Radical Rant: Fear and Loathing in Sacramento

Photo by Dan Skye

In my writing, I am usually reticent to invite any comparison to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson.

Not just as a huge fan with the sense not to compare himself to such a literary giant, but as a recreational drug user with nowhere near Dr. Thompson’s Dionysian appetite, tolerance, and selection of entertaining recreational substances.

So, I apologize for the title, but there were no better words to describe what I just experienced at the California State Capitol.

The Argumento In Sacramento

I was there Wednesday for an event billed as a debate over the merits of California’s Prop 64, the Adult Use of Marijuana Act. Unlike my usual debate appearances against Kevin Sabet and other prohibitionists, however, I’d be facing off against fellow cannabis consumers who oppose this legalization initiative.

I called it “The Argumento in Sacramento.”

I call them “Stoners Against Legalization.”

They don’t take kindly to that moniker.

Joining me on the Yes on 64 side were two other panelists. Dale Schafer is an attorney and medical marijuana patient who was busted with his then-wife, Molly, a breast cancer survivor, in the town of Cool, California. The feds counted up all the state-legal, locally-approved fifteen-plant medical cannabis gardens they’d been harvesting for cancer patients, added them all up over a three-year period (the limit for how long after this kind of crime they can press charges), and since that totaled over 100 plants, Dale and Molly each served five-year mandatory minimum sentences in federal prison.

Also on our side was Sister Kate, dressed in her full powder-blue and white nun’s habit. She’s part of a non-denominational order that helps patients with medical marijuana in California.

I had agreed to appear at the debate because attorney Letitia Pepper was going to be leading the No on 64 side. Pepper is one of the loudest voices stirring up the fear of Prop 64. She’s composed long, convoluted legal theories that she says prove Prop 64 is a “Trojan Horse” designed to kill Prop 215, the California medical marijuana law. She’s been a presence at various Prop 64 functions, handing out her fliers that warn of medical marijuana’s demise for the benefit of nefarious corporate agendas. She’s a well-known gadfly among my California reform colleagues, whose failure to observe rules of decorum at times requires the intervention of law enforcement, whom she then sues for interfering with her First Amendment right to be a boisterous disruptive pain in the ass.

I’ve been unraveling and debunking Letitia’s scaremongering and legal fantasies ever since she used the same tactics against Prop 19 in 2010. I spent all last weekend digesting her online screeds and meticulously researching California Health & Safety Code and Prop 64’s language to disprove her fear mongering. I could not wait to debunk her, live on stage, for the benefit of the voters who might be tricked by her scary predictions and influenced by her law degree.

Too Chicken to Debate “Radical” Russ

It was not to be. As I arrived at the capitol, I found Letitia speaking with the organizer of the event, Shelby Lucero with Budtracker.com. (All quotes hereafter are remembered as best I can.) Letitia was informing her that she would not be appearing on the panel today, because, “You didn’t respond to my email concerning my problems with how you have set up the agenda.”

Shelby calmly and professionally accepted Letitia’s last-second cancellation. (It’s the second straight debate I’ve shown up to where the opponent is too chicken to face me and cancels at the last moment.) Shelby even allowed Letitia to then set up a table to the right of the dais, replete with her anti-Prop 64 fliers, stickers, and posters.

So our opponents on the No on 64 consisted of Kevin Saunders, a mayoral candidate and longtime medical-marijuana activist, and two other gentlemen, one representing a group that gives free medical marijuana to veterans. That group also supplied about half of the audience that was supporting the No on 64 side. The event was sparsely attended, however, with about 30 people maximum. The balance was probably 2-to-1 on the No on 64 side.

The debate began and immediately the fear kicked in.

Their primary fear is that passing Prop 64 is a trick to end of Prop 215. Fear that legalization means the end of medical marijuana. Fear that marijuana will cost $500 an ounce after legalization. Fear that their group won’t be able to give free weed to vets after legalization. Fear that new crimes are created and minors are being criminalized by legalization. Fear that there will be more marijuana arrests following legalization. Fear that legalization gives the legislature power to repeal the rights granted not just by medical marijuana but by the legalization itself. Fear that all of Prop 64 is an elaborate ruse by the elite 1 percent to seize the cannabis market.

