Willie Brown and Ammiano's pot bill


Assemblymember Tom Ammiano’s new medical marijuana bill seems pretty straightforward. Almost everyone in the medpot biz thinks there ought to be some sort of statewide regulations for a growing industry that operates in a mish-mash of local jurisdictions with no overall rules. If nothing else, consumer-protection policies ought to be in place. And, of course, the more the dispensaries accept, and follow, reasonable regs, the easier it is to win the mainstream political support necessary to get the feds off all of our backs and ultimately follow Colorado and Washington.

All good, right?

So Ammiano, who has been on this issue for years, is proposing that the state’s Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control -- which for all its problems has experience regulating mind-altering substances -- draft and oversee medpot rules.

But the industry that makes a lot of money off the legalization of medicinal weed is famously fractured -- and the politics of Sacramento are often nasty. Add in former San Francisco Mayor Willie Brown -- who has his fingers in all sorts of business opportunities these days -- and the story turns downright weird.
Ammiano’s been talking about Califonria and pot for years. He proposed legalization before the other states did, but frankly, this current state Legislature’s never going to have that kind of courage.

But he continues on with the effort. Last year, he tried to put pot under the Department of Consumer Affairs, which clearly didn’t want it; his bill died in the state Senate.

Normally, when new regulations are proposed for an industry, the Legislature holds what’s called a Sunrise Hearing, to bring all the stakeholders into a room and talk about what issues ought to be addressed. So Ammiano a few months back asked for a hearing in the Senate Business, Professions, and Economic Development Committee. No problem, said the chair, Curren Price, a Los Angeles Democrat.

But in February, five days before the hearing was set, Curran called the whole thing off. Turns out that the Governor’s Office and the Attorney General’s Office wanted no part of it, so it was hard to round up the essential players. Also, Curran was running for an open LA City Council seat and probably didn’t want the publicity. As Ammiano said at the time, “What’s up with marijuana? You can’t even have a hearing?”

Even without a hearing, he’s moving a new bill, AB 473, which would create under ABC a Division of Medical Cannabis Regulation and Enforcement. The bill is modeled on a successful effort in Colorado that has kept the feds at bay. Washington is also putting marijuana regulation under its liquor control authority.
“We’ve had not one federal intervention,” in Colorado, Matt Cook, a consultant who help write the rules in that state, said.

But just as Ammiano was preparing to line up support for his measure, another bill mysteriously appeared, in the state Senate. A “spot bill” with no actual content, the measure was set as a medical marijuana regulation placeholder. The authors: Senate President Darrell Steinberg and San Francisco’s Mark Leno.

Now: Leno’s been a big supporter of medical pot for years -- but the bill wasn’t his idea. “Darrell told me he was going to do something about marijuana regulations, and he asked me if I would join him,” Leno told us.

What Leno didn’t know: Steinberg had been approached and asked to carry a bill by Willie Brown. Brown contacted the Senate president, sources tell us, and said that Ammiano was the wrong person to carry pot legislation.

Why? Who knows. Brown wouldn’t return my calls. But I can tell you with absolute certainty that Brown has been looking for ways to discredit Ammiano since 1999, when the then-supervisor challenged the mayor’s re-election in a legendary write-in campaign that galvanized the city’s left and created the momentum for the complete rejection of Brown’s politics and endorsed candidates a year later, in the first district elections.

And yes: Willie Brown carries a grudge. So it’s possible that he would go out of his way to make sure that Ammiano didn’t get credit for leading the way on what will evenutally be a huge sea chance in how California handles pot.

Now: This sort of thing isn’t viewed very highly in the hallowed halls of the state Leg, where people take their bills -- and their history on issues -- very seriously. Ammiano was furious, and talked to Steinberg, who (properly) apologized for stepping on his toes. Leno told us he had no intention of undermining his San Francisco colleague, that he had immense respect for Ammiano and all of his efforts, and that he wouldn’t move forward with any bill that didn’t have Ammiano’s input and support.

But it raises the question: Why is Brown even involved in medical marijuana? The only answer I can come up with is that he’s making money off it. Not as a dispensary owner or a grower, but as, in effect, a lobbyist.

When I heard Brown was messing around with the industry, I called Steve DeAngelo, who runs Harborside Health Center, the $22 million a year dispensary in Oakland. DeAngelo’s a promient leader on medical marijuana issues, and has built a respected business that pays taxes to Oakland, provides quality product, and is in many ways a model for what a dispensary should look like.

We talked for a while about Ammiano’s bill, and DeAngelo said he wants to be sure there’s community consensus. “The most important thing is that whatever passes addresses the issues and has broad supoprt in the industry,” he said. He agreed that regulation is needed, but stopped short of endorsing Ammiano’s bill, saying “there still needs to be further discussion.”

Then I asked him if he knew why Brown was talking to the state Senate president, and he told me:

“Willie Brown has been a political advisor to Harborside.”

I asked him if Harborside was paying Brown for his advice. He refused to say.

