A Visit to California’s State Capitol : Lobbying for AB-2810 Sun-Grown Cannabis Commission

Two weeks ago, I visited Sacramento. I had never been before, except to drive by on I-80 or pass through by train. This time, I went into the city as a citizen lobbyist, supporting our cannabis movement, to lobby for state bill AB-2810 which proposes California begin a Sun-Grown Cannabis Commission. 

Driving via US-50 across the Golden Drawbridge over the Sacramento River was a fitting entrance to our visually charming California State Capitol. Tree-lined avenues and stately, government buildings punctuate the dramatic steel and glass buildings, their acute, oblique angles spiraling upward into the cloud-studded blue sky. The gleaming white State Capitol Building both nestles in and projects out of a lush green park, itself populated by large trees representing California’s great native arboreal diversity.

I joined members of the International Cannabis Farmers’ Association for the launch of their whistle-stop tour promoting Assembly Bill 2810. If passed, Assembly Bill 2810 will create the California Sun-Grown Cannabis Commission. Our mission was to lobby several Assemblymembers and a Senator.

Early in the afternoon, having cleared security, our delegation split into two groups, increasing our impact, allowing us to visit more leaders. I joined Kristin Nevedal’s group. Nevedal co-founded ICFA and is its board-chair. Crystal Ortiz, ICFA Board Member and True Humboldt head, led the other delegates.

The Capitol buzzed energetically with various citizen delegations. Each had come from across the state to petition representatives for redress, fairness or advantage.

Never having done this type of lobbying before, I found the whole thing truly fascinating. “The People” were out in the hallways. Young students on field trips ran alongside the delegates, representatives and Capitol employees. In the mix, too, were lobbyists, easily distinguished from the public in their dark blue suits, light brown shoes and sensible pale blue ties.

In the afternoon, while the Legislators were in session, the offices hummed like beehives with lobbying activity. Constituents and lobbyists came and went. The young, Millennial office staff scurried from room-to-room. As the ones doing the grunt work – the research and the public relations – these young staff clearly have influence upon their legislators. Obviously, our leaders can’t be expected to be truly up to date on all the issues on which it is their job to vote.

Prior to our visit, Louie Brown, an ICFA lobbyist and expert on forming Agricultural Commissions, provided us pointers for how to approach State Legislators and their staff. “Be confident!” he said. “Remember, you are the expert in the room. Chances are they know very little about your issue.”

Brown reminded us that, as representatives, these individuals serve us, the citizenry. After all, we, the taxpayers, pay their salaries. He noted that legislators need to hear from their constituents. Listening is a key part of their job. After all, in order to win re-election, legislators must empathize with the day-to-day life for those living in the districts they represent. They need to hear about the challenges common citizens like us face because of laws they have helped shape or pass.

First, we went to visit Assemblymember Tom Lackey, a former CHP officer from the Southern California city of Palmdale. As a Republican, Assemblymember Lackey takes a strong position against unnecessary and excessive taxes. It makes sense that he favored both reducing the 15% cannabis retail tax to 11% and also eliminating the two taxes levied on cultivators over the next three years. Assemblymember Lackey’s very receptive legislative aide took diligent notes as we spoke for half-an-hour. We were there to ask Assemblymember Lackey to support the State Sun-Grown Cannabis Commission. Genine Coleman, Executive Director of Mendocino Appellations Project, was in our group. She enunciated to Assemblymember Lackey’s aide the importance of designating Appellations of Origin since appellations will help preserve small craft cannabis cultivators.

Next, we visited the office of Assemblymember Rob Bonta, the first Filipino-American to be elected to the California Legislature. Assemblymember Bonta has been active in civil rights events for decades and now represents parts of Oakland, Alameda and San Leandro. He introduced a bill to remove the penalty for paying one’s taxes in cash. That’s very important, because many banks are closing down cannabis business accounts. Again, the legislative aide took careful notes as we enumerated our various concerns and asked Assemblymember Bonta to support AB 2810.

From there, we moved to California State Senator Mike McGuire’s office, walking in a somewhat disoriented fashion along unadorned Kafka-esque blank-white corridors, their simple doorways generically adorned by black-and-silver name plaques.

We soon found our way and presented our case to Senator McGuire’s Legislative Director, Chris Nielson. The office was so busy and crowded that we had to meet in the hallway. Senator McGuire’s district covers the Emerald Triangle and parts of Sonoma. He’s been an important ally to the cannabis community, as witnessed by the joint-committee meeting he recently convened in Ukiah.

We re-grouped to visit Assemblymember Marc Levine, representative of parts of Sonoma, Napa and Marin. Assemblymember Levine serves as the actual sponsor of Assembly Bill 2810 which would create the much needed Sun-Grown Cannabis Commission. Assemblymember Levine hurried back from the afternoon floor session to meet with us. He was quite supportive. When he arrived to find his office packed with our entire delegation of 15 active citizens, he joked, “Did anybody bring samples?” No doubt someone had, but it didn’t seem like he really meant it. He was curious, on the other hand, to know more about what it’s like to judge the Emerald Cup. I appreciated our conversation.

For the afternoon’s grand finale, our entire delegation visited the nearby Department of Food and Agriculture Building. There, we met with Karen Ross, the Secretary of Agriculture, and Richard Parrott, CDFA’s CalCannabis Director, the department responsible for issuing state-level permits to cannabis cultivators. We sat around a big table expressing to Ross and Parrot the valuable need for both a Sun-Grown Cannabis Commission and for there to be a system of Appellation of Origin. California’s Department of Food and Agriculture (DFA) will play an important part in creating regulations for these items. Currently, the DFA states they favor agricultural commissions for all kinds of crops.

Displayed on the wall at the end of the DFA meeting room, there hung a framed mid-century-era poster announcing the value of California Agriculture. The advertisement proclaimed:

Taste the Sunshine!   

Our group took this as a cosmic sign. Sun-Grown Cannabis is part of California’s long tradition of sungrown agriculture.

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