A Trojan Horse of a Different Color: Dispatch from the Cannabis Legalization War.




green trojan horseA marijuana legalization round table was held by a group called Reform California just a few days ago here in Orange County.   As expected, the meeting was somewhat contentious rather than unifying, even though Congressman Dana Rohrabacher chose to grace the meeting with his presence.

Since the meeting took place, negotiations for this unity movement have deteriorated somewhat, and some are speculating that the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), Americans for Safe Access (ASA) and CalNorml may be unable to bring California’s disenfranchised legalization movement to a workable agreement in time for the 2016 ballot.

Many members of the “unity” movement and the press speculate that this lack of agreement is due mainly to a group of rabble-rousers and contentious outsiders who are unwilling to make any compromises for an amicable solution.

Here is another side of the story, told from the perspective of those whose voices have yet to be heard.

The Press is Already Censoring Public Opinion.

censoredFinding out that a member of the press is attempting to block free speech is like learning that Ghandi liked to kick puppies and children in his spare time – truly counterintuitive.

Unfortunately, the recent actions of the East Bay Express have me taking a hard look at community motives at the moment.

The Express deleted Letitia Pepper‘s account after she posted a story entitled “Are Those the Hoofbeats of a Trojan Horse I Hear?” in their comments section.  Letitia is a well-known Southern California lawyer who provides valuable legal support to the MMJ community.  The Express’ email message to her was short and to the point:

Hi, I’m writing to let you know that because you recently violated our website’s terms of use, we have suspended your account on our site. If you agree to follow the terms of use and wish us to reinstate your account, please let me know and we’ll be glad to put it back online for you. Thanks, and thanks for reading, Bert Johnson Photo and Web Editor East Bay Express 620 3rd St, Oakland

Pepper in the house!

Pepper in the house!

Really?  So Letitia responded back asking what statement was considered libelous in that comment. At that same moment, the California Cannabis Coalition learned that the very same story which was posted on their home page, was blocked from being shared on Facebook. (The latter matter has since been resolved.)

The Express finally responded to Letitia that if she was willing to reword her comment, they’d happily reinstate her account.

Hi Letitia,

The comment I was referring to made several unproven allegations against another person. According to our commenting policy, users can’t post anything that could be construed as libelous. If you’d like to reword your comment so that it doesn’t violate the policy, I’d be happy to reinstate your account. If you have further questions, please feel free to contact the Editor, Robert Gammon, at robert.gammon@eastbayexpress.com.

Thanks and best regards, Bert Johnson Photo and Web Editor East Bay Express @bertedjohnson

Really???  A supposed member of the PRESS said this?  If you haven’t read Letitia’s story, (and her comment) “Are Those the Hoof Beats of a Trojan Horse I Hear?,” please take a moment to do so, as this is the information that is being suppressed.

The Short Version

Long story short, Dale Gieringer, head of CalNorml has been recorded by an attendee, Craig Beresh, at a Reform California public meeting saying that he is not concerned with what 90% of his constituents at CalNorml want, but instead what 51% of the voters will vote for.

But don’t take my words for it, he says it much better in his own words:

As you can see, the allegations are FAR from unproven.  This is the man’s own words.  It’s true that Dale’s statement may cause CalNorml’s members to wonder why they’re bothering to make donations if their opinions don’t matter to their leadership, but still, attempting to block dissemination of Letitia’s account of this is an inexcusable response from the East Bay Express.  Why would they be willing to risk a PR black eye by attempting to block free speech?

Meanwhile, Back at the Ranch…

cleavon littleAs we attempt to understand the motives for such actions, it doesn’t escape our notice that Reform California is attempting to garner donations for a ballot initiative that has not even been written yet.

Does Reform California understand the potential damage it does to its momentum when it states outright at a public meeting, supposedly intended to garner input from the stakeholders, that they don’t care what input they get, that they’re only concerned with writing something that they think they can get past 51% of the voters?

Why are they asking us for input in the first place? And why should we contribute to this initiative if they have demonstrated through their own very words that they are not going to give our suggestions due consideration?