Okay then. But Brown doesn’t have much of a history of working on this issue pro bono, and is not known for serving as a “political advisor” (or doing much of anything else in the way of work) for free.

What does Brown think about the Ammiano bill? “He thinks,” DeAngelo said, “that it’s important it have a broad base of support.”

Willie Brown is not popular with the voters of California. His history of questionable (at best) ethics was among the reasons the voters approved terms limits for the Legislature. Hardly anyone on the left trusts him. A medical marijuana regulatory bill that has his fingerprints isn’t going to do much for “consensus” or “broad-based support.”

So maybe the best thing Brown could do for his client is stay the hell out of Sacramento.


with the Fed reserving the right at any point to shut down the whole shebang anyway.

It's ironic that, at a time when CA liberals are hoping that SCOTUS bails out gay marriage from the hands of the voters of their own State, that those same liberals want the Fed's to back off on medical pot and allow CA full States' rights on this.

Not that consistency is ever a major issue for liberals, oft citing that "hobgoblin of small minds" line when convenient.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

California has gay marriage under existing state-- and federal-- court rulings.

California liberals only hope for a maximally favorable ruling because of their reverence for civil rights and the desire for all Americans to share in the greater universality of such rights which prevail in the Golden State.

Smoking pot does not deprive others of their civil rights.

Posted by lillipubicans on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 2:06 pm

that that is not an institution that they support. Therefore activist judges are required to overthrow the wishes of the voters and the text of our State's constitution.

Pot smoking is illegal per se, by statute. It is not required of any prohibited activity that it deprive people of rights.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 2:19 pm

It sure seems that a lot of the SFBG articles have something to the effect of "Why? Who knows. Brown wouldn’t return my calls." Few sources (outside of Ammiano, Avalos, Campos, Peskin and Gulickson) seem to want to talk with you folks.

Posted by The Commish on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 2:23 pm

twist and criticize the words of politicians are typically not going to get a lot of co-operation. And since everyone knows what SFBg is going to say anyway, why would they bother?

Posted by anon on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 2:33 pm

Actually, there are only a small handful of people who refuse to talk to me. I've been in this business for 30 years, and I can count them on one hand. Willie Brown is on top of the list. I always put that in to remind people that Brown fancies himself a journalist, with a newspaper column, but he is so unprofessional he doesn't talk to other reporters.

Posted by tim on Mar. 26, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

did Tom Ammiano sell his eyes to Satan?

Posted by Chromefields on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 8:09 am

I'm surprised her eyes haven't fallen out of her sockets after all the surgeries she must've had.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 30, 2013 @ 10:35 pm
Posted by marcos on Mar. 30, 2013 @ 11:26 pm

While I have enormous respect for Tom and wouldn't trust Willie to change a lightbulb, AB473 is not the answer. From what I have been able to read on ca.gov it does nothing more than propose establishing another bureaucracy, similar to the liquor control board, to regulate and control the cannabis industry. As always the devil will be in the details. IMHO the 'regulations' governing the growing and marketing of marijuana should be no more onerous than those imposed on broccoli or tomatoes, though with Obama's signing of the Farm Bill, which includes the 'biotech rider', even that poses problems. The stricter and more convoluted any legislation becomes the greater the likelihood of monopolisation. Small, independent, local organic growers will be squeezed out; variety, quality and choice will be lost; corporate agribusiness and it's destructive mega farming practices will dominate. The biotech rider has already opened the door for Monsanto, DuPont, Syngenta etc, to continue injecting whatever they like into our food with no oversight or responsibility for negative outcomes. How long before our only options will be General Mills Genetically Modified Ganjah or Safeway's Super Enhanced Sinsemilla. My primary concern is the potential medical benefits of marijuana that are increasingly being 'discovered', primarily due to it's positive effects on the endocannanoid system.
The answer is simple, nature's bounty is not illegal, the choice is yours, just decriminalise it. Case closed.

Posted by Patrick Monk.RN. on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 10:37 am

It's a psychoactive drug. That's rather the point.

And it's illegal federally, which makes quite a difference too.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 27, 2013 @ 10:57 am

Okay regulate it like hops then.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 30, 2013 @ 9:47 pm
Posted by anon on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 5:23 am

The cannabis community deserves much better. With backward politics like this who needs the GOP? Beer has more potential to cause health problems. Bad legacy for Tom.

Posted by Denise Dorey on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 11:23 pm

ever see anybody go through caffeine withdrawals? caffeine has toxicity levels & is a drug. cannabis is an herbaceous annual & is not toxic & is n o t a d r u g .

