Wal-Mart Doesn’t Like Pot Initiatives

A pair of signature gatherers who were ordered by a court to stay away from Wal-Mart stores are claiming that they were harassed by store managers who didn’t want them getting signatures for an effort to legalize marijuana.

Last month, the big box chain got a court order against the pair, saying they were harassing customers. But a third signature gatherer not affiliated with the pair said that he has also been harassed repeatedly by some Wal-Mart managers while getting signatures on a pair of pot legalization initiatives—though the majority have let him go about his business as normal.

A Yuba County judge issued a temporary restraining order on Dec. 8 against Edward Jefferson and Cliff Hoffman, barring them from gathering voter registration forms or ballot signatures at California Wal-Mart stores. The company claims the men were harassing customers in order to get signatures.

“We have policies to allow community members to solicit or hand out literature at our stores,” said company spokeswoman Daphne Moore. “We ask that everyone follow our solicitation rules. They’re pretty simple.”

She added: “These individuals have a history of disregarding our solicitation rules.”

Both Hoffman and Jefferson say they had worked in front of Wal-Mart stores and elsewhere for years, on a variety of issues, mostly without incident — until they started gathering signatures for a marijuana legalization initiative sponsored by Oaksterdam University, the Tax Cannabis 2010 initiative. Then, both say, the harassment started.

Hoffman said that in November, a Wal-Mart manager in Marysville got aggressive with him, directly questioning why he was gathering signatures for a marijuana initiative.
Moore dismissed the accusation, saying “Our policies apply to everyone.”

However, another signature gatherer has also stepped forward. Peter Keyes said that he has been accosted by Wal-Mart managers at several different locations while gathering signatures for the Tax Cannabis initiative and another effort, called the California Cannabis Initiative.

One incident, Keyes said, came on Dec. 19 in Woodland, when a female manager told him he had to leave, even though he was complying with store policies. He said that she pointed at a sign he had at his table and said “We have a restraining order on people trying to legalize marijuana. We’ve been getting complaints, and we got a restraining order on that.”

Keyes said that he told her that he was not one of the people named in the injunction, then had a brief conversation with a police officer who told him he was in compliance.

But Keyes said that he’s been having problems since November, with incidents also occurring at Wal-Marts in Folsom and on Truxel Avenue in northern Sacramento. In some of these cases, he said, police have been called on him, even though he was following store policies. He said he was told by a Wal-Mart manager in Elk Grove on Nov. 11 that he was banned from the store, and given a written notice threatening him with legal action.

After the Jefferson and Hoffman case, he said, things got worse. Keyes said he has repeatedly been confused with Jefferson and Hoffman, or treated as though their case applied to anyone gathering signatures on a marijuana-related initiative.

“I was tickled that some of these store mangers think they can have a restraining order against a ballot measure or an abstract proposition,” Keyes said.

Wal-Mart spokeswoman Michelle Bradford confirmed that the managers at the Truxel and Woodland stores did speak to Keyes in the days after the order was issued, but only to determine if he was Jefferson or Hoffman.

“Two of the stores did ask him to identify himself to determine if the order applied to him,” Bradford said. “After it was determined that order did not apply to him, he was allowed to stay and gather signatures.”

Keyes also said that he has repeatedly cited the Pruneyard decision during these encounters. This was a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court case where a group of high school students in Campbell won the right to gather political signatures at the Pruneyard Shopping Center. This important case helped establish the concept of the outside shopping establishments being a “public place” subject to free speech protections. The California Constitution also contains specific protections for political speech in these public places, with the caveat that retailers may establish “reasonable rules.”

Unlike Jefferson and Hoffman, who are full-time professional signature gatherers, Keyes said he works part-time on different signature efforts—but is also a pot activist and a medical marijuana patient. He said that he hasn’t had nearly as many problems when he was gathering on other issues, or even when he didn’t have a sign identifying himself with marijuana initiatives.

When asked whether he believes Wal-Mart has specifically targeted people working on marijuana initiatives, Keyes said he couldn’t prove it. It is fairly common for big box store managers to make things difficult for signature gatherers, he said, though more rare for them to raise issues about particular causes.

