WFWP’s Sean Kiernan Responds to Gavin Newsom’s Editorial on AUMA (Prop 64)
April 20th, 2016
Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom
State Capital, Suite 1114
Sacramento, CA 95814
Lieutenant Governor Newsom, Do You Really Want to Create Two California’s with regard to Cannabis?
Dear Lieutenant Governor Gavin Newsom,
My name is Sean Kiernan and I am the President of the Weed for Warriors Project, a non-profit started in San Jose California in 2014. We are a group of veterans advocating for our Sisters and Brothers who have worn the uniform to have access to Cannabis in order to treat their War Trauma as an alternative to the cocktails of pharmaceuticals currently prescribed by the VA. We read your editorial in the Modesto Bee on March 21, 2016 in support of the “Control, Regulate, and Tax Adult Use of Marijuana Act”, “AUMA” or the “Sean Parker Initiative” as it’s popularly called in the press.
We have penned this letter to express not only concerns but to point out flaws in AUMA or what we have previously described as an initiative straight out of central planning. We would be remiss if we failed to mention that we support access to Cannabis for everyone, so while we are Veterans representing just 7% of the population who wear that title, we are fighting for everyone to have the freedom of choice to choose what medicines they are allowed to use or put into their body.
To be fair, we are in agreement with much of what you wrote, so there is common ground. That agreement is the idea that the “war on drugs has been an abject – and expensive failure”. Also, we are in agreement on many of your points as they relate to fostering responsible use and production as it relates to Public Safety, and Environmental Protection. Also, if Colorado is any indication, the new funds raised could be used to invest in our communities, a much-needed change from the destruction the State has been responsible for in our communities under Prohibition, especially in communities of color and poverty.
However, we must question whether your prescription, “passing AUMA” or the Adult Use of Marijuana Act is in the best interest of a significant portion of the State you hope to lead someday. It’s not that your stated goals are not admirable, they are. Nor that some of your wording and phrases with regard to AUMA don’t sound a lot like the prohibitionist, they do. In fact the entire “smarter approach” catch phrase you used has two issues: One, it’s Orwellian Doublespeak but that is likely related to the packaging of the Act so we can overlook that. The second, and more important matter with regard to AUMA is, it’s not as you so state the “smarter approach”.
The goals you speak to in your editorial sound great for the most part, although there is so much more, however we do understand the need to be brief in a newspaper. Using your own litmus test for developing California’s legal Cannabis market, let’s discuss your support for AUMA.
You state, “A successful marijuana framework would also reduce the size of the black market”. We understand this rational and in an ideal world we agree, however, we fail to understand the economic theory that “AUMA” would accomplish this. In fact, the passage of AUMA is almost certainly going to increase black market activity and probably dramatically. The why is pretty simple, AUMA increases the cost of production as you state, for the “good actors” or more simply put, those willing and able to adhere to the dramatically increased regulatory requirements AUMA and the other leviathan AB 266 puts into place. In addition, “AUMA” increases taxes dramatically on both the producers and the consumers who will be paying up to 25% sales tax to access Cannabis legally.
Call us crazy, but increasing cost via regulation and taxes on producers and slapping a 25% tax on consumers will add both supply and demand into the black market, especially when legalizing the product for every adult in the state. One only needs to look across America at the legalization movement in places like Colorado where the black market is thriving. AUMA will ensure a black market that offers easier and cheaper access to Cannabis than legal dispensaries will.
In addition, you state “we incarcerate too many Americans for non-violent drug crimes” and we agree! At the Democratic Party Convention in Los Angeles, you stated ““It was in 1971 when Richard Nixon, a Californian, declared a war on drugs as a backlash to massive shifts in cultural values,” Newsom said. “And since the 1970’s, our learning curve on the war on drugs has cost the taxpayers more than $1 trillion and counting. And that’s not even the most significant cost to our failed policies. Over that same period of time, the United States of America has spent over $120 billion to arrest some 37 million people for non-violent drug offenses. Think about that. That’s the equivalent of nearly the entire population of our great state.”
