Last night I testified against a proposed ordinance to ban all outdoor cultivation of medical marijuana within the city limits of Concord, California. I was not the only one. Although we diverged somewhat in our concerns, all 13 speakers before the council spoke vociferously against the ordinance as written. The five council members respectfully listened to all of us, then unanimously approved the proposal without amendments.
It was, for me, what our president has called a “teachable moment”. Some time after I stood at the podium, urging the four men and one woman who represent a city of over 100,000 people to understand the difference between indoor and outdoor cannabis, I realized that not a single one of these people in a position of power knew anything about the issue. That was bad enough, but next came the truly disheartening realization that it’s not really their fault. It’s ours.
The moment came when Mayor Helix, whom I have no reason to believe is anything but an honest and forthright person, made a joke to Vice Mayor Grayson, who is a general contractor by trade. The mayor, a retired brigadier general, playfully ribbed the vice mayor about his construction business, inquiring whether Grayson had any professional experience building indoor grow rooms. Grayson laughed. Of course he didn’t.
That’s when it hit me: the reason why Concord, and so many other jurisdictions, lacks representation by anyone who understands cannabis is that our cultural and political institutions make it impossible for any such person to win election.
Even Edi Birsan, who made attempts to amend the ordinance to preserve access to home-grown outdoor cannabis, freely admitted that he knows next to nothing about growing cannabis. By doing so, all five council members clearly signaled their allegiance to the conservative side of a decades-long culture war — a necessary move for any politician in their position. Any candidate with actual bona fides on the question of cannabis would have been ridiculed off the ballot; the safe position is to cling to one’s ignorance like a badge of honor, then vote for any measure which can be sold as a victory against the hippies.
This is the only issue I can think of wherein politicians are rewarded for voting the conscience of their proud ignorance. The same dynamics can be seen all over the country. Even Washington state, which made the smart move and hired the help of an outside consultant (they chose Mark Kleiman, who under the circumstances is probably the best choice), decided they would not even consider any applicant who had actual experience growing or distributing cannabis. How insane is this? While I don’t approve of Wall Street bankers deciding banking regulations or oil companies designing closed-door energy policy, how can it be any better to vest decision-making powers only in those who demonstrably, proudly, know nothing at all about what they regulate?
We must immediately end the stigmas which bind our elected officials in this impasse. Tell your elderly friends about how cannabis can treat arthritis and prevent Alzheimer’s. Tell your veteran friends how it can help them manage chronic pain and PTSD. Above all, remind everyone that it’s just a plant. All it does is grow, swaying in the sun and wind. Only human reactions to its presence cause problems.