All of these fears and more were articulated by the No on 64 side. All they were missing was any citation of relevant passages of Prop 64 or comparisons to four other legal states that puts these predictions anywhere near the reality most of us inhabit.

Your Fears Are Irrational and Unwarranted

Dale and I are quite familiar with Prop 64 and the current California marijuana laws. We responded to all the fears with calm recitation of the relevant sections of the Act.

No, Prop 215 does not end with Prop 64; in fact, the act contains many sections that either directly state that 64’s regs don’t apply to medical marijuana or improve Prop 215 by adding additional protections and rights.

No, the regulation of medical marijuana you’re lamenting as “the end” is achieved through MCRSA, the new medical marijuana regulations passed by the State last year, not Prop 64.

No, marijuana won’t cost $500 an ounce; the data from all the states that have legalized so far have shown a price crash following legalization. Buds that go for $15 – $18 per gram in California’s medical dispensaries (pre-tax) sell for an average between $7 – $10 (with tax) in ColoradoWashington, and Oregon’s recreational pot shops.

No, Prop 64 allows for non-profits to give away weed—so long as the taxes have been paid on it.

No, the “new crimes” you’re citing are crimes that exist now that Prop 64 either maintains or reduces the penalty for, including reducing the penalties for all marijuana violations by minors from crimes to infractions with no possibility of jail.

No, there is no logical way you can reduce many felonies to misdemeanors, misdemeanors to infractions, and infractions to legal acts and end up with more arrests. Legalization takes from police their ability to claim the smell of pot and begin investigating you. Legalization retires the pot-sniffing K-9 officers. In Colorado, 80 percent of charges for all marijuana crimes (not just the one ounce and six-plant crimes made legal) disappeared following legalization. In Washington, it was a 63 percent decline in arrests, presumably less decline than Colorado because Washington bans personal cannabis cultivation.

No, Prop 64 grants amendment authority by majority vote only for the Section 5 medical marijuana regs (but not rights and limits), Section 6 recreational marijuana regs (but not rights and limits), and to reduce (but not increase) penalties or to increase possession and cultivation limits (essentially, reducing a penalty on a greater amount). A two-thirds majority is required for any other amendment of Prop 64 and it must comport with the Section 3 Purpose and Intent. So their fantasy that Prop 64 would pass, give us possession and grow rights, only to be repealed by the legislature, is incredibly unlikely, since the Purpose and Intent of Prop 64 is to “Permit adults 21 years and older to use, possess, purchase and grow nonmedical marijuana…”

No, the elite one percent can’t even get into the California market with their mega-grows until 2021. The priority in licensing goes to the existing medical marijuana operators, giving them five years to establish their dominance in the marketplace.

Now I Know How Hillary Clinton Feels

All the research and recitation by Dale and I about the statistics from legal states and the text of Prop 64 may as well have been the “wah wah wah” muted trumpet sound of Charlie Brown’s teacher’s voice to the No on 64 side. It was like debating Donald Trump: we could bring all the facts, science, reason, and logic we wanted, they would just insult, deny, deflect, and fear monger.

The loathing kicked in almost every time I would respond to one of their fears with reason backed by evidence. Audience members, usually the vets, would shout over me while I was talking, becoming belligerent enough that law enforcement had to calm them. The two non-Saunders panelists directly insulted me (“carpetbagger”, a joke about my mother, etc.) and impugned my integrity (“He’s paid by MPP to travel the country to confuse people,” “He works for NORML, who pays him to spread lies”); to his credit, Saunders chided his fellow No on 64 panelists for that. (For the record, my last paycheck from NORML was in mid-2012 and I’ve never received a dime from any other reform org or legalization campaign… you don’t have to pay me to fight for my own freedom.)

That I became the focal point for the collective hatred wasn’t surprising, as the other targets were a five-year drug-war POW and a nun. But there was one point during Sister Kate’s turn when one of the vets started screaming about how the Vatican is an autonomous city-state and something about corruption, forcing the exasperated nun to exclaim, “We’re not even Catholic!”

