Before Marc was shipped from Seattle to a prison in southern Nevada (en route to his designated prison in Taft, California) he told me I should go to California to help the Proposition 19 campaign to legalize cannabis. He was excited for me to do phone calls, hold signs, and whatever else was needed to help Prop 19 win.
Cannabis Culture editor Jeremiah Vandermeer would join me to cover the campaign and stream the November 2nd election results live online at our Cannabis Culture Ustream account. I already had a flight booked from Vancouver to Seattle to visit Marc on Saturday, October 30th, so the plan was for me to visit him and then go to Oakland, California that night. However, on Thursday, October 21st Marc was shipped out from SeaTac FDC to a private prison in the state of Nevada (please send him mail!), so I wouldn’t be able to visit him that weekend. Instead I went down to Oakland earlier on Saturday and arrived that night to help campaign on Sunday, October 31st.
My arrival in California to help the Prop 19 campaign was already announced in the Canadian media: Lena Sin from The Province newspaper interviewed me on Friday October 29th for an article about Proposition 19’s possible effect on BC’s cannabis industry. The story was picked up by other newspapers in the PostMedia news chain and published in Sunday’s Province.
I hadn’t been to California since I was 12 years old when my family went to Disneyland. Before Marc was extradited and imprisoned, we spent every day together and didn’t ever leave Canada – and certainly never went to the USA. With Marc locked up, I have been to Seattle in Washington many times to visit him, and also spoke four times at Seattle Hempfest in August of this year (I also spent one day in Seattle in 2009, before Marc was extradited, to speak at Hempfest). I’ve also been to Portland, Oregon on September 11th to attend and speak at the 6th annual Portland Hempstalk festival, with the generous help of Paul Stanford and THCF. That was a wonderful experience.
But this was my first time to legendary California as a cannabis activist! I was so excited to be able to see the Prop 19 campaign in action. Marc and I supported the initiative one hundred percent, and were both so disappointed in the final results of 46% yes, 54% no. But we were both overjoyed and impressed with the people who worked so hard to achieve so many yes votes, opened the dialogue about – and bringing global attention to – ending cannabis prohibition, and created a team of professionals and volunteers that accomplished more than any activism effort in history. It was astounding.
On Saturday night I checked into my hotel, the Clarion on 13th Street. Looking at the Google Earth map to see the location, I was stunned to see a visual of a boarded-up, abandoned building, but the Clarion website assured me a fairly new hotel was in place. The entire downtown of Oakland was once notoriously dangerous and run-down, but when Richard Lee – the man behind proposition 19 – opened his dispensaries in the mid-1990s and started bringing people and money to the downtown core, the city of Oakland began to develop and grow. My hotel was just six blocks from Oaksterdam University and the Prop 19 campaign headquarters, and I felt very safe and impressed with the businesses and people in the area. I went to sleep and prepared myself for the next day.
Sunday morning I woke up feeling a bit nervous. I was in a new city, by myself, going to help out at the campaign headquarters of a state initiative I had been so impressed by and supportive of. I was here to make a difference! After a breakfast of oatmeal, fruit, toast and orange juice at the hotel restaurant, I headed down 13th street to Broadway, and then walked along Broadway up to the University. It was a beautiful sunny day. I passed by Oakland City Hall, a majestic and beautiful structure, and admired the architecture of buildings along the street, especially the lean, tall triangular ones with the entryways at the narrowest point where the road divides around it – there are a few smaller versions of that style in Vancouver, so charming!
I passed by the front doors of Oaksterdam University, a large building with a huge white exterior wall overlooking a massive parking lot, with a gigantic “Oaksterdam University” name and the school seal painted on the side. It was just like I had seen in pictures! I passed by, knowing that the Prop 19 headquarters was one block further, in the old Oaksterdam University space. For the last year the old university location was the home of Prop 19, the base of operations. I was excited when I showed up, and there were tables with computers and phones, banners and information hanging on the walls, and people working hard making calls, talking about plans, and sorting signs.
