He does think that the Obama Administration is sending its attorneys mixed messages — case in point, US Attorney General Eric Holder's repeated comments that federal interference in state-legal marijuana operations would be "a low priority." Ammiano also makes the connection between the attacks on cannabis and the self-sustaining industries behind the War on Drugs. "The DEA, some of the diehards, this is like a jobs program for them," he said.
His meeting with California Attorney General Kamala Harris went more smoothly. Ammiano says Harris, who voiced cautious support for the industry last fall, was eager for a more comprehensive regulatory system to be put into place, but she supported Proposition 215 — the 1996 measure that legalized medical marijuana in California — on principle.
Faced with an ambiguous future, medical cannabis' proponents — politicians, activists, entrepreneurs, and patients — are putting forth plans for just such a system. This year will be the playing field for a passel of campaigns to take medical marijuana out of the under-supervised arena in which it's found itself.
Three ballot initiative campaigns seek to address the issue. Two — Regulate Marijuana Like Wine and Repeal Prohibition — would legalize cannabis use for adults across the board. Another, which has perhaps the most likely chance to succeed in the $2 million process of getting onto the ballot, is being put forth by patient advocacy group Americans for Safe Access, the United Food and Commercial Workers (the union that represents many cannabis workers in California), and marijuana collectives. It's called the Medical Marijuana Regulation, Control, and Taxation Act.
"We decided to focus on medical because we figured that taking that further step at this point is unwise given the federal government's actions over the last months," said attorney George Mull, who is part of the team that proposed the measure. If passed, the initiative would establish a 21-member state regulatory board comprised of doctors, industry folk, patients, activists, government officials, and others. A state supplemental tax on cannabis would be levied and local governments would be required to allow one dispensary per 50,000 residents. Ammiano said that he and Leno were also working on proposing legislation that would provide regulations.
But the future of medical marijuana in California remains somewhat cloudy. "I'm worried that even if we come up with the regulations, the feds will find something else," said Ammiano. Complicating the matter, the California Supreme Court moved unanimously on Jan. 18 to review the power that cities and counties have to make their own laws concerning cannabis accessibility — plus, it plans to look at the old disconnect between state and federal law on the matter..
So much for the politics of marijuana in 2012. Away from the headlines, it's plain to see that the plant is increasingly accepted in popular culture. On a local level, East Bay YouTube stoner Coral Reefer continues to tweet to thousands of followers every time she sparks a bowl, and on the national stage, Miley Cyrus admits to smoking "way too much fucking weed," after seeing the birthday cake friends had gotten her. (It had Bob Marley's face on it.)
On television, the United States is learning about Harborside's travails — but not just from the news shows. Discovery Channel shot a season of reality TV following DeAngelo and his staff, telling the stories of patients and about the reality of running a dispensary for a show they entitled Weed Wars even before the final $20 million IRS ruling. As the collective is being persecuted by the feds, its fan base across the country grows.
Will Discovery Channel renew Weed Wars for a second season? Regardless of the network's views on the protagonists' profession, if the cameras are kept rolling they're sure to capture another year of interesting times for California cannabis.