To cap off the absurdity, there was one question that Saunders decided Letitia ought to answer and yielded his time to her. Astonishingly, the moderators allowed the woman who’d canceled at the last moment to jump up on the dais and take the mic. She rewarded them by beginning her statement with “The reason I’m not on the panel here today is because the organizers lied to me about the format,” followed by whatever nonsensical paranoid rambling I’ve since forgotten.

Eventually, one of the No on 64 panelists declared that I was upset because I was losing this debate, to the squeals of delight from the 20-odd Stoners Against Legalization in the audience. In a sense, I was, since this wasn’t a debate so much as an episode of The Jerry Springer Show.

But for any on-the-fence voter with a lick of sense, the incoherent rage and paranoid fear displayed by the No on 64 side will probably move votes into the Yes column. Just as the No on I-502 people back in 2012 convinced many Washingtonians that if those people think it’s awful, there must be something good about it. With Prop 64 standing at 60 percent in recent polls, you can judge my debate performance any way you like.

And just like the No on I-502 people*, I’ll be back in three years after Prop 64 passes to present all the data that confirm their sky-will-fall predictions as the paranoid delusions they are.


* Before you jump into the comments to wail about how I-502 destroyed medical marijuana in Washington, understand that I-502 did nothing to medical marijuana. That’s Senate Bill 5052 that ratcheted down medical marijuana, not the legalization initiative. In fact, California learned from the experience of Washington that a lack of statewide medical marijuana commercial regulations combined with strict recreational regulations leads to that upheaval of medical marijuana, so they passed MCRSA last year before inevitable 2016 legalization would occur.


Previously in Radical Rant: Haters—They’re Just Gonna Hate

For all of Russ Belville’s writing, click here

  1. Another great column, Russ. Yes, there is much in common with the rude ignorance of the No on 64 people and the Trump campaign. I suppose they’ve been taking notes from the orange one. But in both cases, the desire to lie and obstruct and be rude doesn’t win elections, but they can be a royal pain in the ass to deal with. Especially given they pat themselves on the back even when they lose.

    Hopefully after this election is over, the losers will realize that fearful fantasies about imaginary enemies, espousing fearful fantasies and lots of rude shouting don’t work in the US. Hopefully. My fear is that these exact tactics DID work in the 1930’s in Germany.

    But I don’t think Americans are dumb enough to go down that path. Not the majority of us anyway.

    1. Yet another person hiding behind a fake name. Sean Parker’s new $18 million investment is keeping the trolls employed! I just hope Shadar is a CA resident; we need that money in the local economy!

      1. See, Shandar. You’re not a real reader. You must have been paid by SeanNapsterParker or GeorgeMonsantoSoros to have an opinion like that. Nobody could possibly disagree with the legal genius of Letitia Pepper.

  2. What a load of BS Russ – I was at the debate, talk about just plain making stuff up to cover-up your horrible performance. Then on top of that how do you know who was a veteran and who was not? They were not in uniform……disgusting that High Times let you print your version of tabloid journalism.

    1. Nonsense. I have listened to large segments and Russ is spot on. – Russ is the most knowledgeable marijuana reformer on the planet. – The performance of the Greedy Sellers Against Legalization was simply disgraceful and empty.

      1. I was there and he lied like a rug about the legal impact of Prop. 64. You could tell he’d coached that fake nun on what to say; watch his face as she fucked up on that unfortunate slavery anecdote, one he’s used on his radio show before. You can tell he’s thinking, “OMG, she is soooo dumb!”

        1. You’re nuts. – Marc Emery is the most recognized, respected marijuana reformer on the planet. – Even he says Russ is the most knowledgeable, effective marijuana reformer he knows. He urges everyone to follow Russ. – Russ’ credibility and integrity are 100 percent sterling. – When you make those lame attempts to tarnish him, you only reveal your own filth. – Your reputation is well-deserved.

          1. Marc Emory? The only person who’s brought him up is you, jontomas.
            Russ didn’t have real facts, he was making up the law as he went! In a real debate he would have been a quivering mess.
            Here’s what a REAL debate looks like.
            Swerdlow/Pepper debate in Laguna Woods; end result: senior citizen medical marijuana club to issue press release: NO on Prop. 64!