I introduced myself and said I was here to work – Marc told me to “make phone calls, hold signs, sweep the floors, get them coffee; whatever you can do to help!” – and I met a few people before being introduced to Dave, whom everyone called Super Dave. He made record numbers of phone calls, and was one of the stars of the campaign. I was brought to an old-school computer and a very old phone (most political campaigns are bare-bones), and Dave explained how the program on the computer made the calls, showing their name and location on the screen (it’s a list of people who voted in the last election), and I just spoke when there was a clicking sound. After saying “Hi, my name is Jodie and I’m a volunteer with the Proposition 19 campaign. Have you voted yet?” and going through the rest of the question-answer-information script – which wasn’t necessary to follow once you got the hang of what to say – you checked off their response from the drop-down list provided on the computer screen. The program would then move to the next call. It was actually a lot of fun once I got the hang of it!
I met a number of people at the Prop 19 headquarters who knew about Marc and wanted to thank me for coming all the way from Canada to help. There were even FREE MARC cards on the walls. Richard Lee came in, the wheelchair-bound entrepreneur behind “Oaksterdam” and Prop 19, and I was so excited to say hello and introduce myself after having communicated via email about my trip down to help, among other brief online conversations. I explained that I was there to do whatever I could to make sure Prop 19 passed.
Kevin Zeese, the current president of Common Sense for Drug Policy, and long-time political and cannabis activist extraordinaire, introduced himself to me. He had been regularly writing to Marc through Corrlinks before Marc was sent away from SeaTac, and I was excited to meet him after hearing so many good things from Marc. We planned on meeting up later that night with Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris, a wonderful couple who were very involved with Prop 19, and who produce the newspaper West Coast Leaf. Chris was also editor of Jack Herer’s “The Emperor Wears No Clothes” and Mikki is behind HR95.org, an effort to bring attention to drug war prisoners.
In four hours of making phone calls, I had an actual impact. I managed to change three “no” votes into “yes” votes! The first was a younger man who said, “I don’t want the industry to be taken over by Marlboro and Camel, I heard they’ve already bought big pot factories!” I explained to him that that wasn’t true, and he and others who didn’t want to buy legal cannabis from mega-corporations would still be able to buy local, organic produce from the businesses that already exist – businesses that would flourish with options for people like him. I also explained that because those companies specialize in tobacco, they can’t and won’t go into the cannabis industry (it’s actually against the law). The young man agreed with me, and I thanked him for changing his vote, saying I was a volunteer from Canada and my husband Marc Emery and I are behind Prop 19 one hundred percent. He said “Marc Emery? The legend Marc Emery? You’re his wife?!” and was so excited. I thanked him again, asked if he was going to take his friends to vote “yes” with him, and he promised he would – I could hear them in the background cheering for Marc. So I checked that young man off as a “yes” vote and moved on to the next call. Victory!
The next convert was an older Hispanic man who said that he was voting no because he didn’t want kids getting access to marijuana. I said, “the problem is that kids are getting cannabis right now, from their friends in high school, am I right?” and he said that was true. “Right now,” I continued, “young people are able to get marijuana much more easily than they can get tobacco and alcohol. So by legalizing it, you can have rules about who can buy it, and kids won’t be able to get access. Proposition 19 protects your children, the policy of prohibition is what creates the problem you are concerned about.” He agreed with me and said that he and his oldest daughter would go and vote “yes” for proposition 19!
CBS news came in and interviewed people, including me while I was on the phone making calls, and then talking about Marc. It was a busy place, and I was so excited to be there among so many motivated people. I was asked if I wanted to speak the next day at Berkeley University, where Prop 19 supporters were having a rally. I eagerly accepted! They were so pleased that I was ready for duty. I did phone calls for four hours, then had to go back to the hotel to meet Jeremiah, editor of Cannabis Culture, who had just arrived from Vancouver to start covering the campaign for CC. He grabbed a bite to eat at Burger King and then we took a cab to Chris Conrad and Mikki Norris’ home, where Kevin and his companion had had dinner with Chris and Mikki. It was Halloween night, and there were jack-o-lanterns on doorsteps and kids in costumes being herded about, but that died down after we arrived late in the evening.
We spent some time relaxing and talking about Prop 19 and other subjects, including Canada’s sudden and shocking dangerous shift under the Harper Conservatives. “Everything your government is doing is exactly what happened here in the 1980s, the big prison and drug war boom,” Kevin said after we explained the latest laws and proposed legislation. It’s absolutely true. Americans are stunned when we tell them what’s happening in Canada, the terrifying changes taking place with so little public outcry. But at least we’re not as bad as the USA… yet.