Posted by Denise Dorey on Apr. 04, 2013 @ 12:32 am

Let me not mince words---Willie Brown is a corrupt bastard who will do anything for money and the enhancement of his puerile ego. He's been like that ever since he entered the big league of politics and that goes back quite a long ways. Tom Ammiano is everything Brown is not--he has integrity and the courage to bring up "difficult" issues and he's a for-the-people sort of politician and that's always been his modus operandi. He should have been elected over Brown in that last minute mayoral campaign back in ? and probably the only reason he didn't win had to do with subtle and disguised anti-gay bias. Now Brown has the arrogance and gall to state that he doesn't think Tom, who has pioneered in this area is the right one to carry marijuana legislation? What's that about if not some kind of underhanded slur by a slimy powermeister who, though he's never actually been convicted of a crime should have been several times over. This has absolutely nothing to do with the merits of Ammiano's legislation, it has to do with personalities, a grudge and a mercenary who doesn't belong in politics any longer let alone in "journalism"). Go back to Texas Mr. Brown. You've long outlived your welcome in this town. Do I make myself clear?

Posted by Barry Eisenberg on Mar. 30, 2013 @ 10:28 pm

He wouldn't be elected in any other district.

Posted by anon on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 5:25 am

>"He should have been elected over Brown in that last minute mayoral campaign back in ? and probably the only reason he didn't win had to do with subtle and disguised anti-gay bias."

I love the way that Progressives can come up with an excuse for any electoral defeat.

Brown beat Amiano 59.6% to 40.4%.

But it was because...let's see now...it was because in the City of San Francisco if a LGBT man runs against a Black man there will be bias against the LGBT. Overwhelming bias, to create a 20% difference in the polls.

Gotta love it.

Posted by Troll on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 7:30 am

as Lee thrashed Avalos. Why would prog's make excuses for losing when it is clear that they are such a minority that a landslide win for the moderate happens almost every time?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 8:51 am

The Progressive line is that they lose every election because of 'downtown' interests. In other words, San Francisco voters are sheep who vote the way that they are told to do by monied interests. Public Power referendums lose for the same reason.

It is also the rationale for RCV -- the voters need to be protected from themselves because of their tendency to roll over when confronted with ads.

Didn't really work out that way in D1 last November but, for Progressives, reality is the other guy's problem.

Posted by Troll on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 9:04 am

progressive policies and so much thought and effort has to go into rationalizing every progressive defeat:

Voter fraud
Election was "bought"
Voters were lied to
Voters are "sheeple"
Special interest groups manipulated the result

and my favorite:

The voting machines were tampered with.

You can't make this stuff up.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 10:07 am

Everybody knows elections aren't tampered with in the US. Election fraud is something that happens in other countries, but never here, because we have the best democracy in the world. Our machines are completely tamper-proof -impossible to hack. And even if they weren't, politicians like George Bush, Katherine Harris, and Willie Brown believe in democracy and fair play, and would never try to rig the system in their favor. If these progressives don't like our freedoms, they should move to a socialist dictatorship like France.

Posted by anon on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 10:27 am

Show me the prosecutions.

Oh wait, it was all a coverup and a vast right-wing conspiracy, right?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 10:35 am

They'd be on the first plane back to civilization.

Posted by anon on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 10:38 am

Which is essentially what you're saying -that rich people are stupid and don't have a damn clue about spending their money effectively.

I disagree. I don't think rich people are stupid with their money. If the ads weren't effective, rich people wouldn't spend money on them.

Of course sometimes they overplay their hand, as in D1 last year. Even the downtown consultants at SPUR said they thought too much was spent on that race. It got way too obvious. The streets were littered with David Lee flyers and it was having the opposite effect.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 10:21 am

Almost definitionally.

One big mistake progressives make is thinking they are so smart that they can fix everything, if only people would listen to them.

Belief in big government is often belief in smartness to solve problems. but highly intelligent candidates like Gore and Kerry often lose because they cannot relate to ordinary people in a way that "dumb" candidiates like Reagan and Bush can.

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 10:37 am

The progressive base is often divided while conservatives fund one candidate. Progressives received more votes in both D6 & D8 in 2010 but some got fooled into voting for the less credible progressive, Moderates usually have more corporate money which wins the race 90% of the time.

Posted by Denise Dorey on Apr. 03, 2013 @ 11:46 pm

A man is known by the enemies he makes.

By that criterion, Willie Brown is a fine, fine, man indeed.

Posted by Demented, Yet Terribly, Terribly, Persistent on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 8:13 am

You mean Tom Ammiano, right?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 8:26 am

Willie Brown pimped for Schwarzenegger's reelection in 2006.

Posted by marcos on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 8:29 am

So why wouldn't Willie?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 8:53 am

Jerry Brown used his image in his campaign against Meg Witless. San Franciscans were even more prescient. Arnie got something like 17% of the vote here, which shows the degree to which Willie is out of touch... as are you.

Posted by Greg on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 10:09 am

stand. He was popular to the end.

And since when did how SF votes affect anything material beyond the city limits?

Posted by Guest on Mar. 31, 2013 @ 10:34 am

Keeping the world safe for democracy.

Posted by Patrick Monk.RN. on Apr. 01, 2013 @ 11:18 am

for at least an hour.

Time for another, surely?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 01, 2013 @ 11:30 am