          2. Yes. Believe it or not, I’m allowed to bring up whatever I like. – You seriously impugned Russ’ character, and I gave the most respected marijuana reformer’s superlative endorsement of Russ. – That just puts things in the right perspective. –

            You lie again when by saying Russ was making things up. NOBODY researches marijuana policy broader and deeper than Russ. – I’m not interested in your little hate fest at some dispensary with easily swayed seniors. – Russ stated the facts in extremely accurate and logical fashion, as Marc Emery and other veteran marijuana reform leaders all acknowledge.

            I too, wish we could have a REAL scholastic debate, with points scored and judgement of winner rendered. – A real debate judge would laugh the drama queen performances of the GSAL out of the hall. You would not be able to leave a real debate claiming victory.

          3. You wish. – You were right with the first three words, then fell off the cliff. – No one needs a definition of a troll. Only trolls try to inject them.

        2. Again with the paranoid conspiracy theories… I have never met Sister Kate before sitting on that panel. Never heard of her or her Sisters of the Valley. When you watch my face, that’s me grimacing at a terrible analogy she was trying to make, that I’m hearing for the first time. I would never call Prop 64 an “enlightened slave owner”. Prop 64 frees us from having to go to him for a permission slip to smoke pot and grow cannabis. Prop 64 frees us from the chains of prohibition profiteering. The closest I’ve ever come to that analogy is:

          Relaying Judge Jim Gray’s quote that “prohibition is the greatest public policy disaster since slavery.”

          Calling the period of legalization we’re in now “the Reconstruction phase” in the context of explaining how it takes sometimes generations to achieve the progress we deserve.

          Pointing out that Stoners Against Legalization helping prohibition flourish because an initiative isn’t perfect are like slaves rejecting the Emancipation Proclamation because it didn’t include interracial marriage legalization.

          You keep using that word “lie”. Yet here you are claiming I’m coaching panelists without a shred of evidence to back it up.

          And you call me a “carpetbagger”, not even knowing what that means. I don’t profit one way or another if California legalizes. Will you put your money where your mouth is, Letitia? Take the No on Prop 64 Pledge that you won’t accept any business, use any products, or profit in anyway from the commercial licensees Prop 64 creates.

          Because if history is any guide, you’ll be just like the No on I-502 cop-helpers who have almost all slid into some gig that gets them paid only because weed is legalized in Washington.

      2. What an informative comment–not! What greedy sellers? Kiernan was arrested in San Diego under unconstitutional MMRSA for giving away weed to disabled vets!!! And if it’s greedy to be reimbursed for providing medical marijuana, then try pointing a finger at the Sisters of CBD. These lines about “Greedy” this and that are getting old!

        1. >>>”What greedy sellers?”

          Give me a break. – Veteran marijuana reformer Chris Conrad notes most of the noise against Prop 64 is coming from a few dispensaries in S.F., Sacramento and San Diego – and the motivation is clear – to protect their outrageously high prices and quasi-monopolies, and the heck with the freedom of their “precious” customers.

          >>>”Kiernan was arrested in San Diego under unconstitutional MMRSA for giving away weed to disabled vets!”

          That is an irrelevant situation. – Of course, there will be ways to get medical marijuana to needy veterans. – With Prop 64, anybody can gift up to a quarter of an ounce at any time.

          >>>”if it’s greedy to be reimbursed for providing medical marijuana,”

          It’s not greedy to be reimbursed, it’s greedy to fight against the freedom of your customers and Californians in general by working to defeat legalization which will just add us to the other Free States, and break the back of the fraudulent federal prohibition.

          >>>”These lines about “Greedy” this and that are getting old!”

          Good. They aren’t going away as long as you fight against the freedom of California’s millions of marijuana consumers.

    2. I met some of those guys; the ones I met were vets for sure; I’m a Marine brat and you can spot the vets; they are a lot more polite and at ease in their skins than men who haven’t been in combat.

    3. I believed the men who were yelling at me to be with the Weed for Warriors project, as they seemed friendly with the ones from that group who were identified and cheered for the other side’s comments about weed and veterans. If they were just everyday louts with no sense of decorum screaming incoherent rage at me, I apologize for misattributing them as veterans.

