The Yes on 64 campaign held events Tuesday night in Sacramento and Los Angeles that quickly became celebrations of the historic decision by California voters to decisively approve Prop 64 and usher in the Golden State’s inevitable embrace of the adult use of cannabis. As significant as the achievement is, however, a growing cloud cast a shadow over the evening as it became increasingly clear that Donald Trump was also headed to victory.
That shadow aside, the night was all about celebrating success. Lynne Lyman, California director for the Drug Policy Alliance (DPA), which organized and managed the Yes on 64 campaign with the help of numerous partners, hosted the Southern California festivities, which attracted several hundred invited members of the industry and the mainstream media to the DoubleTree Hotel in downtown Los Angeles. Hor d’oeuvres, a cash bar and a four-piece band shared space with large screen TVs scattered about the room tuned to coverage of the election and a bank of television cameras, the reporters filing stories throughout the evening.
The significance of the Prop 64 win was not lost on people in attendance. “I think it’s fantastic that we’re finally taking the stigma out of marijuana use in the state, and that throughout the country the [cannabis] initiatives are passing in almost every state they were on the ballot,” said veteran criminal defense attorney and NORML Los Angeles president Bruce Margolin. “This is a big plus not only for people who now have the right to decide for themselves if they want to consume cannabis, but also for society.”
Margolin said there has already been a marked decrease in the number of people calling his law office seeking help for cannabis-related criminal cases, implying that just the likelihood of Prop 64 passing may have resulted in a shift in policing priorities. That said, he was still averaging two calls a day, down from an average of five about a year ago. The actual approval of Prop 64 puts a nail in the coffin of arrests for mere possession.
“What this will do is take police officers away from making marijuana arrests and redirect their efforts where they should be – protecting the public from serious crimes,” said Margolin.
Lyman, a very visible, passionate and articulate advocate for the Adult Use of Marijuana Act (Prop 64), has consistently framed it as a monumental social justice achievement, especially in the scope of its criminal justice reform. Both ebullient and clearly exhausted as she addressed the crowd around 11 p.m., Lyman thanked her staff, team members, volunteers and partners whose combined effort resulted in the 56%-44% victory, a margin that could have disappeared had the campaign not targeted certain areas of the state that had underperformed in the past.
She had particularly appreciative words for Asha Bandele, a senior director at the Drug Policy Alliance, who she called “my friend, my colleague and my mentor.”
Lyman added, “There was a point in this campaign when I felt like we were losing, and that I was in this boat with just a few people. There were people in the [cannabis] community who were turning against us, and folks in the justice community who didn’t get it, and I put out a call for help, and from across the country, from Brooklyn, New York, Asha Bandele jumped into this and has been by my side ever since, helping move this campaign forward.”
Bandele addressed the crowd to reflect on the hard-fought victory and the conflicting feelings she and so many others in the room were feeling as state after state pulled for Trump. “It’s not quite the night we thought we would have, but that’s alright,” she said.
“In 1857,” she added, “a decision was taken by the U.S. Supreme Court of the United States that said that no black person was human. No law in this nation held that a white man was bound to show respect when it came to a black man. On that day, one of my heroes, Frederick Douglas, said it was a great day. He knew that on that day the ending was coming for slavery, and eight years later it did.
“So this is a night that is very mixed – very mixed – and there are a lot of different feelings. But what I know is that because of the partners I work with around the country, the end is near.”
In San Francisco, at the Prop 64 event hosted by Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom, DPA executive director Ethan Nadelmann also addressed the painfully obvious threats that come with a Trump presidency. “The prospect of Rudy Giuliani or Chris Christie as attorney general does not bode well,” he told The Washington Post. “There are various ways in which a hostile White House could trip things up.”
Americans for Safe Access took a more pro-active approach to the Trump question, stating in an email sent out today, “If the new Congress, Department of Justice, DEA or any other agency were to crackdown on state medical cannabis programs, they would be going against the many public statements President-Elect Trump has made in support of medical cannabis.”
The group added, “Patient advocates will need to make sure that the next Congress and the Administration stick to President-Elect Trump’s stated position in support of medical cannabis and allowing states to set their own policies. One way you can join this effort is by participating in ASA’s next Unity Conference: Cannabis in Modern Medicine, April 7-12, 2017 in Washington, D.C. During the conference, patient advocates will meet with the Members of Congress as we work towards harmonizing state and federal medical laws.”