San Francisco Rallies for Medical Marijuana

April 3, 2012 - Between 400 and 500 people converged on San Francisco city hall today for a Unity rally in support of medical marijuana. The event was planned before the raid of Oaksterdam University that brought protesters out to Oakland the previous day. Americans for Safe Access and affiliated groups lead the protesters on a march to the Federal Building, which houses the office of Melinda Haag, the Northern District US Attorney who has lead the recent actions against collectives in San Francisco.

Six of the eleven San Francisco Supervisors spoke, along with representatives of the city attorney and district attorney, the state assemblyman and senator from San Francisco, plus patients, activists, and others. The crowd was motivated, spirited, and ready for action, especially so because of the new raid against OU and its popular founder Richard Lee.

Chair of the Board of Supervisors David Campos was the first of many public officials to speak. Noting that the medical marijuana movement had its birth in San Francisco and the gay rights movement, he proudly said that he and all three openly gay San Francisco city councilmen have sent a letter to the Department of Public Health in support of medical rights. San Francisco, he said, must be a sanctuary for medical marijuana. “I have seen loved ones die, and I have seen cannabis improve quality of life,” he said. Campos pledged to expedite the permitting process for the approved cannabis dispensaries in the city, and called on the mayor to stand firm on the issue. He closed by saying, “You're not alone, you have friends in city hall.”

Supervisor John Avalos said he's worked with Campos on a resolution denouncing the feds in the past, and would do so again. Supervisor Christina Olague said she too is working with Campos and added, “We have to stand up to the level of ignorance that's coming out of Washington right now.”

Supervisor Scott Wiener said he represents the Castro district, and that HIV is one of his strong concerns, so “It's personal for me.” He noted that $7 million in federal funds are being cut from HIV programs this year, yet the federal government has the resources to “make us scramble for our safety net” and medical marijuana.

Supervisor Jane Kim said the closure of MCDs has affected the personal health of her constituents, and she has also heard from others who have lost jobs because of closures. She said the MCDs are engaged in community building, and that the “massive showing” at the rally would send a message to city hall and to DC.

Supervisor David Chiu got the biggest round of applause when he opened his speech, “Look around today. We're Asian, we're Latino, we're White, we're Black, and today, San Francisco is Green!” He reminded us that the city is named for St. Francis, and stands for compassion. As an attorney, he said, he's disappointed in other attorneys who are confused and need to hear we're standing for our sick and our seniors.

Stephanie Tucker read a statement from DA George Gascon saying, “I am unequivocally for medical marijuana.” Matt Dorsey, communications director for SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera, said the feds were trying to roll back decades of progress. He reminded us that 80% of San Franciscans passed Prop. P in favor of medical marijuana in 1991, and that Prop. 215 won by a margin of one million votes. In 2005 the Board of Supervisors and mayor enacted a model permitting system that has served patients and residents well.

In addition to overzealous US attorneys, Dorsey said the Pack decision, now awaiting a ruling at the California Supreme court, is a threat to patient access. He said Herrera is working with other public officials on an amicus brief in that case.

Quintin Mecke from Rep. Tom Ammiano's office picked up on the “Sanctuary City” comment and drew cheers when he said, “California is a Sanctuary State.” Our California law, passed in 1996, is at stake, he said. He said he met with US Attorney Melinda Haag and “she did not appreciate the history or understand the issue, and she didn't know what she was getting into.” He asked all to contact their state representatives in favor of AB2312, Ammiano's bill to regulate medical marijuana in California, which will have a hearing on April 10 in Sacramento.

Anna Damiani from Senator Mark Leno's office read a statement from Sen. Leno saying that the feds are wasting time and money, which would be better spent on actions that ensure jobs, put food on the table, and house the homeless, instead of this ill-conceived offensive that takes jobs away.

A representative from the office of State Board of Equalization member Betty Yee said that medical cannabis dispensaries are part of a responsible distribution network that pays it taxes, to the tune of $100 million yearly.

Dale Skye Jones read a statement from Richard Lee, who was present at the rally. Referring to the shooting at an Oakland religious university that killed seven students, she said, “Two universities were struck yesterday. Where was law enforcement? At a school that teaches safety and responsibility.” Because of the raid, she said, many lost their jobs and health insurance, and cash-strapped Oakland lost tax income that paid for police and other services. Although the raid was meant to demoralize them, it galvanized them instead, she said. She enjoined the crowd to get themselves into voting booths, and jury polls. She added, “As a mother, I demand the justice department go after gun violence, child predators and human trafficking.” 

Charlie Pappas, whose collective The Divinity Tree was closed because of a threatening letter from the feds to his landlord, quoted Martin Luther King when he said, “The arc of history bends towards justice,” adding, “That's certainly true in San Francisco.” Recalling that he was present when protesters tried to levitate the Pentagon in the 1960s, he said we should try to levitate the federal building, where we were marching next.

At the Federal Building, California NORML director Dale Gieringer called on everyone to make their feelings known to the Obama administration by calling the White House hotline or emailing through www.CaNORML.org. Laura Thomas of the Drug Policy Alliance asked the crowd, particularly the parents, to write to Melinda Haag to tell her what medical marijuana dispensaries mean to them. (Haag has said she's received letters from parents who have complained about dispensaries.) Her address is:

Melinda Haag, United States Attorney
450 Golden Gate Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94102

A Change.org petition protesting the Oaksterdam raid has already gathered over 9,310 of 10,000 signatures needed to reach the President.

See video of the rally

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