  3. Russ was not party to the emails between me and pro-64 organizer Shelby Lucido. I was asked to debate in Sacramento by Lanette Davies, and I said sure. But Ms. Lucido never contacted me with ANY details. None, zero, zip.
    On the Friday before the debate was to take place, I heard that the format was NOT a debate, but more like a really screwed-up panel. There were going to be six panelists, each would be asked the same question and given one minute to answer, and the panelist’s mic would be turned off.
    I haven’t spent 34 years as an attorney to be treated like a radio talk show caller. This is a serious issue with lots of horrible repercussions for Patients, including disabled veterans. As soon as I found out what was going on, I contacted Ms. Lucero to say that I had agreed to DEBATE, not be part of a radio talk show hosted by a pro-64 carpetbagger from Washington, one of the newly-corporately-enslaved states under I-502.
    I told her that I’d break my own rule against panel discussions, and show up as long as it wasn’t a farce with one minute to answer questions and the mic cut off. I told her I had set up both panel discussions and debates for professional groups like women’s bar associations, and that her planned set-up was truly inappropriate.
    She never got back to me on Friday or over the weekend. So I drove up anyway, telling her I was coming and would participate if she dropped the stupid one minute format. Instead of callling me back, she had her kid, Alex call me enroute and lie to me and tell me the event had been cancelled because of my emails. Without saying who he was, and calling from a blocked number, Alex said, “Don’t show up in Sacramento” and “Don’t show up at the event.” I ignored this and went to the event, and spent my time occasionally yelling “Liar” from the audience when Belville lied, and handing out info about Prop. 64. We converted a lot of Yes voters to no, too.
    Plus, the reason the vets finally got a seat at the table was that I and Kevin Saunders shamed Lucido into putting Sean Kiernan from Weed for Warriors on the panel. And, BTW, at the last minute she changed the rules from one to three minutes. Guess when I got a copy of the rules for the event? At 11:02 am, for an event that started at 11:00 am.
    The only chickens involved in this event were Ms. Lucido and, possibly, Mr. Belville, who was so unnerved at the change in plans that his hands were visibly shaking so much he stuck them under the table. Maybe he has essential tremors, or Parkinson’s Disease, or maybe he isn’t used to not having control of other speakers via the use of a mic he can turn off at will.

    1. You know how much advance notice I got of the rules of the event? The moment the moderators were on the stage, explaining how the event would unfold. See, I’m able to debate the facts and statistics of the issue in any format, whether that’s talk radio, appearing on TV shows, in debates with Kevin Sabet and Ben Cort and the Idaho Drug Czar, whether there are moderators or not, panels or not, for two minutes or for three hours, and I do so without throwing a prima donna hissy fit, heckling panelists from the audience, taking the mic and calling the organizer who’d graciously let you set up a table of propaganda “a liar”.

      The only unnerving thing about the event was having men screaming angrily at me from the crowd to the point where law enforcement has to step over to them to calm them down. What my medical conditions may or may not be is none of your business, but you jumping to that speculation reveals a lot.

      I will agree that it was a screwed-up panel and format. Our side consistently cited relevant portions of Prop 64 and Cal H&SC and the results of legalization similar to Prop 64 that have occurred in three other states. The other side called names, insulted the our side, appealed to authority (“Dennis Peron hates it!”), conjured unsubstantiated fears, and couldn’t cite a single passage of text from Prop 64.

      By the way, I’m from Oregon. One of the states that has had medical marijuana nearly as long as California and legal marijuana for two years now. Our veterans and patients are still getting weed and it costs half as much as your medical marijuana in California. But where I’m from doesn’t have any impact on whether I’m right or you’re right that Prop 64 is a secret twisted evil plot by GeorgeMonsantoSoros to repeal Prop 215 (the one that would never have passed without money from who, again?) that somehow every reputable drug law reformer in California supports because either they’re not the legal geniuses Letitia Pepper is or they’ve been bought out by GeorgeMonsantoSoros to betray their three decades of activism, many of whom were instrumental in passing Prop 215.

  4. The yessers on 64 must be desperate; they had to put someone masquerading as a nun on the panel. These “Sisters of CBD” don’t have to follow any known rules of conduct, and seem to be selling products. In other words, they are as much nuns as a junior high school student wearing a monitor’s sash is a security guard. They are real nuns just like the Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence were real nuns.
    When “Sister” Kate started down her slavery analogy about the bad slaveowners and the good slave owners (!!!!), someone in the audience got the best one-liner of the day. “Hey, I thought that was a habit, but now I get it; you’re a Grand Dragon!” (FYI, a Grand Deagin is a high-ranking member if he Klu Klux Klan, who gets fancier costumes than sheets with eye holes.)

