The demonstration that was planned for Tuesday morning to protest the most recent letters sent by U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag took on an added dimension of anger and unabashed outpouring of emotion with the Feds’ untimely raid on East Bay’s Oaksterdam and Richard Lee yesterday morning. Hundreds of patients, caregivers and activists streamed to the steps of City Hall, carrrying signs and chanting slogans to relieve the anger most were feeling from the assault on Richard Lee.
The elegant David Goldman, from Americans for Safe Access, commanded the podium and took Haag to task for making the assumption that most patients are basically faking it and dispensaries are nothing more than illegitimate drug dealers. David and others spoke of the Attorney General’s additional comment that she is only “going after dispensaries, not patients,” which garnered many boos from the crowd.
Supervisor David Chu, observing the crowd, said, “We’re Black, we’re Asian, we’re White, we’re Latino, and today…San Francisco is Green!” Applause echoed between City Hall and the surrounding buildings, drawing in more supporters.
Sup. Scott Weiner, who represents the Castro, San Francisco’s predominantly gay district, reminded those attending that Proposition 215, which allowed for medical marijuana, was a response to the AIDS crisis and was founded by the LGBT community.
The recent closures of local dispensaries are blocking access for those patients that the law was intended to serve. He remarked that the Feds are cutting $7 million from AIDS/HIV programs, yet have time for raids on patients. “Medical Marijuana is our safety net, we need to protect this!”
As on-edge as the crowd was, most speakers were free from hecklers and outbursts unless the names Obama or Haag were mentioned. The cries of “You lie, Obama,” were shrieked by most when the subject of his turn-around on an original platform to leave medical marijuana alone. Melinda Haag fared even worse.
David Campos, another one of the five or six supervisors that spoke, also mentioned the birth of the medical marijuana movement via the gay community. Sup. Campos and three other openly gay supervisors sent a letter to the Department of Public Health, supporting the rights of medical marijuana patients. “I have seen loved ones die, and I have seen cannabis improve quality of life,” he said, and then added, “You’re not alone — you have friends in City Hall!”
After Supervisor Campos rallied the crowd, one of the leaders encouraged the ever-growing throng to make some noise: “Let’s scare Melinda Haag with our energy. Let’s have the mayor and all those working in City Hall, hear us!” Cars and trucks honked with peace signs flashing, people chanting and giving voice to the community’s frustration and confusion in response to the Feds’ nonsensical movements.
But it wasn’t consistently peaches and cream. When representatives for the city’s D.A. and city attorney spoke, while being very nice and articulate speakers, they raised the crowd’s ire by repeating statements and rhetoric that the protesters had been hearing for the last few months ad nauseum. People wanted action, not talk.
When a woman read a statement from D.A. George Gascon (who had threatened to close all the dispensaries in San Francisco the week before), pledging his support (this week) for cannabis, stating: “I am unequivocally for medical marijuana,” onlookers started to tremble and shake like they were in a cartoon with a slow fuse burning and at any given moment, they’d explode.
Nearly hitting critical mass on the steps of City Hall, unable to contain their bile any longer, shouts of, “Enough, what is the City going to do?” and “Bullshit, we want action!” were the response from the crowd.
There was good news being delivered by the speakers on the steps:
1) SF City Attorney Dennis Herrera and others are working to defeat the upcoming Pack v. Long Beach decision that would go against the rights of patients.
2) Tom Ammiano’s spokesperson said, “Tom’s met with Melinda Haag, berated her for not understanding the history or the issue at hand, and let her know that she had no idea what she was getting into.”
3) Senator Mark Leno’s representative said, “The Feds are wasting money and time 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.”
4) Dale Sky Jones, representing Richard Lee of Oaksterdam, read a statement referring to the Federal raid on his businesses which coincided with and the tragic school shooting that took seven lives in Oakland. “Two universities were struck yesterday. Where was law enforcement? At the 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 revenue that pays to support police and other desperately needed social services.
As the speeches were coming to a close on the City Hall steps, without any fanfare or hovering press, Richard Lee rolled up, almost anonymously, with head down working his smart phone.
I’ve met Richard a few times and asked, in my best hey-I-know-you-just-had-a-life-changing-experience voice, if he had any comment or something to say to the Toke of the Town readers and he succinctly replied, “I’m not giving
interviews at this time. But I will say to you, whatever happens, Oaksterdam will go on.” Thanks, Richard!
interviews at this time. But I will say to you, whatever happens, Oaksterdam will go on.” Thanks, Richard!
Activist and Deep Green Festival founder Michael Gosney, whose event which happens April 21 at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond — and will include many of today’s leaders in science, medicine and politics — was there. I asked him, “Will there be fireworks? Will the recent activities by the Feds change the direction of your event from an expo to a high council planning new strategies?”
“Deep Green was always perceived as a clear-headed approach to cannabis, not only medicinally, but industrially as well,” Gosney told me. “What is happening with the Feds is a battle that goes to heart of our social fabric; this is a broader cultural attack. This is more than medical marijuana; this is denial of access to medicine, a human right. This issue is about human rights and a deeper social disconnect we’re all facing,” the legendary Bay Area impresario concluded.
With Richard Lee’s bust and the anger hoisted against Obama and Melinda Haag taking stage-center in terms of focus and the crowd’s attention, another piece of San Francisco sorrow was that the much-loved dispensary, HopeNet, had received “The Letter.”