We applaud your words and agree, however, your very speech conflicts with the wording in AUMA, the pathway you publically are championing. Looking at AUMA’s wording, the criminalization of cannabis and the pipeline from Cannabis to incarceration still very much exist. Simple possession of flower above one ounce of cannabis can land you in jail for six months and that jumps to a year if its concentrates you are caught with. This fact has us questioning whether you are serious about your comments that we incarcerate too many Americans for non-violent drug crimes or not?
Now let us speak to AUMA’s endorsement by the NAACP, which you highlight. We fully understand and are aware of promises to Alice Huffman, the President of the California NAACP, who we absolutely admire. We would be shocked if AUMA garnered the NAACP’s support without the very clear understanding that as you state, AUMA is just the ”first step” and the NAACP we imagine is expecting so much more post November 2016 that will address the very real atrocities inflicted on our communities, especially communities of color by the War on Drugs. This is a War so racially tinged Michelle Alexander called it “The New Jim Crow”.
This is really the crux of those in favor of the Sean Parker Initiative. It will pragmatically legalize adult cannabis for one segment of the population, people with money. You are going to create two California’s for Cannabis. One for those with resources who will be able to afford the tremendous cost increases associated with consumption or production that AUMA will entail; and the other, the black market where the sick, poor and disenfranchised will be forced to turn to.
Think about this, the very communities of poor we have literally destroyed, veterans who have sacrificed too much already and many other vulnerable groups will now have the targets solely on their backs for the prohibitionist in law enforcement to keep the pipeline to criminality going. Is escalating the war on our most vulnerable really a good thing?
We understand the concept of progress and moving the ball forward. However AUMA will run afoul of your first goal to reduce the black market. It will absolutely decrease the punishments for the privileged while focusing all the assets in law enforcement’s jihad against Cannabis on the poor and vulnerable who will be accessing the black market. This course of action will exacerbate, not remedy the over criminalization of our citizenry for victimless crimes, while punishing those most in need of easy and affordable access to Cannabis.
If California’s endeavor to regulate the medical cannabis market last year with AB 266 has any predictive value for AUMA, it’s telling us the law of unintended consequences will be in full effect. The recent rush to outlaw cultivation and access in many cities and counties across California was in direct response to AB 266’s 70-page framework that “mistakenly”, per Assemblyman Jim Wood, included a March 1st deadline for localities to pass regulations governing Cannabis or lose such power to the State. Restricting personal cultivation and making access harder is not something the sick and vulnerable can afford from a bill that is suppose to regulate their health care.
You might be wondering, why a Veterans group cares so much. Well in 2012, the Veterans Administration published a report on Veteran Suicide. The numbers were not pretty, and worse, they understated the problem. The study concluded that there were at least 22 Veterans committing suicide daily in our Country. At 22 Veterans a day, that is over 8,000 killing themselves each year. Putting those numbers into context, veterans represent 7% of the US population; yet, they represent 20% of all suicides. That is bad news by itself, but wait, it is much worse.
The numbers published by the VA in 2012 only included suicide data from 21 of the 50 states with the other 29 claiming they didn’t have the data or they could not provide it because of privacy issues. An interesting but depressing statistic is California and Texas were two of the 29 States who did not provide data yet they represent 20% of our countries population. Using extrapolation it is not inconceivable that the actual number of Veterans killing themselves is over 20,000 each year.
I don’t believe we would find much disagreement with the claim that our institutional response to the needs of Veterans is failing miserably. I also think if the government can’t help, it should do all it can to not exacerbate the problem further.
The dirty little secret that is not really a secret is Veterans have for eternity, sought relief from their ailments of service from the cannabis plant. In fact, much is made of quotes attributed in the press of the time to our Civil War Generals Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee who championed its use amongst their soldiers.
Grant is quoted as stating Cannabis is of “great value for the Wounded” while Lee stated he “wish it was in my power to place Hasheesh Candy into the pocket of every soldier because I was convinced that it speedily relieves debility, fatigue and suffering.”
It’s not just Soldiers or Veterans who realize the healing properties of Cannabis. A study published by the American Journal of Public Health by professors from three US Universities suggest that access to legalized cannabis was associated with an 11 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 20 through 29 year-old males and a 9 percent reduction in the suicide rate of 30 through 39 year-old males. A demographic that hits the Veteran suicide epidemic center mass although we must not ignore our female Veterans who are exhibiting the same yet in many circumstances unique problems.