It was getting late, so Chris drove us to the nearby BART station (Bay Area Rapid Transit) and we got one of the last trains down to Oakland. It was a very interesting experience, with ticket machines and weird “turnstile” things. We got off at the 12th Street station, right by our hotel, and walked up from underground to a dead silent night. It was Halloween, but everyone had partied hard on Friday and Saturday, so it was quiet but for the talkative security guard in the plaza who seemed eager for any conversation on a cold, lonely night. We chatted for a bit then headed back to the hotel, eager to get some sleep!
DAY 2 – MONDAY, NOVEMBER 1
I woke up early and did a phone interview right away for News 1130 radio back home in Vancouver. They had seen the Province article and wanted my opinion about what Proposition 19’s passage would mean for BC’s economy – that was the predominant question from the Canadian media. After doing that bit, I got a call from Douglas Quan from the Vancouver Sun, also of the PostMedia news chain, who said he was coming down to Oakland to cover the campaign, and wanted to meet up with me to get my thoughts and comments throughout the entire experience. I was happy to be of assistance!
Jeremiah and I had breakfast downstairs in the hotel restaurant and then got in a cab to go to Berkeley, where the rally took place on the steps of Sproule Hall. All along the walkway area there were students at tables for various groups and organizations, and I felt a lot of admiration for the young people there – people my age – championing their causes and being educated with 30,000 other students. The Prop 19 booth was set up and supporters were wearing shirts and holding signs, giving away stickers to students. I had worn my winter coat and scarf because of the brief morning chill, but it was nearly noon and I was sweltering in the heat, so removed my layers promptly. It’s autumn in California, definitely not like Canada!
Photos by Jeremiah Vandermeer
I spoke on the steps and received a great response, then did two interviews for independent media. Jeremiah and I took a look around the area, which was just a tiny fraction of the enormous campus, then we went to the Student Union building and took refuge at a table near a coffee shop, where I did an interview on Christy Clark’s show on Vancouver’s CKNW radio at 1:30 (go to the 30-minute point here).
It was almost 2pm and we had to get back down to our hotel, because Ed Rosenthal and his assistant Angela were picking us up for a late lunch meeting with his wife Jane at their house. Jeremiah and I took a walk to the BART transit station near Berkeley, and ran into Prop 19 campaigners on the train. They got off at 19th, right outside Prop 19 headquarters, and Jeremiah and I continued to 12th, outside our hotel. Within moments Angela and Ed were out front in their car, and we drove to Ed’s house. It was a lovely place, previously a childcare centre and remodeled into a combination home and office for Quicktrading Distribution. We sat down for some delicious Chinese food and talked about the Prop 19 campaign, which they were both enthusiastic supporters of. We were all quite discouraged by the anti-19 campaigners, who had been very effective in spreading doubts and fears throughout the cannabis community – the essential base of voters we needed. After being shown around their home, Jane had me sign a print of the roach-art portrait of Marc and me made by Cliff Maynard of Chronic Art, and then I sat down to do a video with Ed to encourage people to vote yes on Prop 19.
I got a phone call from CBC “Power and Politics”, the nation-wide show hosted by Evan Solomon. They wanted to do a live interview at 3pm my time on November 2nd, 6pm out east, and said they wanted me in the Vancouver CBC studio. I had to tell them I wasn’t in Vancouver, which I was so sad to say because Power and Politics is definitely a big show to be on (I’ve been a guest before about the “Free Marc” campaign, as have my employees Jeremiah and Jacob Hunter). They said they would try to set up a studio in Oakland, and would let me know the next day.
Angela offered to drive us back down to our hotel so we could go to the Prop 19 headquarters. When we got to HQ, Jeremiah and I stayed put for a while testing the MacBook Pro and camera for our live streaming broadcast planned for Tuesday night. The place was buzzing with activity! Media were coming around for the big story. I introduced Jeremiah to people and we spent a bit of time at the headquarters doing our testing and planning, and then went back to the hotel to get some dinner. Jeremiah got a message from Angela saying we should go to a restaurant she once worked at in downtown San Francisco. San Fran is just a quick BART train ride away from Oakland, and you get there under the water by train, or over a bridge by car. I felt so sleepy, but Jeremiah said, “You can’t come all the way to Oakland and not go to San Francisco, it’s right there! You won’t regret it, I promise!”