    1. The only desperation was in trying to fill a panel with people who would appear at an event with you. Nobody from the official campaign or any of the campaign’s California reform support would accept an invitation, as it is akin to Neil deGrasse Tyson debating creationism with Ken Ham.

      I accepted the invite solely for the opportunity to dismantle your pretzel logic disaster scenarios, but had that opportunity taken from me in exchange for being insulted and heckled by people who are so misinformed they actually think cannabis growing is a constitutionally protected right in California and dispensaries selling $330 ounces are displaying “compassion”.

      Glad you enjoyed the heckling and the one-liners and the insults and the opportunity to call your host a “liar”. It’s not going to change the outcome of the election any and it will be fun four years from now posting the article detailing exactly how off-base and paranoid your predictions were in trying to fool people into supporting the cops in defeating legalization.

  5. This column is filled with so many lies it would take three solid hours to write a full expose. Let’s just say that watching a full, unedited version of the event would give a very different impression of what actually happened than what Belville presents here.

  6. I desperately want to put my hat in the ring on this one,but I have this thing about “feeding trolls” So before either side gets theirknickers in a twist, read, breath, digest, then respond.

    I’m living in a statethat is in the “considering” phase, I call it useless legislation, blow smoke,make it look like we’re trying so we keep our jobs phase. So I try to keep up
    on what is going on in other time zones, and even other countries. And I’m
    seeing a rather disturbing trend.

    I’m not here to hurt egos, feelings, causes,or reputations. I just want to know why the agendas are so far apart. It is a complete mystery. I can see that this is a personal matter to many, and as such, stirs passionate responses. But we cannot afford to act like 6-year old’s. It will do Nothing to further any positive, forward moving agenda. They will sit back and laugh as they have always done, as you rip each other apart.

    To me, it is about compassionate, responsible care for people with conditions that traditional medications actually put you on a donor list later in life just to get you by
    now, (i.e. Keppra Vimpat look it up, does organ damage) or for those in chronic
    pain that are on opioids (no description needed here me thinks), or those that
    are taking anxiety medication just to go to a Dr.’s appointment because they can’t
    bear to leave the house.
    This is a serious matter, and should be treated as such. Not reduced to name calling, or running off screeching “I’m telling mom”.
    These are people in pain on levels that most cannot even imagine, and some of these people are children.
    Or, not to put too fine a point on it, you may have the adult, that chooses to adult, have a job,go to work, and at the end of their day, instead of opening a beer, they light
    a joint, and play with the kids and dog in the backyard. Nothing wrong with
    that right? (although I’m sure someone will think so, whatever, that’s another debate to be sure.)
    I used to be the one that opened a beer, and that usually ended with some degree of ugliness. I was the person that thought all drugs where bad, alcohol and tobacco where ok cause I could get that anywhere. Grew up around high functioning alcoholic adults.

    Now, I’m the one mentioned in the first paragraph (compassionate care), on
    Pharmas to get by, and I’m really not, getting by that is. So, I did some research, and found out about MMJ. Natural, no risk of accidental OD, worst side effects I have found is potential munchies, and much needed sleep. Yeah, I do a lot of looking stuff up…. Lots of that. I have talked frankly to my Dr.’s about MMJ, and some seem at the very least warm to the option. But there is so much to be done.
    So, it is apparent to me, I have some more digging to do, and dig I will. I like to be clear, perhaps it is the Soldier in me (once a Soldier, always a Soldier), perhaps it is the information hoarder, but I refuse to believe that States are rushing willie nillie into these matters no more informed than one side will allow ……unless it was the side that put them into office. I make phone calls, send e-mails, I try. I am 1. But I try.

    You know, that whole “will of the people, by the people, for the people”
    thing, or is that dream long gone, this is still a Republic…right?
    Or is it true that we are at the whim of the purse strings?
    That is where all the venom should be spewed…. Jus Sayin’

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