S.F. Advocates Protest Obama Medical Marijuana Policy


All photos: Jack Rikess

Medical Marijuana Activists In San Francisco Challenge the Obama Administration Crackdown; Toke of the Town Was There

By Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town
Northern California Correspondent
Last time we thought it was some sick joke when Obama came to fundraise in San Francisco on April 20, the pot smoker’s holiday, after having changed his stance and began his reversal on medical marijuana in California. 
Today, no one was laughing.

​The protest festivities started off with a press conference in Marriott a few blocks away from the upscale hotel where the President was holding his fundraiser. Matt Cohen of the recently ransacked Northstone Organics and Steve DeAngelo of the recent IRS doberman style attack-audit on California’s largest dispensary, Harborside Health Center was part of the who’s who of California cannabis panel.
Assembly-dude nonpareil Tom Ammiano spoke forcefully decrying the latest assault by the Obama Administration on Medical Marijuana. He said that he was a member of the “loyal opposition” to the Feds, adding that the Department of Justice needs to be “reigned in.” 
“They’re acting like thugs,” Assemblymember Ammiano snapped.
The seriousness of the consequences that the Obama Regime had started wasn’t loss on any of the major players. Many lawyers, activists and concerned business-people debated and suggested various solutions for a problem that caught most of us unaware.
Activist, publisher and cannabis comic Ngaio Bealum, always pressing the issue wherever he can, showed up late for the press conference because he’d anchored a demo in LA last night. Waking, not sure about baking, the ubiquitous advocate of medical marijuana left Los Gangeles at four this morning in an effort to show his solidarity and then it was ont o Sacramento for two events later that day. Ngaio was tired but energized by what was ahead of him.
“Hey man, we all got to pull together in times like these…” he said.

​But what is the plan in the Time of No Obama Love?
“We’re setting the precedent,” Harborside owner and reality TV star Steve DeAngelo said referring to his landmark case disputing the Feds claim that dispensaries cannot make standard business deductions. “The problem is the price of justice is 2.4 million dollars, Steve said in my interview. “That’s the price you have to pay before they let you in.” 
Harborside Health Center has started a nationwide defense fund in an effort to help to defray the costs it will take to change the system.
I asked the head of California NORML, Dr. Dale Gieringer, why now? Why was Obama coming after medical marijuana?

​”Bureaucratical inertia. No directive from the Obama Administration,” the good doctor said shaking his head.” “In 15 years since 215 was passed, the Feds haven’t move one millimeter. The progress has been done on the state level. Obama’s Drug Czar is afraid of medical marijuana. They’re afraid of being wrong, so the lockdown. Almost their whole drug ideology is based on marijuana,” Dr. Gieringer said, still amped from the press conference. “We need to move forward!”
If anyone had the right to be bummed it was Matt Cohen of the shut-down Northstone Collective, but even he was being positive about the large fight looming ahead.
“I’m definitely not leaving the movement,” Cohen said. “I’ll probably go into the policy side for a little bit.”
Have you been charged by the Feds yet, for anything?

​”No, but they bankrupted the collective. They went all Steve Cooley on us. We tried for other financing but it is hard for non-profits to get loans the way it is, let alone now for Medical Marijuana.” 
Do you think you were personally, singled-out and targeted by the Feds?
“Definitely. The stars kind of aligned for the Feds and they went with it. We weren’t growing 1,000 plants. The Mendocino County Sheriff [Allman] supports us. It’s a sham,” Cohen said unhappily about being under attack by the federal government. 
As the press conference broke other local medical marijuana activists organized the waiting troops ensconced outside the downtown Marriott for the march to the Hotel W, where President Obama was staging a $7,500-a-plate fundraiser.
Unable to get close to the W because of the already booked Keystone Pipeline and OccupySF demonstrators had taken the prime revolutionary spot because we don’t camp over night, the medical marijuana crowd settled in a block away at 3rd and Mission. 