I’m going to make a leap of logic here and state the obvious. Since Dale himself has announced that he doesn’t care what the members of his own organization want, every last suggestion made at these public meetings that didn’t mesh with their own agenda must certainly have gotten filed in the trash can on the way out the door.

And Another Thing…

columbo one more thingOne more point, and this one is GLARINGLY obvious to those who were blocked from getting a reasonable initiative placed on the 2014 ballot.  An independent field poll was conducted last cycle asking voters if they would vote yes to legalize cannabis.  The response was 55% yes.  When these same people were read the title and summary of CCHI, the numbers increased to 56% yes.

Dale said in his statement above that he would not support CCHI, even though the vast majority of CalNorml wanted it, because he was more concerned with what 51% of the voters would vote yes for.

So if the wants and needs of his members don’t matter, and the wants and needs of the voters–according to an INDEPENDENT field poll–don’t matter either, who is Dale taking his direction from when it comes to writing this ballot initiative?

I will not insult your intelligence by further pointing out the obvious.

Back to the East Bay Express’s Censorship

Letitia has now received another reply from Bert at the East Bay Express, explaining the policy that they use to censor free speech to further their own agenda:

Dear Letitia:

The article to which your comment was posted is, “California Legalization Activists Net $80K From Investors.

When I explained why your comment was removed, the wording I used was, “users can’t post anything that could be construed as libelous.” Please note that I didn’t write that you couldn’t post anything that is libel; the concern here is what other readers of your comment may think.

I apologize if my use of the word “libelous” was imprecise or misleading. To clarify, I was paraphrasing Section C of our Terms of Use, which requires that users agree not to post content that “contains factual assertions that could be defamatory and are not verifiable,” or “includes personal attacks.” Your comment violated both of those stipulations.

By creating an account on our privately-owned and moderated website, you’re agreeing to those Terms. When a user violates them, it’s our standard policy to remove the comment and suspend the account, while giving the user the option to reactivate their account if they agree (again) to follow the Terms of Use.

That being said, if you’d like me to reinstate your account I’d be happy to. You may also post a revised version of your comment to the very same article if you’d like, as long as it doesn’t make any assertions against any specific people that are not verifiable to us, the staff at the Express. Essentially, your comment would be fine if you removed peoples’ names. I hope this fully explains the situation and resolves your concerns.


Bert Johnson Photo and Web Editor East Bay Express @bertedjohnson

Bert, I’ll be happy to dig up comments on other posts that tell it like it is that you have not censored. Comments allowed in other stories posted by your publication will demonstrat that–in this particular case– you are denying free speech based on content. As a member of the press, I’m sure you understand that this is an epic violation of Constitutional rights. Please read New York Times vs. Sullivan which makes it clear that anything in this story does not meet the definition of a personal attack, but is instead fair comment about a public figure.

In addition, it is important to point out that Bert has failed to say which statements constitute a personal attack in the first place.

So Are We Just Going to Take This?

braveheart-battle-bf863The question is, what are we as smart and savvy members of the cannabis community going to do about these misrepresentations and misleading statements from our supposed members of the press?

What are we going to do about the clear misrepresentation that we are suffering at the hands of our supposed movement leaders?

What are we going to do about that fact that the press is already attempting to silence the voices of the vast majority of the MMJ community while the backers of Reform California are simultaneously attempting to shake us down for donations to a ballot initiative that has enormous potential to disenfranchise every patient and provider in the state while handing control of the “industry” over to their cronies?

Are we really going to sit back and take this treatment just because they are leading this supposed “unity” movement?

This isn’t unity.

bad leaderUnity doesn’t tell people that their input, wants and needs don’t matter, and neither do the poll results from the rest of the voting population.

And, quite frankly, anyone who is arrogant enough to make a glaring misstep such as this at the very inception of their campaign, WHILE THEY ARE SOLICITING DONATIONS FROM THESE VERY SAME PEOPLE, is purely incapable of getting any ballot initiative, yet alone a good one, all the way across the finish line in a state like California.

[Read Are Those the Hoofbeats of a Trojan Horse I Hear?]

About Debbie Tharp