CALIFORNIA VOTER GUIDEBy David Burton
Medical cannabis patients have some tough choices to make in the ballot booth this month.
Should they cast their vote for a presidential candidate who best represents their views on marijuana or for one who has a hope in hell of winning? Since the state’s top-two-vote-getter primary eliminated all the pro-marijuana Senate choices, should patients now support an incumbent with a long track record of opposing medicinal marijuana or a challenger one who seems blissfully unaware that the healing plant exists?
Really, if safe and legal access to your cannabis medicine is an important enough issue to sway how you vote, then your only viable choices on Nov. 6 involve the congressional races. Across California, congressional candidates with stellar records of support for the MMJ community are vying to either keep their seats or grab one from an anti-marijuana incumbent. Some MMJ champions, like incumbent Pete Stark of Northern California’s District 15, are Democrats. Others, like David Hernandez, running for So Cal’s District 29, are Republicans bucking the party trend.
But let’s be realistic: Most of California’s congressional races are locked up tight by one party or other, leaving patients with only a handful of House races—and by “handful,” I mean as few as three—in which their votes might actually make the difference between winning and losing. As brutally cynical as that sounds, the sad truth remains that medical marijuana issues simply have not shaped the California political landscape this go-around.
Nevertheless, your vote does matter. Regardless of whether it’s not enough to push pro-MMJ candidates over the top, every ballot cast in favor of a candidate with enlightened views on cannabis sends a message to the political powers that be, and, believe it or not, they really do pay attention to these things. So let’s take a look at the records and statements of the 2012 candidates begging for your vote. For the congressional races, we’ll focus only on the ones that are both of particular interest to the MMJ community and remain toss-ups as of press time.
President of the United States
Barack Obama (Democrat)
Oh, Barry, Barry, how you’ve let us down. America’s 44th president began his term offering great words of hope and change for the medical marijuana community, promising to take a hands-off approach to the compassionate-use laws popping up across the land. What he apparently didn’t promise was to take a jack-boots-off approach. Despite all Obama’s assurances both before and after the 2008 election (and despite his well-documented recreational fondness for the herb when he was young), his Justice Department waged a war on medical cannabis that in many ways exceeded that of predecessor George W. Bush. Some say Obama’s get-tough-on-dispensaries flip-flop was entirely politically motivated, that a re-elected president would show more compassion for MMJ patients than previously revealed. We say enough is enough.
Mitt Romney (Republican)
If an “I was for medical pot until I was against it” president has been a disaster for patient access, imagine what an “I was really against medical pot and still am” president would do. While the former Massachusetts governor has largely been silent on medical marijuana on the campaign trail, voters wondering what he’d do for MMJ if elected need look no further than a May 11 YouTube video, in which a dying, wheelchair-bound patient asked the candidate if he supported cannabis medicine. Romney cut him off with “I’m sorry, I don’t support medical marijuana being legal,” and fled as if the patient’s ills were communicative. If that sounds like the right MMJ prescription to you, go ahead—vote Romney and see what happens. But don’t say you weren’t warned.
Gary Johnson (Libertarian)
Few can say former Republican governor of New Mexico-turned-Libertarian Party standard-bearer Gary Johnson doesn’t speak the language of the medical cannabis community. Not only has he declared the War on Drugs a colossal failure and promised to end it by lifting prohibition on all drugs and industrial hemp, but he chose retired Orange County judge Jim Gray as his running mate—and no one can honestly say Gray is anything but a champion and hero to the MMJ community. In an interview with CULTURE, Gray promises his boss would repeal the Controlled Substances Act, regulate cannabis like alcohol, withdraw from its anti-drug treaty obligations and even institute a commission to review the sentences of federal inmates convicted of nonviolent drug crimes. “If anyone is interested in having medical marijuana dispensaries in our country, their only hope for survival is to elect Gov. Johnson,” Gray says. Then again, Libertarian Johnson also promises to cut Medicare and Social Security by 40 percent and “scale back” U.S. involvement in the United Nations. So there’s that.
Jill Stein (Green Party)
The Greens have long called for an end to the prohibition on cannabis, and their 2012 presidential candidate, Jill Stein, is as green as they come. Stein reiterated her fiercely anti-prohibition views in an interview with CULTURE, promising—if elected—to fully legalize pot; instruct the DEA to base its drug scheduling policies on science, rather than, well, whatever they currently base it on; withdraw from the anti-pot Single Convention on Narcotics; and end the Obama-era raids on dispensaries, which as a practice she described as “unfortunate and inhumane.” Her views on industrial hemp are particularly revealing: She would not only legalize it, but do so with an eye toward small hemp growers and operations, ensuring “it not be legalized in a way that makes it subject to monopolization by large growers.” In other words, drug reform done smart—how refreshing. That said, Stein is polling in the low, low single digits. No matter how much we love her, she’s no election-spoiling Ralph Nader à la 2000.
Dianne Feinstein (Democrat)
Attempts to reach the longtime incumbent senator were met by blank-faced stone-walling, and, over the years, that’s exactly what the MMJ community has come to expect from Dianne Feinstein. Raise your hand if you, too, have received one of her patented form letters expressing compassion for the plight of medical cannabis patients and her continued unwillingness to address that plight because “marijuana remains illegal under federal law.” Compassionate detachment—that’s the good senator’s policy when it comes to her patient constituents’ need for safe access to their cannabis medicine. It’s also why a vote for Feinstein is a vote contrary to the interests of the medical cannabis community.
Elizabeth Emken (Republican)
The Republican Party’s 2012 sacrificial lamb, I mean California Senate candidate has much to say about gay marriage being bad and abortion being worse and Obama being the worst of all possible worseness, but she apparently has nothing to say—zip, zero, a big empty nada—about medical cannabis issues. When submitted lists of questions on the subject by the Drug Policy Forum of California, Project Vote Smart and Vote CA, Emken responded with the political equivalent of “A dog ate my homework.” Maybe that’s a good thing. Maybe it’s bad: Why knows? But one thing we do know is Emken ain’t gonna win on the 6th, so it’s kind of a moot point, anyway.
House of Representatives
District 7 (Sacramento)
Ami Bera (Democrat) and Dan Lungren (Republican) are locked in a death-struggle for this seat, so close in the polls that a barbershop quartet could put one or the other over the top. So, Sacramento medical marijuana fans, now’s the time to get some sweet payback for Lungren busting Dennis Peron’s pot club back when he was attorney general. Bera has been kind of iffy on the question of MMJ, but he’s not Lungren. Go, Ami!
District 15 (Southern East Bay)
Let’s get serious, folks—Rep. Pete Stark, a longtime ally of medical cannabis patients, is in the fight of his political life against challenger and fellow Democrat Eric Swalwell due to redistricting. No disrespect to Swalwell, who says he also supports medical marijuana, but let’s dance with the one who brung us: Stark has an impressive record of pushing forward and supporting legislation of great importance to the MMJ community. Swalwell, meanwhile, is an ex-prosecutor beloved of law enforcement. With fellow stalwarts Barney Frank and Ron Paul retiring from Congress, we can’t afford to lose Pete or take a chance on an unknown.