Attorney General Kamala Harris has laughed her way out of the good graces of California's marijuana industry. In turn, some of the state's weed players are now backing the AG's Republican challenger.
This is a sea change from four years ago. When Harris was still San Francisco's district attorney, the city's cannabis establishment threw her a fundraiser in a posh SoMa apartment. Then, attendees say, she was approachable and sympathetic.
But since ascending to Sacramento, Harris has been bad on drug reform, weed advocates say, and has shut herself off from her old city's legal marijuana industry. The last straw was this summer, when the attorney general laughed off questions about her support for marijuana legalization.
[jump] Sick of being the butt of mainstream Democrats' jokes, legalization backers are now backing Republican Ron Gold, Harris's long-shot challenger who paid a visit to several San Francisco marijuana dispensaries and spoke at cannabis trade school Oaksterdam University on Monday (and was on KQED this morning).
But will that endorsement really matter?
Gold's quest to unseat Harris has been at times deemed quixotic, a long-shot, and symbolic. And indeed, Harris seems like a surefire shoo-in to be re-elected. She is a big-name Democrat in deep-blue California, admired even by President Barack Obama (which means she also has access to an enormous amount of campaign cash).
And Ron Gold? Seemingly nobody knows who he is (btw: he's a Southern California attorney who worked in the Attorney General's Office in the 1970s, in case you are curious).
However, a September Field Poll revealed that Harris was only 12 points ahead of Gold among likely voters. And her victory in 2010 over Republican Steve Cooley — back in another era when it seemed possible Gov. Jerry Brown might lose to his Republican opponent Meg Whitman — was by only 75,000 votes.
So Gold thinks he has a decent chance to unseat Harris, and where he can hit her the hardest is on drug policy, he told SF Weekly this week.
Harris is using her record on fighting mortgage fraud and transnational criminal gangs, as well as upholding Obama programs like the Affordable Care Act. As for Gold … well, there's a good reason why he's called Ron “Acapulco” Gold.
“Marijuana is the key singular issue in this campaign… and she hasn't done anything” for the state's marijuana industry, he said.
Worse, she has done cannabis an ill turn, he said. Gold rattled off a list of her misdeeds, including declining to join in other states' efforts to remove marijuana from the DEA's list of most-dangerous substances while failing to help the state's cannabis industry during the 2011 federal Justice Department crackdown.
“She can call Obama. She can use her clout. She hasn't,” he said.
If elected, Gold says one of the first orders of business would be to craft regulations for a statewide weed industry, something that the Legislature has failed to do for some time now. He'd also push to allow California medical marijuana sellers to be able to turn a profit, something they can't accomplish under current state law.
This is not the first time a Republican has won unlikely friends among the mostly liberal marijuana industry. Retired U.S. Rep. Ron Paul, for example, was exhorted as a saint for his constant support for marijuana legalization by the very people who were horrified to learn that Paul wanted to dismantle the EPA.
And liberals will find plenty reasons to butt heads with Gold. Take Palestinian sympathizers, for instance. Gold left the Democratic Party in the '60s over the party's near-declaration of deeming Zionism a racist policy, he said.
Still, “I can't in good conscience vote against my own self-interest,” said David Goldman, a Castro District resident and retired high school mathematics teacher who has devoted his retirement to marijuana activism. This will be the first time Goldman has cast a vote for a Republican in his life, he told SF Weekly.
Many others in the weed game are simply fed up and pissed-off. “I'm sick of being laughed at,” said Jeff Jones, who has plenty to be mad about. The feds nabbed Jones, who ran a dispensary in Oakland, after the state handed him over to the feds (the case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, but Jones is now out of the weed-selling business by court order).
“I can't be led by someone more immature than I am on this issue.”
Will others follow? Even a strong showing from Gold would send the message that marijuana is a legitimate issue with money and votes behind it.