We walked from the hotel to the BART station, and walked by three guys smoking a joint outside a bar. “Vote yes on Prop 19 tomorrow!” I yelled as we walked by, and they said “We’re growers, we’re voting no!” We were stunned – there they were, the cannabis base turned against us, the prohibition profiteers showing their true colours and without any shame. “You’d rather line your own pockets than save people from prison?” I exclaimed, and they threw their hands in the air – “yeah, so?” they seemed to say, not caring. “Shame on you,” I cried out as we turned the corner. How depressing it was to see the reality on the ground, which we had hoped was just Internet chatter – the actual growers who would betray the movement for their own selfish greed. So sad!
We got on the BART train and suddenly people began cheering and whooping – the Giants baseball team just won the World Series game that night in Texas. People in San Fran went crazy! It was wild to get out of the BART system and hear the excitement and honking and celebration on the streets, orange flags and orange lights everywhere. It was like Vancouver at the Olympics when Canada won gold in hockey; people were going nuts! It was lots of fun walking to the restaurant, which was actually more of a bar, and we had a bite to eat as we waited for Angela to arrive. I was on the phone with Marc, as he calls me regularly from the private prison he’s in right now, and we talked about what I had done that day. Angela brought a friend over to our table, a Republican who was on the fence about voting for Prop 19, as he was neither for it nor against it. We had a long conversation about why conservatives should support ending prohibition – it’s an economically unsound, liberty-reducing, society-damaging policy – but I can’t say for sure we convinced him. At least we tried.
After dinner, Angela took us for a late-night tour of San Francisco. We drove to a viewpoint by the Golden Gate bridge, and then went up to Haight and Ashbury streets, where so much counter-culture and peace activism happened, and I was even shown the “painted ladies” houses where the TV show “Full House” was filmed. The city was bathed in orange light for the Giants victory win, and we got a spectacular view of the whole city from Treasure Island, a great vantage point located along the Bay Bridge between Oakland and San Francisco. It was a wonderful night and Jeremiah was right, I didn’t regret it one bit!
Photos by Jeremiah Vandermeer
DAY 3 – TUESDAY, NOVEMBER 2
Election day, and excitement was hanging in the air. Jeremiah and I got up and went to the 10am Proposition 19 press conference on the steps of City Hall, right between our hotel and the campaign headquarters. Marc had told me to make calls and hold up signs, so I got up behind the podium with others and held up a Prop 19 sign, front and almost-centre! Backdrops at press conferences are very important so having a lot of people holding up a recognized logo is essential for messaging. I was surprised by how intense and warm the sun was, but I held my sign high and smiled. CNN, Fox, everyone was there – and I got a message from a supporter saying he saw me on CNN! Sure enough, the Prop 19 video on CNN’s YouTube account shows me right there with my sign (unfortunately, only Americans can view the video).
Jeremiah and I decided to stop by the deli located next to the Oaksterdam University entrance, and I ran into Richard Lee’s mother, a Republican from Texas who was enthusiastically in support of her son’s campaign and opposed to the war on drugs. She and I chatted for a while, and she was deeply sympathetic about Marc’s imprisonment. I then did a very long phone interview for The Metro newspaper back home, 40 minutes discussing prohibition, cannabis, the government of Canada, and much more.
After that conversation ended, Jeremiah and I decided to go to a Tully’s coffee shop in one of the previously mentioned triangular-style old buildings, right by City Hall. We wanted to test out our live broadcast again because at least 120 people were already in our live stream chat waiting for our video feed to begin. We had said it would start at 6pm that night, but people were excited for updates already! Jeremiah and I were also waiting for CC ad manager Britney to meet up with us, as she had flown in that morning to help us with the live broadcast that night. Most people don’t know that she and Jeremiah are the only employees of mine for Cannabis Culture Magazine, except for occasional article contributors – we have a small but hard-working team!
