Last week, medical cannabis advocates bid farewell to outgoing San Diego County District Attorney Bonnie Dumanis with a New Orleans-style funeral march, complete with a seven-piece brass jazz band.
Dumanis retired from the position she held for more than 14 years on Friday, July 7.
The demonstration was held outside the county’s Hall of Justice in downtown San Diego, as the prosecutor exited the building among a phalanx of law enforcement personnel. The dozens of police officers, who said they were there on their own time, had assembled for a “ceremonial walkout” to a vintage San Diego police car that then drove Dumanis away.
As Dumanis appeared at the building entrance, the Euphoria Brass Band struck up a tune and activists, decked out in theme regalia, including top hats, parasols and green Mardi Gras beads, began to dance.
Many lofted signs with slogans such as “Bonnie the Buzzkill Bully” and “Goodbye Bonnie, Hello Justice.” The band then led a march winding the streets of downtown to the County Administration Building, along the San Diego Bay waterfront.
The group was celebrating the end of the Dumanis reign and her policies, which have been widely thought of as hostile to medical marijuana.
Terrie Best, the San Diego Chair of the MMJ rights group Americans for Safe Access, organized the send-off protest, dubbed the “Bonnie Bash.”
She made it clear that the funeral march was for what she sees as the misdeeds of the Dumanis reign, and that the protestors wished her no harm. The end of her tenure and policies toward medical marijuana were, however, worthy of celebration.
“She refuses to interpret the law in any way but an extremely punitive one for patients, and she’s had some very, very sympathetic patients in the courtroom that she’s prosecuted,” Best explained.
One of the marchers was retired Lt. Diane Goldstein, a 21-year veteran of the Redondo Beach, California Police Department. She is an executive board member of the Law Enforcement Action Partnership (LEAP), a group of current and former peace officers and other law enforcement professionals who advocate for, among other things, reform of marijuana laws and an end to the War on Drugs.
Goldstein said that she believes that Dumanis’ policies toward medical cannabis amounted to prosecutorial overreach and an attempt to deny the will of the people.
“Dumanis has tried to undermine Proposition 215 going back years,” Goldstein said, “and during the campaign for Proposition 64 was one of the main opponents trying to spread fear and rhetoric about what would happen if Proposition 64 passed.”
Many of the participants of the jazz funeral march had spent time before the demonstration at a pre-trial hearing for Jessica McElfresh, a San Diego attorney specializing in cannabis law.
McElfresh has been charged in the case against San Diego MMJ products company Med-West, which was raided by the San Diego Narcotics Task Force in January of 2016. She is accused of conspiring with Med-West staff to conceal evidence of illegal cannabis extraction from government inspectors.
Best, of Americans for Safe Access, believes the arrest and prosecution of McElfresh is another example of Dumanis’ hostility toward legal marijuana.
She characterized the charges as “…beyond the pale, because there is attorney-client privilege that comes into play, there’s the message that we, as a medical cannabis community, do not deserve legal representation, and there’s also a large bolt of fear that went through all of the community because Jessica McElfresh has been the attorney of record for several licensed dispensaries in the City of San Diego.”
Although she is no longer the District Attorney, the San Diego Medical Marijuana community may not have seen the last of Bonnie Dumanis.
She is reportedly considering a run for the county’s Board of Supervisors, a body that has already banned all commercial cannabis activity in the unincorporated areas of San Diego County. Deputy D.A. Summer Stephan has been appointed interim district attorney until the position is filled by election.