Authors and Activists Cheer Oakland’s Suit to Save Harborside

Plus, election prognostications from four leading marijuana book authors.

During Saturday night’s “Electing Mary Jane” event in Oakland, four authors of new books about marijuana weighed in on the news that the city has sued the feds in an attempt to save Harborside Health Center from closure. Plus, the authors gave their predictions about the possible legalization of pot in three states this November.

Paul Armentano, deputy director of NORML and author of Marijuana Is Safer: So Why Are We Driving People to Drink?, said he was bullish on marijuana legalization proposals in Washington and Colorado this year. “I am, although, you know, it’s not like we haven’t been here before,” the Vallejo resident told attendees of the author panel and book-signing event, which was produced by Legalization Nation. “The polling in Washington is good … around 57 percent. Even if all undecided voters were to break ‘no,’ [Initiative 502 would] still have a margin of victory.

“Colorado is going to be a nail-biter. If [Amendment 64] passes, it’ll be by a slim, slim margin. It could easily lose by a slim margin,” he continued. “But in both of those cases, there is a lot of money for a big advertising push that is going to be starting. If those ads are successful at persuading voters, particularly female voters, both of those could win. If they’re not, they’ll lose, and we know that. If we don’t have females age thirty to fifty, we lose. And if we do have it, we win.” Oregon’s Measure 80 is polling under 50 percent, Armentano added. “It’s a real long shot,” he said.

Doug Fine, author of Too High to Fail, a favorite of The New York Times book review section, has been touring the country, promoting his hit title this year. “I think it’s going to happen in Colorado and Washington,” he predicted.

None of the three ballot measures fully legalize pot, and so each one is generating a backlash from hard-core legalizers, the panelists said. “Washington’s bill has a major flaw,” said Fine. “I don’t care. My answer is, ‘Fight about it later.'”

Armentano argued for the big picture. “They’re incremental,” he said of the measures. “But, to me, they’re game-changing. If they are to pass, cannabis in limited amounts is not contraband.”

Curiously, President Obama, Attorney General Eric Holder, and the head of the DEA have been mum on the ballot initiatives, Armentano reported. In 2010, Holder pilloried Prop 19 in California, contributing to its defeat. It lost 46 percent to 54 percent.

Retired US drug czar John Walters told reporters Monday that he is urging the administration to speak out on the measures, but has heard “the Department of Justice has taken the position that they didn’t want to speculate on ballot initiatives.”

Still, Armentano said the DOJ’s silence should not be taken as an olive branch to pot law reformers. “Holder’s got problems with Fast and Furious,” he said of the weapons scandal. “This administration’s got problems. I just think they’re spread fairly thin at the moment.”

Meanwhile, all members of Saturday night’s panel, and many of the fifty to sixty attendees, cheered the City of Oakland’s decision to sue Holder and US Attorney Melinda Haag over their attempts to seize the property occupied by Harborside Health Center and thus put the dispensary out of business. Last week, Oakland City Attorney Barbara Parker announced that she was suing Holder and Haag to block Haag’s ongoing forfeiture attempt of 1840 Embarcadero. The suit claims that Oakland will suffer irreparable financial harm if its dispensaries are closed, and that the DOJ has been aware of the licensed clubs for at least seven years. Parker also noted that the federal government has said it would not pursue dispensaries compliant with state law.

Martin Lee, author of the major social history of marijuana, Smoke Signals, called the suit “historic” and “unprecedented.” “It’s great for that reason,” he said.

“The rhetoric on it is extremely important,” Fine added. “I did a panel in SF and [another] author said the suit was a ‘blatant Parker election move, a cynical election move.’ And I said, ‘So what? I loved seeing it in The New York Times.'”

Oakland’s suit hinges on the argument that Haag exceeded a five-year statute of limitations to prosecute the six-year-old pot club. According to a legal analysis by the Chronicle‘s Bob Egelko on Sunday, that precedent comes from a 1998 federal appeals court ruling, U.S. v. $515,060.42 in US Currency, which stemmed from an illegal bingo case in Tennessee. Although that court precedent isn’t binding in California, it could still be pivotal in the case.

Clint Werner, author of Marijuana: Gateway to Health, was skeptical, however, of the city’s lawsuit. “I suspect it’ll be dismissed — the federal government has so much overweening power,” he said. “But I’m glad they did it. San Francisco’s city attorney should do the same.

“And if you’re a patient, you need to write Melinda Haag a letter and bully her about this,” Werner continued. “Say, ‘Why the hell are you screwing with my life?’ My partner [UCSF oncologist] Donald [Abrams] did. He said, ‘Where are my patients — who are fighting cancer and go to Harborside or SPARC to get medicine that doesn’t get them high … like tinctures, pills, and topicals — where do they go? Dealers aren’t carrying that.’

“Doctors who have cancer patients and AIDs patients should be writing her and sort of humiliating her morally, and asking her, ‘Who the hell raised you? Who gave you these values and made you such a creepy, cruddy person?'” Werner continued.

Attendees cheered Werner, and stayed until nearly 9 p.m., buying books and chatting.


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