Every election cycle the specter of dark money looms, rumors of wealthy cabals silently shaping national and local races flit around the collective, politics-fried consciousness, and boogeymen lobbyists haunt the dreams of regular, down-to-earth voters in every political bloc.
But politics is money. That's just the reality, whether it's furthering legislation or legislators. And sometimes, even those most distrustful of government say "fuck it" and throw their financial might into the fracas.
That's what's happening right now around Northern California, as a brand-spanking-new political action committee is rallying support from U.S.-Out-Of-Humboldters to influence the latest round of state marijuana laws and form a collective voice within their communities.
California Cannabis Voice formed on May 30, and organizers quickly raised an astounding $20,000 from 40 attendees at a June 3 meeting at the Harris General Store (located about 15 miles east of Garberville).
The PAC, based in San Francisco, is the brainchild of Matt Kumin, an attorney and political organizer who's been active in civil rights work and medical marijuana policy for decades.
With near statewide consensus that California's medical marijuana policies are a mess, Kumin was inspired when the feds announced last year that they would back off of prosecuting state-sanctioned medical marijuana.
"Given the last August memo from the Department of Justice, it seemed clear we had to push hard this year to get a sensible regulation in place," Kumin says. "Timing is everything."
The PAC's main focus is a senate bill introduced by state Sen. Lou Correa from Santa Ana. Among other things, the bill as currently written would prohibit physicians that recommend marijuana from having a financial interest in marijuana dispensaries, set uniform health and safety standards, give oversight of dispensaries and cultivation to the state Department of Consumer Affairs and give cities and counties the ability to approve or deny medical marijuana licenses for dispensaries and cultivators.
The Senate approved the bill unanimously at the end of May, and it's currently being reviewed by the Assembly. Kumin thinks it will pass and be signed by the governor this year — ideally formed with the thoughts of members of the marijuana industry that the PAC is trying to organize. "I'm ready to go and start to influence and try to get lobbying and community input across the state to state legislators," he says.
With local control likely to be given to the cities and counties where dispensaries operate, Kumin says the PAC is organizing local leaders to work within their communities, as well as influence the senate bill through the work of the PAC's Sacramento lobbyist. And he says money raised at the local events — he's been reaching out to Mendocino and Trinity county interests as well — will stay within that community. "We're able to give the power back to the local community — basically empowering local groups to take control and have some influence."
Kumin says California also needs to prepare for recreational legalization — he anticipates it coming to a statewide vote in 2016 — and said the cannabis industry as well as the communities where it thrives need to be active in shaping that legislation.
"You have a massive billion dollar industry in this county and because of the criminalization of cannabis they have largely shied away from the political life," he says. "They're ready to do what the classic American thing to do is: You get involved in politics, you pay for lobbyists, you pay for organizers. You have a clear and hopefully unified voice in what you'd like to see."