Shawn DeNae: The Exhausting Work of A Cannabis Business Advocate

By Shawn DeNae

Advocating for cannabis reform is energy consuming business.  I’m tired and I’m not alone.

When I became involved in late 2010, I fed off the intense enthusiasm and passion of the cannabis community.  There was a huge push to get an medical marijuana bill passed and via a miracle, SB5073 passed both the House and Senate in April 2011 and went to the Governor’s office where it was gutted and we have been fighting to regain ground ever since.

A variety of lawyers helped us navigate how to continue to bring safe medicine to patients under the convoluted ‘Collective Garden’ model that survived in 5073.  The tide of Initiative 502 was coming and we desperately wanted medical to have solid ground before recreational weed came into being.

My first demonstration in the Spring of 2012 was on the steps of the Obama headquarters in Seattle with the Coalition for Cannabis Standards and Ethics.  “Indivisible with Liberty and Justice for All”, we chanted against bolted doors bouncing pickets with Attorney General Eric Holder’s image.  It was then I began to bond with the community as we gathered weekly under the separate banners of CCSE, Cannabis Defense Coalition (I shiver at the memory of that cold, dark warehouse where we met), the Cannabis Action Coalition and the various sub-committees that often saw the same dedicated faces.

Agonizing hours of breaking down I-502 led me to vote against it in November of 2012; the hardest vote to date for me.  I had campaigned against I-502 mostly due to the low 5 nanogram threshold for DUIs and the exorbitant sin tax on wholesale products. As my pen hovered over the ballet, I could not believe I was actually voting against legalizing marijuana!

But it passed and my husband and I entered the system as a Tier II applicant and vowed to fight another day to save medical and work on the prohibitively expensive tax.   Meetings with the Liquor Control Board during their rule making time simply added to the meetings and dissemination of information.   Massive energy and hundreds of miles were spent throughout 2013 looking at properties that might comply with the frequently changing rules.  We found a beautiful location while helping to successfully advocate Snohomish County Council to open up R5 zoning for marijuana production.  (see related story at www.seattlepi.com)

The combined veto of the medical cannabis law followed by the overwhelming victory of the recreational law put a wedge into the strongly opinionated heritage cannabis community.  We needed to strengthen the medical law in the 2014 session so under strong encouragement, I agreed to chair the Health Before Happy Hour committee.  We needed consensus in the community and did a darn good job getting it; although some meetings were electrified with emotions. We were under the gun with a short session in 2014 so under the guidance of Kari Boiter and American’s for Safe Access, we revived the SB5073 language that had garnered so much support 2 years earlier and created the Rick Simpson Memorial Act to finally establish a legal system for patients and those that provide for them.  Back to Olympia we went!

The lawmakers were in a different mood about marijuana by then; lumping all cannabis under the eye glass of the new, unproven, unimplemented recreational law.  They were simply tired of discussing marijuana with emotionally charged and often dank smelling advocates who bombarded their small offices.  After walking with my Senator between buildings to avoid ‘the red shirt’s’ jeers, I could not blame them.  Our bill died in committee but we made a good impression that would hopefully set us up for victory in 2015.

My efforts to help in Olympia this year got waylaid on October 1, 2014 by a decision from the SnoCo Council to reverse the previously permitted R5 zoning.  Since then, my efforts have overwhelming been towards this local level fight.

The overall umbrella lesson in all this is: The cannabis community needs professional help.  Help in community organizing to educate communities and their local lawmakers.  Help in writing logical cannabis bills. Help in lobby efforts to support those bills.  Budgets are needed for even the simple things like printing and meeting space costs.   Membership dues need paid to the supportive organizations like the CCSE, ASA, NCIA, WAMJA, NWPP, WACA and the MJBA.  Grassroots work has taken us far, just look at the success of Hempfest, but this legalization effort needs professionals with influence within our local, state and national governments or I fear big business will envelope the cottage cannabis community.  It is past time for those who are thriving in the medical and recreational worlds to start contributing rather than continuing to rely on a small group of volunteer advocates to do the heavy lifting.