Kandice Hawes & OJ’s Debbie Tharp OVER-qualify Medical Marijuana initiative for Santa Ana.

Occasional OJ blogger and tireless medical marijuana warrior Debbie Tharp, still fighting Costa Mesa Mother’s Market over last year’s trespassing charges, has completed the herculean task (leading a team of other heroes) of qualifying a reform initiative for Santa Ana’s November 2014 ballot with 17,000 signatures – 6000 over what was needed – while overcoming the usual obstacles and dirty tricks that city bureaucrats tend to throw at these measures.

So Santa Anans will get to vote, November 2014, on the “Medical Cannabis Restriction and Limitation Initiative,”  which will limit the number of medical mj collectives in their fine town to one for every 15,000 residents. It’s predicted maybe twenty being able to apply for and receive a license to operate in the city.   The measure will also levy a 2% tax all all collectives that remain operational, to go toward the city budget.

Similar to last year’s failed attempt in Costa Mesa, which THAT city government smothered with a dozen dirty tricks, this measure is intended to remedy the current situation in Santa Ana, which is a free-for-all.  Technically there’s been a ban on Santa Ana collectives  since 2009, yet the town has more than any other OC town!  A couple of these collectives even violate Prop 215 by operating closer to schools than state law allows. This initiative reinforces state law in that respect and would force those collectives to shut down.  The collectives that are granted a license will be allowed to operate in certain zones in the city which are spelled out in the initiative.

This initiative will create a compromise with the city, rather than continuing the current chaotic situation, and it will give Santa Ana the ability to work with collectives and the community.  The important thing here is to protect patients’ rights to access, while respecting the rights of the community and business owners in the community.

Santa Ana Government’s Dirty Tricks, and how our heroes overcame them!

Cities always tend to throw up dirty tricks of one kind or another to keep these initiatives from qualifying, for whatever reason.  Both the dirty tricks I’ve been told about in this case seem to have come from Santa Ana City Clerk Maria Huizar.* [see below]  I’m asking around to see what may have motivated her – instructions from Mayor Pulido?  Instructions from the Council in general?  Or is it just something that City Clerks like to do?

Remember last year, when Take Back Anaheim was told they needed the signatures of 10% of Anaheim voters to qualify their “Let the People Vote” initiative, and then RIGHT before the deadline was up, the City Clerk suddenly told them “Whoops, actually you need 15%” – and there was no time left to get that many?

I didn’t realize how common that little “mistake” was!   But you know who HAS seen that little “mistake” before?  One of Debbie’s most brilliant and valuable colleagues,  Kandice Hawes of OC Norml.  Says Debbie, “Kandice’s strategic planning and foresight paid off in SPADES!”

Kandice Hawes

SO, as they began this process in August, with a deadline of January 25, our heroes were told by Ms. Huizar that they would only need 4700 signatures.  Okay.  Are you sure?  Lawyers for our heroes opined privately that the figure might really be 10,900.  But no, our heroes verified several times with Ms. Huizar.  They had FIVE DIFFERENT PEOPLE call her and ask.  She repeatedly affirmed the number, and later when Debbie herself called to make sure “This number is not going to change, right?”  Ms Huizar snapped, “YES.  AND PLEASE QUIT CALLING.”

Then, lo and behold, sure enough, when Huizar heard they were about to turn in the signatures, it was suddenly 10,900 that would be needed – “Any less than that and you guys won’t qualify.”  But Kandice had foreseen this happening, and the card our heroes had up their sleeve was TIME – still a couple of months left to go before the deadline.  So they got back on the street, re-doubled their efforts, and eventually turned in an utterly ridiculous 17,000.

It’s customary to have a “cushion,” because some sigs will get disqualified, but a cushion THAT huge?  Indestructible.

Didn’t stop the city though, from going through and disqualifying hundreds of them for frivolous reasons.  Three hundred were disqualified because the old guy who took them wrote his dates down kind of funny – the way he wrote “12 3 12” for December 3, 2012, could have been misread as 1 23 12 – January 23 – and the city INSISTED on reading it that way.  Three hundred disqualified that way – not NEARLY enough to sink the project – but still it pissed off Debbie seeing ANY VOTERS disenfranchised like that.

Debbie responds to a few more of my questions, late last night on the internets:

“We took almost the full clock, with a one month break right before the first planned turn in that didn’t happen cause they changed the numbers. We could have done it faster, but that might have resulted in resentment in the community from people being pressured at stores and phone calls from police complaining about aggressive gatherers. We chose to do this slow and steady using local people who know their stuff so as to show our best side to the community and store owners alike. the last several thousand sigs were gathered door to door in face to face conversations with community members in their neighborhoods.

“We had a lot of fluent, Spanish-speaking circulators, since this was Santa Ana.  The ones who couldn’t speak fluently let the fluent ones handle the spanish speaking community members. And all members of the community were equally receptive.  Everyone in Santa Ana knows that the current situation is untenable.  There was no hostility at all. when I explained the issue to people as I walked  that this was an initiative that would limit collectives while still protecting patient access, some of them actually yanked the clipboard out of my hand to sign it.

“And we were validating with one of the best files in the business from start to finish with three disk updates, thanks to Rick Fenton, the best data man the political world has to offer.

“In conclusion, I just want to thank those of you who worked so hard on getting this initiative qualified, and to thank the volunteers as well. Kandice, who ran this whole thing from start to finish while kicking ass in college deserves massive kudos for making all the right choices.  This is my first baby that I got to have my hands on from the signature gathering side from start to finish, and it was such a pleasure to be able to do it with someone who has shown me nothing but support in all my other political efforts for the past five years.

“This is a happy moment for all who worked so hard against the odds and a deck that was stacked against them from the beginning. The hurdles that they all faced were just no match for the forces who gave their heart and soul to fight for what is right. There just is no match, no political strategy, that will ever be able to replace the advantage of simply being right, and knowing that you are.”

Now 18 months, to make sure Santa Ana votes YES on this puppy!

* Councilwoman Michele Martinez calls and speaks highly of Huizar’s professionalism and says the misunderstandings were honest.

About Vern Nelson

Greatest pianist/composer in Orange County, and official troubador of both Anaheim and Huntington Beach (the two ends of the Santa Ana Aquifer.) Performs regularly both solo, and with his savage-jazz quintet The Vern Nelson Problem. Reach at vernpnelson@gmail.com, or 714-235-VERN.