​Car horns honked in support for the large group of protesters carrying homemade signs and creatively conceived printed posters. Wide-eyed tourists in long shorts and geeky physicians in town for — ironically — a medical ethics convention looked bewildered and mildly interested snaking their way through the medical marijuana crowd.
I couldn’t help noticing the irony didn’t stop there. The demonstration was being held adjacent to The Yerba Buena Center.
Throughout the afternoon, more and more people j
oined the cause. The ranks swelled, filling the sidewalks up. Many of the San Francisco dispensaries had patients and members decked out in their t-shirts and swag showing their solidarity. 
Medithrive, a dispensary just blocks away has the dubious honor of being one of the three local operations that have received closing instructions from the Feds. 

​I asked Tiana Fields, the social media manager for Medithrive, are you in fact closing?
“We’re staying open as long as we can,” the young woman said optimistically. “We might have to do delivery until we can find a place.”
You share a wall with a school, isn’t this just plain old city zoning rules and regs and not a plot against dispensaries?

Steve DeAngelo of Harborside Health Center was part of the Who’s Who of California on the cannabis panel

​​”A dispensary had been there since 1989. We were grandfathered in. We paid state and federal taxes. We have 25,000 patients. We’re known for having good quality medication and are very community based,” Tiana said defiantly. “We will find a new location or do delivery until we do.”
The seriousness of the press conference set the tone for the afternoon. This wasn’t a bunch of stoners gathering or a downtown pot party. David Goldman of Americans for Safe Access (ASA) not only gave maybe one of the most heartfelt speeches of the press conference earlier that morning, calling out U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag’s comments that she has seen “seemingly healthy” young people leaving dispensaries.
Goldman gave an almost Shakespearean soliloquy, calling out the Top Lawyer for her qualifications to make that judgment. Since when is a “lawyer’s visual diagnosis more credible than a physician’s written recommendation that is based on medical examinations, blood tests, MRIs, CAT scans or x-rays?” Goldman asked.
Referring to California U.S. Representative Nancy Pelosi and U.S. Senators Boxer and Feinstein, Goldman closed with, “Enough is enough. The time to move forward is here. Now, all we need is federal leadership.” 

​On the streets, Goldman continued his electrifying passion by energizing the demonstrators with the call and response of “DEA, Go Away,” and reminding the crowd to get involved.
The dynamic Kyndra Miller of California Women’s NORML enlisted the aid and support of women protesting on the lines. One of the tattooed young woman said that she came in from L.A. for today’s demonstration. Miller had asked her to be one of her “Cannabis Warriors” down in the City of Angels, starting next week where the big International Drug Policy Reform Conference — ‘Reform Now!’ — is being held at the Westin Bonaventure, November 2-5.
The war is on. A topic of conversation was how everyone in the industry and movement is hurting financially. Most of the traditional monetary tools and resources like banking, advertising, media, and of course, the cannabis industry itself is on an unsteady course or is now being used as a weapon against the Industry.
Where jobs were once being created, business now is being strangled until the Feds decide to let go.
Everyone is hurting who has come to rely on this burgeoning industry for their livelihood. Either there’s no money coming in or the money that is going out goes to legal. And as far as that goes, most of your cannabis lawyers in San Francisco, because of the latest crackdown, are working their pro-bono asses off taking cases for less or even free. 
After two weeks of being pummeled and thrown off balance by the Obama Administration and the DOJ, we’ve circled the wagons and we’re ready for Round Two.
This is no joke. Today in San Francisco activists energized their base and drew out a plan for the future. Obama better get ready.
These potheads are serious. There will be a fight. 
Americans For Safe Access meeting: Tuesday, Nov. 1st, 7:30pm at 847 Howard Street, San Francisco.

All photos by Jack Rikess

Photo: Jack Rikess
Toke of the Town correspondent Jack Rikess blogs from the Haight in San Francisco

Jack Rikess, a former stand-up comic, writes a regular column most directly found at jackrikess.com.

Jack delivers real-time coverage following the cannabis community, focusing on politics and culture.

His beat includes San Francisco, the Bay Area and Mendocino-Humboldt counties.

He has been quoted by the national media and is known for his unique view with thoughtful, insightful perspective.