful in that regard, but some municipalities, including Oakland, have already done an extraordinary job regulating medical marijuana. California is moving in the correct direction in a measured manner, and should be given the opportunity to do so."
As of yet, the Department of Justice has yet to respond.