Jefferson and Hoffman also say they were following these rules, such as confining their activities to a designated area set 35 feet from the front door, and that the accusations against them were cooked up by Wal-Mart managers. In the court hearing, Wal-Mart attorneys alleged that the pair intimidated and argued with customers, and sometimes followed people into the parking lot—charges they deny.

“I go to other places, the DMV, other stores,” Jefferson said. “Somehow this behavior doesn’t follow me to other stores.”

Jefferson said that he’s 61 years old and has arthritic ankles, meaning that by necessity he has to spend most of his long work days sitting down behind a folding table, not following people around. He said he does sometimes try to talk to people about their feelings in different issues, including the marijuana initiative, but said: “That is not a threat. It’s called free speech. It’s called having a conversation.”

Jefferson did acknowledge that he spent 45 days in jail in Yuba City three years ago after a complaint was filed against him when he was doing voter registration and then he couldn’t make bail.

Hoffman said he doesn’t follow people either—because it doesn’t work: “It’s called ‘guerilla petitioning’ and I hate it because it gives everybody a bad name,” he said.

Hoffman, 51, said he’s known Jefferson for four years. While they don’t technically work together—each is an independent contractor, like most petition gatherers—they sometimes work the same locations to share gas costs. He called Jefferson a “good friend,” even though they make an odd pair as a black Obama supporter and a white Republican. He added that when store managers do harass them, Jefferson usually gets the worst of it, something Hoffman attributes to his race.

Both men also raised issues about the Yuba County court hearing, saying only Wal-Mart employees were there to testify, and that the company did not produce any videotapes or other evidence against them. Jefferson alleged that a Wal-Mart manager walked through a store looking for a customer to file a complaint against them, which he said is a clear violation of the law. The company declined to comment on these allegations.

Each also said they’ve had problems in other places while gathering on the Cannabis initiative, including police driving by repeatedly and even asking them if they were high. Hoffman said a manager of a FoodMaxx store in Oroville objected to a poster showing a pot leaf that he had next to his table, saying it was “a family store.”

“You sell alcohol here,” Hoffman said was his reply. “You sell pharmaceutical. You sell sex products here, jelly and condoms. Everybody can see them. Parents have to explain to their kids what they’re for.”

The signatures for the Cannabis campaign are being coordinated by Masterton & Wright in Marin. The firm’s Ken Masterton said that he hadn’t heard of marijuana initiative signature gatherers being picked on in particular—and that Wal-Mart could be looking at a serious lawsuit if they did selectively target people based on a particular point of view. However, he said it is pretty common for store managers to harass signature gatherers in general.

“Many managers are not aware of the constitution rights,” Masterton said. “They think their store is in Tiananmen Square and they can just kick people out.”
But he added, “I also take everything with a grain of salt that I hear from the field.”

Masterton said he’s also been hoping for years that California law would clarify the rights and restrictions for his business. The Pruneyard case, he said, concerned a multi-store shopping mall. Some big box retailers, he said, have tried to argue that the case does not apply to them.

A few difficulties aside, the “Tax Cannabis” signature drive appears to be one of the more successful efforts in recent California history. Campaign spokesman Greg Grimala said they’re waiting until early next year to hand in signatures so they’ll get on the November ballot, when there is likely to be a bigger turnout than in the primaries.

But the measure appears to be a prohibitive favorite to qualify. The campaign passed 650,000 signatures in about two months for just over a million dollars, and needs to qualify only two-thirds of these to get on the ballot. Masterton said he’s seen campaigns that have gone faster but at huge cost, and campaigns that passed cheaply but took a long time. The pot initiative, he said, got a tremendous response in urban areas, particularly the Bay Area.

This wasn’t to say they also didn’t have success in more rural areas, like the ones where Jefferson and Hoffman ran into problems. Though Masterton said he did try to get gatherers to present the message in a different way at times.

“We said ‘Don’t you want pot smokers to pay a tax?’”

– Article from Capitol Weekly on January 7, 2010.



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  2. Anonymous on

    You condemn Wal-Mart, but in the same breath endorse Best Buy? Hmm. No wonder people think that marijuana makes you stupid.

  3. Buddy Vapesit on

    That’s all I have to say about that.