How is the Weed for Warriors confronting this epidemic head on? The Weed for Warrior’s Southern California chapter was conducting one of its frequent meetings this recent fall at a local park. Over one hundred veterans spent the day barbequing and enjoying the friendships that any Veteran will tell you they miss. The other purpose of this event was to distribute cannabis to qualified veterans who can’t afford to purchase their medicine. The VA nor insurance covers medical marijuana and for a triple amputee Veteran, the $3,000 they receive in monthly disability payments barely cover their cost of living let alone discretionary income to cover cannabis.
As the crowd of Veterans gathered to graciously accept their brown bag of donations, they peered inside to see flowers donated by growers, oils donated by manufacturers, vaporizers donated by entrepreneurs and lotions full of medicine that amputees swear by. Smiles permeated the veterans faces, spouses were happy knowing their families would be a little more at ease and the kids, well all they knew is mom and dad were happy. This day was a good day, a day that is in danger of becoming a thing of the past for these veterans who will have no alternative to turn to and given what we have learned, that will mean more body bags for those who already risked their lives for us.
How could this be? Well let’s turn to our political system in California. Toward the later part of 2015, California passed AB 266 also called California’s Medical Marijuana Regulation & Safety Act. Cannabis and Regulation collided and everyone is still sifting through the ramifications of trying to please everyone, well of course except Veterans. There is one thing that is for sure, donations of cannabis has been severely restricted and the cost of production and distribution will increase across the board. Producers have to sell their goods to middlemen who then sell the producers product, after a markup of course, to the dispensary who can if they wish match what is happening today free of charge.
Under AB 266 almost all the donations the Weed for Warriors Project received that day at the park will be outlawed with risk of jail to all involved. In discussions with Weed for Warriors donors throughout the state, all of them, from growers to manufacturers, will now be unable to donate meds of any kind. Beard Bro Pharms, one of the biggest donors to WFWP states: “AB 266 practically makes it impossible to provide medicine to the most needy and deserving members of our society for the purpose of appeasing those who championed prohibition to start”
There is still hope though as California is anticipated to pass legalized adult use Cannabis in 2016. In Colorado, many Veterans denied medicine through the States medical program (PTSD is not a recognized condition) receive their medicine through the State’s recreational program. So while AB 266 looks to hurt the most needy and deserving of our society, California still had an opportunity to make it right.
However, not with yours as well as Silicon Valley billionaire Sean Parker support for AUMA. Reporter Jeremy Daw stated, “ an initiative by business, for business and one that will undoubtedly leave many Veterans where veterans are often left by our government, six feet under. Why? The Sean Parker Act as its being termed in the press or AUMA specifically prohibits any donations to anybody at all.
So as we enter 2016, Veterans once again find themselves as a doormat for a system that lost use for them years ago. In everyone’s rush to claim victory or protect their interest, Veteran’s interests are clearly being ignored and that exclusion has been overplayed throughout our country’s history as to blunt the visceral reaction we should be having.
With between 8,000 and 20,000 Veterans committing suicide each year in our Country, with California being home to the largest Veteran population, it is appalling to see the political class, partner with the for profit industry and the prohibitionist to once again marginalize our Veterans.
We ask that you and the people of California stand with us and demand relief from the overregulation of medical cannabis via AB 266. We ask for redress or absent such, the rejection of AUMA as the model for recreational cannabis. Failure to do so will have the practical effect of denying too many sick patients their medicine and while keeping alive the black market so the justice system can continue to exploit the poor and disenfranchised for profits.
We owe it to our Veterans who seek relief from the horrors of service. Horrors it seems obvious are not understood by those crafting legislation in Sacramento.
We owe it to our communities who have been so disproportionately targeted by the Prohibitionist’s Jihad against Cannabis. We need to wind down the war against the poor, and that does not occur by regulating a pivot in law enforcement’s crosshairs from everyone to squarely and solely on the back of those not privileged enough to be considered “good actors” as you state. Thank you.
Sean T. Kiernan, Veteran
President, Weed for Warriors Project