The proprietor and long-time San Francisco activist, Cathy Smith, was heartbroken and had that look we’re seeing more and more at these rallies, crestfallen and dismayed; the most I could do as a journalist is hug her. The dreaded letter from Melinda Haag means that yet another small business that employs 20 or so workers — and pays taxes! — is now going to have to let staff go and the city and its residents lose much-needed revenue and access to medicine.
Even though the raid on Richard Lee had the world talking, San Francisco’s own HopeNet had many of the protesters crying and sharing the pain of having someone as dedicated as Cathy Smith, who like Lynette Shaw in Marin, has been steadfast and true since the beginning; now their worlds have collapsed. Signs and placards supporting HopeNet were prominently displayed and carried by many who attended.
See, the Feds are smart. Richard Lee was the financial and major supporter of all things medicinal and big business when it came to cannabis in the East Bay.
Cathy Smith was one of the O.G.’s on San Francisco Marijuana Task Force, representing the dispensaries for the city. She, along with her husband has been providing access in what could be called “one of the rougher parts of town” since this crazy compassion thing started back in the 90s.
The attack on Richard Lee has definitely curtailed his operations for the short foreseeable future. It could be over for Cathy Smith and her dispensary, HopeNet.
I know this is going to be hard for the nonbelievers, but when a dispensary South of Market Street, such as HopeNet, closes, those poor patients in the vicinity — who are mostly living on welfare — do not have transportation or even sometimes, outside help or assistance to get their medicine. When you close down one of the more downtown dispensaries like HopeNet or Divinity Tree, those patients are S.O.L. They’re alone and without support.
I’d say a third or so are returning veterans of one of our many overseas wars and those heroes need our help. Those are the folks who fall through the cracks and we see slumped against building, mumbling to themselves. And we wonder why they are there. That is the kind of patient Cathy Smith and HopeNet helped. When the City forgets, the dispensaries don’t. Even the most down and out could get a little something-something from HopeNet.
Luckily, the head doyen of California NORML, Dale Gieringer was there and I asked him, what can NORML do for Cathy and those who find themselves in that same place. What can a dispensary do against the Feds?
“It all depends what we’re talking about. Forfeit seizures? Landlord issues? Zoning? This is planned anarchy from the Feds. How do you defend against that?” Dr. Gieringer responded.
After the noon bells chimed, the throng moved its headquarters from the steps of City Hall to the Federal Building where Melinda Haag has her office. Steve DeAngelo, TV star and Harborside Health Center owner, marched with protesters as he did the day before at Oaksterdam. Keeping a rather low profile, the IRS suspect answered questions and signed autographs, but stayed close to the sidelines, carrying signs and chanting just like anyone else.
There was a little incident outside of the Federal Building that lasted about 15 minutes, when two pissed-off young men started to engage the cops who had formed a perimeter line in front of the entrance. The stone-faced cops kept their composure as the young men in Giants caps taunted the police with questions like, “Why, man, why are you doing this. Don’t you have anything better to do? Don’t be assholes, man.”
At this point, one of the organizers suggested that since most of the activists had been almost literally marching since the early morning attack on Oaksterdam, yesterday, why don’t we all chill and sit down, and breathe. Someone suggested that maybe we should try to levitate the Federal Building like the hippies tried in the 1960s with the Pentagon.
The crowd thinned and thickened as the day went on. There might have been 500 at the most. People were worn down. Spirits were depleted. The seemingly unstoppable phalanx of the Federal Juggernaut appears to be without end. Because there is no rhyme or reason to the Feds’ actions, and because most of the official reasons that are spewed forth stink of lies and intellectual dishonesty, it just makes you more pissed off.
For over three hours, we sat, we stood, we shouted, we pumped our fists and it felt good.
But it is not enough.
Melinda Haag can find schools and other part-time scholastic bullshit reasons to deny access to the patients she hates. Obama, in the words of that Tea Party hillbilly, “You lie!” Whatever peace and solidarity we could find together on the steps of our higher authority yesterday will be short-lived if someone in local government doesn’t stand up soon. Six of our 11 supervisors spoke. Other officials who support the citizens of San Francisco and the proposition they passed, lent their voices for the cause.
But at some point the rhetoric must stop. Someone in this City, and in Seattle and Portland, wherever patients’ lives are being ruined, needs to say, “Enough is enough.”
We will continue to protest and be vigilant. But we will not go into the night so gently if pushed much farther.
We don’t need no stinkin’ weatherman to know which way the wind is blowing now. One hundred and twelve people who were a part of Americans for Safe Access have died since the genesis of that organization. Many patients spent their last days on Earth protesting like we did yesterday, knowing that this is all they have — this medicine that relieves the pain and allows for a quality of life unknown with other medicines. That’s a fact.
That there are patients dying hasn’t changed the hearts and minds of our Department of Justice. I’m afraid to question what it will take before the rest of the world wakes up to what is happening to patients’ rights and access.
The Feds can do a one-two punch of Richard Lee and Cathy Smith. But those are body shots; we can take it. Do you really want to see us fight back?
You’ve made us criminals. Now, what? Are we supposed to become violent in order to be heard? I ask Melinda Haag and President Obama, in defending the rights of patients, Richard Lee, and Cathy Smith, what else in our arsenal do you want us to use?
You tell me how to fight off this attack without my ass ending up on a Black Ship, and I’ll do it. Where do you want to go with this fight?