by Mark Miller
Over 500 medical marijuana patients, providers, and advocates turned out for a dynamic rally and march in San Francisco on Tuesday that moved from the steps of City Hall to the city’s Federal Building. The protest had been planned prior to Monday’s raid of Oaksterdam University and four other properties in Oakland, but the event naturally took on an even greater politically charged and emotionally fueled essence following the raids.
With the sun shining down on a throng of media capturing every image and word, the first prominent speaker on the City Hall steps was San Francisco Supervisor David Campos who told the gathering, “Medical marijuana is a social justice issue – the rights of patients to safely access medicine.” Campos added that he was “proud to be standing up here with the elected family of San Francisco.”
The openly gay Campos reminded the crowd that medical cannabis began in the LGBT community in the 1980s, when it was used to ease the physical and psychological pain of HIV and AIDS.
Spokespeople for State Assemblyman Tom Ammiano and State Senator Mark Leno, both unabashed supporters of medical marijuana, also addressed the rally, as did representatives for the City Attorney Dennis Herrera and District Attorney George Gascon, whose spokesperson read this statement that delighted the gathering:
“I unequivocally support medical marijuana as District Attorney. I will continue to support safe, legal access to medical marijuana.”
Charismatic Supervisor David Chiu electrified the crowd when he declared, “We are Asian, Latino, black, white – and today San Francisco is green!”
Chiu went on to explain that San Francisco is named for St. Francis, and is a city that stands for compassion, for universal health care, and for medical marijuana. Chiu made a not-so-veiled reference to U.S. Attorney Melinda Haag when he quipped, “As an attorney, I’m disappointed in other confused attorneys who need to hear that we’re standing together on the right side of history on this issue.”
Supervisor Jane Kim, whose district has the most dispensaries in the city, spoke of the jobs lost because of the complete shutdown of five dispensaries, with two others going to delivery only.
Oaksterdam founder Richard Lee, whose home was also raided Monday, issued a statement after the raid that read in part: “Two universities were struck [seven people were gunned down at Oakland’s Oikos University on Monday]. One by a ruthless killer. Where were our law enforcement officers? Guarding a plant that hasn’t killed a human in recorded history. The raid was meant to demoralize us; but it will not cripple us, it will merely galvanize us.”
University Executive Chancellor Dale Sky Jones spoke for Richard Lee at Tuesday’s rally. Through Jones, Lee reminded the protesters that social revolutions take place when people participate – contacting elected officials, voting, and by getting on juries as to not convict medical marijuana patients and providers.
After several more speakers, the rally headed over to the nearby Federal Building, with hundreds of protesters covering several blocks on both sides of the streets. As they marched they chanted “Our State, Our Laws, Our Medicine!” A full police escort consisting of foot patrol officers and squad cars accompanied the crowd on the march.
The contrast was stark between City Hall, which had been bathed in sunlight, and the Federal Building, which was shaded, cold, and windy, and somehow seemed to better fit the mood.
Steph Sherer of Americans for Safe Access told the crowd, “You know what the feds hate more than pot? Sitting down, so let’s have a seat and see if [US Attorney] Melinda Haag will come out and have a chat with us.”
Haag’s office, on the 19th floor of the Fed Building, was the primary target of this protest, as it had been her office that issued the threatening letters to Northern California dispensaries. Some protesters even wore “Melinda masks” that featured Haag’s visage and later everyone joined in on a “Melinda, you’re fired!” repetitive chant.
Once everyone got back on their feet, there were more speakers, including NORML’s Dale Gieringer who called the feds’ policies “an insult to the people of California who passed Prop 215.” Gieringer also noted there have been more arrests of medical pot providers in the last three years under Obama than there were during all eight years of George W. Bush’s presidency.
Later, the protest broke up and everyone went their separate ways, but imbued with a feeling that the medicinal marijuana movement in the Bay Area has been reinvigorated to a degree not seen in years with the recent federal actions culminating in the Oaksterdam raids.