Celebrating Two Decades of Medical Cannabis With Americans For Safe Access

By Benjie Cooper

IG: @nuglifenews

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On November 5, 1996, with a final vote of 55.6% to 44.4%, California voters approved a pivotal ballot initiative called Proposition 215, also known as the Compassionate Use Act of 1996. With the law’s passage, the use of medical cannabis by certified patients was to be allowed for the first time in American history since cannabis prohibition had manifested under the Marihuana Tax Stamp Act on October 2, 1937. Unemployed Colorado laborer Samuel Caldwell was arrested in Denver on the same day by FBI agents for selling two joints without buying the $1 tax stamp that the Stamp Act had levied on cannabis sales. This was to be the first of millions of marijuana arrests in the decades to come.

Conceived by San Francisco cannabis activist Dennis Peron, Prop 215 enabled patients with a doctor’s recommendation, which is considered free speech and covered by the First Amendment, to have access to cannabis to treat any ailment that a licensed physician deemed could be aided by the medicinal use of the plant. In 2003, Senator John Vasconcellos expanded on Prop 215 by writing California Senate Bill 420, or the Medical Marijuana Program Act. The bill was passed by the State Legislature and signed into law by Governor Gray Davis on October 12. SB 420 helped establish the medical cannabis system that has allowed for the growth of a large network of cultivators, processors, co-ops, and dispensaries that are in use by millions of Californians almost a decade-and-a-half after its passage.

Amongst the different organizations that have risen in the ever-growing wave of medical cannabis legalization exists one known as Americans For Safe Access. ASA was founded in 2002 by Executive Director Steph Sherer in response to the federal marijuana raids that were continuing to happen in California in spite of the fact that voters had passed Prop 215  six years earlier. Based in Washington D.C., the non-profit, 100,000-member-based organization works to ensure safe and legal access to cannabis for therapeutic, medical, and research uses. The organization has chapters in all 50 states and focuses on education and working with legislators across U.S. to help create policies that improve access to medical cannabis for patients and researchers.

The San Diego Chapter of ASA throws an annual Prop 215 party and unsurprisingly, holds it on 2/15. This year marked the third ASA party that I have attended, all three of which have been held at the seedleSs Clothing Compound in Ocean Beach. The Compound is covered virtually top-to-bottom both inside and out in an array of diverse and colorful artwork from a variety of artists. Clothing is sold from a sidewalk-accessible shop on the front of the building, and the fenced side-lot area outside is home to two small half-bowls for skating, a large generator, and a small garage with a roof that serves as a stage during events. There was to be no skating on the day of the ASA party as the skate ramps were occupied by tables from the Point Loma Patient Consumer Co-Op and the Southwest Patient Group. More tables and tents were set up throughout the rest of the lot by local dispensaries, edible makers and other businesses including toasted sub-maker Chēba Hut and organic, gluten/dairy-free baker Medicinal Mama. Nug Life Radio Show host and cannabis comedian, Medicinal Mike was the emcee of the day’s festivities, bringing his signature brand of humor and presence to the stage as he introduced bands and showered attendees with an assortment of raffle items provided by vendors and local retailers.

Three-piece ‘heavy art rock’ band The Serotonin Experiment kicked off the live music for the afternoon, its members demonstrating their musical diversity by switching instruments with each other every couple of songs. Dubbest was next to take the stage, bringing a very upbeat and happy reggae sound to the event. As the sun set into the Pacific and a cool night fell upon Ocean Beach, the final act of the event, San Diego ska group, The Lexicons took to the rooftop stage, playing their homage to America’s Finest City and its residents with their song, ‘San Diego.’

As everyone gathered together at the little clothing compound in Ocean Beach to celebrate a ballot initiative that has resulted in two decades (and counting) of medical cannabis in California, I was reminded that as far as we’ve come with legalization, there is still work to be done not only in the state but across the rest of the country. California voters approved recreational cannabis in November 2016 but the infrastructure has yet to be implemented, and the current medical cannabis system will undergo regulatory changes in 2018 under the Medical Marijuana Regulation and Safety Act (MMRSA). Going forward into this new, unexplored territory of cannabis legalization and regulation, it is the duty groups like ASA and the rest of the cannabis community to work as a whole to help ensure the safety of medical cannabis patients, access to their medicine, and that fair laws be presented to the people. This February, we celebrate the work of twenty difficult-but-productive years of medical cannabis in California; may we use the next twenty to create something that will benefit generations to come.