    Buddy Vapesit

  4. Louis Vuitton bags on

    Masterton said he’s also been hoping for years that California

  5. Anonymous on

    I like what you said down below about these being very few isolated incidents, if for the most part Walmart is not attacking the signature gatherers I will take my previous statement back and continue shopping at Walmart I just want to make sure that Walmart is not obstructing the free flow of fresh new ideas and the revolutionary changes that need to take place, we need to re-schedule cannabis and stop sending people to prison for having a few plants, just let people pay for a permit and help build the economy with an estimated 40 billion dollars of revenue that now is going oversees and into the black market, Big brother should not be standing in the way after F****** up the economy the way they did and letting the crook from the Federal Reserve Bernanke and his buddy Geithner, take trillions of dollars and putting them in swiss accounts and they don’t even have to tell congress what they did with the money, We are sick and tired of the bold faced lies and false propaganda about Cannabis and we want the persecution and attack of non violent cannabis farmers.

  6. Anonymous on

    check this documentary out about the real walmart.
    after i watched this i never shopped at walmart again


  7. Anonymous on

    I am very disappointed with the petty individuals with power trips who want to participate in taking away people’s freedom of speech, I hope Walmart re-evaluates their position and demonstrate a little tolerance of other people’s opinions and points of view and their right to reach out to others.
    I want to sign a petition please post a way for people who live in California Central Valley to find out how to sign the petition I want to be a part of this effort to stop the draconian and disproportionate sentences for having a few plants,I also registered to vote and will be ready along with friends and relatives to vote. I will stop shopping Walmart until it is openly and properly addressed by the Leadership at the Corporate Level, we are not promoting violence or anarchy we just want to see fairness and respect for our first amendment.
    What is the harm in having somebody collecting signatures like 35 feet from the Entrance?

  8. Anonymous on

    Walmart is anti Hemp, i refuse nor will i ever shop there.

  9. Anonymous on

    in all honesty i work at a walmart….the rules on getting signatures in the lots are pretty clear

    if you wanna do it you need permission from managment get that you can sit at the doors if you want….don’t get it your trespassing and they will call the cops….

  10. Anonymous on

    comment about Prince of Pot’s Fate in Justice Minister’s Hands article – the bloggers comment at bottom about asians selling weed, the melanie is another good point for this to be noticed

  11. ZachB on

    I work at Wal-mart and you guys don’t know the half of it they are a terrible sickly capitalist corporation preying on the poor and this action against marijuana comes as no surprise. I live in a relatively small area and after graduation the economy went to hell thanks to our buddy Steve and now Wal-mart the most scheming evil public sales company in the world is the only place hiring. I was happily self employed before the recession planning on paying for school now im stuck with this dead end embarrassing job that I disagree with very strongly

    Walmart employ hundred of people on the most minimal hours possible blanketing entire low income areas with shitty jobs, no benefits aside from 10% of their poorly constructed third world unfair labour shitty products that i don’t even buy. The work is actually ridiculous, customer service in a store that size is a blatant fucking joke. I wouldn’t have a hard time imagining the same thing happening at the store I work at the managers on some dumb power trip because it in their personal opinion morally incorrect. You know what is immoral DEAD PEASANT INSURANCE, CHILD LABOUR LAW VIOLATIONS or the EMPLOYMENT OF ILLEGAL MIGRANTS.

  12. Anonymous on

    Don’t smoke anything coming from China. You might end up smoking melamine.

  13. Anonymous on

    You all need to go check out “Walmart: The High Cost of Low Prices” documentary if you haven’t. This corporation is yet another profit driven monster, without ethics or morals.

    Otherwise I would agree that the number of incidents does seem low per capita, rather surprised it wasn’t higher.

  14. WHAT a Hypocrit! on

    This is BULLSHIT… WAL-MART has turned nasty, they will send 2-3 employees to spy on you from around the corner everytime you in there, they assume everyone of shoplifting, they ruin the shopping experience having a bunch of teenager employees following you around and marking down what you even looked at!!!!! They think they are not noticable but it makes it look real bad. This is dangerous for the small skinny little employees they use getting in faces. They even get nosey out in the parking lot sometimes. IGNORANT GOOFS, F$$K WAL-MART, this is harrassment!!! It is a profiling effect just like gossip media bullshit, stereotyping, I rarely shop there anymore because of their own employees cheesy tactics are making it uneasy to decide what you’re buying. Young employees brainwashed by the idiotic manager that they need military tactics to monitor a Wal-Mart!!!! They will just turn into nosey goofs when they’re older and narc a smoker. If society will torture a child stalker than don’t teach teenagers too follow people around behind their back because Wal-Mart is not the military, I’m in Canada and prefer not to support Wal-Mart because it is USA based company and is expanding fast to all towns. No wonder they should be scared of shoplifting, it attracts every cheap bastard out there and welfare cases who are theives! The store has been set up to spy on customers and through cameras, do you think the goofs who shop at Wal-Mart are smart enough to be worthy of supporting the legalize cause!, I don’t think So! This is ugly that this messy store they don’t clean appears to be important for theft, and to decide laws like this. What will they lose, a item worth $0.20 !!? that doesn’t sell, a lot of their items are broken and unorganized, it seems they may have trouble keeping the quantities under control and assume things are being stolen but its just a big mess, they don’t organize the store, they think that they are prison guards in the new lower standard of living for shoppers who are a Wal-Mart employees private investigation. Their cheap products are usually broken soon and replaced, its an idiots store. It also smells like a cheap deep fried McDonalds restaurant, who wants to buy clothes that smell like McD’s french fries!????? No wonder its growing, the recession has turned everyone into cheap ass jews!

  15. Dan-o on

    Forget boycotting Wal-Mart…Just boycott cheap Chinese made junk. THAT will effectively be the same thing.

  16. mike on

    Me and my wife shop at Walmart several times per month to the tune of about $1500.00 to $2000.00 per month. We will no longer shop at Walmart. If all smokers would stop shopping there, maybe they would realize their stupidity.
    There are many other stores that would love to have our business.

  17. Anonymous on

    Here’s how you protest Wal-Mart: don’t shop there, ever. They treat their employees bad, they use slave labor in China, they are anti-union, and they sell utter crap. Wal-Mart is an example of the corporate evil that is ruining our planet. The best way for you to fight these fascists is to prevent them from building a store in your town, or if they have already arrived, never shop with them, only shop with locally-owned stores.

  18. Worm on

    walmart is only concerned with one thing and that one thing is money. Right now they think it is more profitable to be against MJ but when it becomes legal they will be right there selling it as well.


  19. freedom4all on

    Oh of course Wal Mart does’nt like marijuana, it is produced in the USA. If it was a bill to import it from China they would be on board. They have sold thier and our souls for a profit. If we keep importing everything and produceing nothing we will become a 3rd world country in just a few more years. I say fuck wal mart they have distroyed so many small manufacturing companys in the usa,If our founding fathers were still in power they would have closed down them greedy bastards. What happened to buy american ?you will see when they re name it GREAT WALL mart

  20. Anonymous on

    This should come as no surprise. Wal-Mart has usualy been at the forefront of the “family values” schtick in the USA. It’s not that there is a hardcore commitment to the religious right among the Waltons. Rather, as a matter of corporate policy, they simply see it as lowest-common-denominator good business. It’s not personal with Wal-Mart.

    I would also point out that there were, overall, few problems in soliciting at and nearby Wal-Marts in Cali. A very large number of signatures were gathered there by both paid and volunteer signature gatherers for both TC2010 and the CCI almost without incident.

    I’m not saying Wal-Mart is at the forefront of legalization and plans to be the #1 retailer of MJ in Cali. I am saying that overall, Wal-Mart has treated canvassers for legalization initiatives in California without interference and — for the most part — left them alone to solicit customers’ signatures respectfully.

    Given the scale of the operation and the size of California, the problems reported were vastly fewer in number than one might have reasonably expected from a retailer with such a conservative reputation when it comes to social issues in America.

    These aren’t the droids you are looking for.

  21. Anonymous on

    Fuck Wal-mart, or should we say CHINA-Mart?? Besides we can all our sounds gear from BEST BUYS anyway?? SO! people of the earth BOYCOTT WAL-MART,aka CHINA-MART for the next TWO YEARS!! If every stoner stay out of every wal-mart they have to close stores TIME to close theses hillbilly stores anyways all it is is just the retail outlats for the goverment of CHINA anyways and fuck them!!There just as bad as the slaves of the crown, justbackwards nonthinking for themselfs slaves, that all? they are just like you queen worshiping fools!