Walking down the street, we saw two guys in white t-shirts that said “NO ON 19” with the 19 in a red crossed-out circle, like a “no smoking” sign. I shook my head and couldn’t even face them, while Jeremiah went up and stated debating. I eventually walked over and we exchanged our differing opinions, then I had to drag Jeremiah away before the argument got out of hand. Their concerns were that California would lose all of its money to other states, which didn’t make sense. There was no way to reason with them. We continued to the coffee shop to wait for Britney. After she arrived we began some live streaming from my MacBook Pro, but the free coffee shop Internet connection kept cutting out. We announced that we were going to the hotel to check Britney in, and would try the live stream again from Jeremiah’s room.
Once back at the hotel, we did some updates and shared more information online, watching the audience numbers climb. Marc called and we spoke to him, and let everyone know how he’s holding up. He explained that he was waiting to be transferred to Taft FCI in California, and was getting anxious about moving on because the Nevada Southern Detention Centre was a brand new private prison and somewhat chaotic, and he has no books or magazines or mail because we thought he wouldn’t be there long. He talked about how important Prop 19 is and why it was so momentous for the cannabis culture. It was a great update from my man!
We decided to pack up our things, have a quick break, and then head to the Prop 19 headquarters, so we said goodbye to our 1,000 or so viewers and promised to be back at 4:20pm. We grabbed a bite to eat at Subway, and promptly began our live broadcast as we walked to the campaign headquarters. It was streamed from Jeremiah’s iPhone 4, a brilliant piece of technology that allowed our fans and supporters to walk around with us. We ran into a fan on the street wearing a FREE MARC shirt, she goes by Holy Hemptress; then we saw the Oaksterdam tour vehicle, an old-fashioned bandwagon with Prop 19 signs all over it. We continued down the street to the Prop 19 Headquarters, where things were busier than ever in the full swing of Election Day!
I received a call from Douglas Quan, who wanted to meet to get some information and quotes for his PostMedia story. Jeremiah, Britney and I hung out in the headquarters and showed our online viewers around the area, introducing and interviewing many of the people involved in the campaign. I met with Douglas and we spoke for a while, and he took some photos for his story on Prop 19. My laptop’s Internet connection was interrupted a lot because there were dozens of computers hooked up to the hard-wire, and the wireless was too unreliable with all the people tapping into it, so we began to use the iPhone 4 for more of the broadcasting.
Time was ticking down and people were on every phone, seated around every possible table, making phone calls and tallying the amounts on the wall – “We’ve hit 37,000 phone calls today alone, we can reach 50,000, yes we cannabis!” shouted team members (and they did reach that record by the end of the night). Ed Rosenthal and his wife Jane came by and said hello to our online audience, which was at over 2,000 viewers tuned in well before the 6pm time we had announced it would happen. We got others to give updates too, and reminded people to get out and vote. CBC Power and Politics informed me that they were unable to secure a studio but wanted me to do the live nation-wide show the next day – but I had to turn them down yet again, as I would be flying home at the scheduled time! It definitely bummed me out to miss two great opportunities, but at least I was able to do everything else.
At 6pm we headed for Oaksterdam University, bringing along our online audience via the iPhone 4, where a large projector was being set up to broadcast the election results live on the side of the building outside in the parking lot. Tents and chairs were set up, and we inquired about getting the hard-wire Internet connection and power cords. Because it was so chaotic and the staff were overwhelmed, we were left to figure it out for ourselves; thankfully, some burly guys setting up the lighting with electricity cables had sympathy for our situation and hooked us up with a big power cord to charge our laptops and phones. We took a seat at a table by some lights and used Jeremiah’s iPhone while we figured out how to get Internet. There was wireless from Oaksterdam University but we were unable to get a strong enough signal, so we relied on that iPhone 4 all night! We had been told that we could attend the “VIP” gathering inside, but not with our cameras, so we opted to stay outside.
Photos by Jeremiah Vandermeer
At 8pm the polls were closed and we were already seeing results come in. Prop 19 was failing right off the bat with under 45% “yes”, and I was immediately concerned. Had the growers and dealers really had such an impact? Would the medical marijuana community – the presumed base of California’s movement – fail to get out and vote “yes”?
NBC news was on hand with a news anchor, and she spoke to me about my involvement in the campaign, and Marc’s imprisonment for selling seeds, and I pointed out that Marc sold millions of seeds to California that helped build the cannabis industry there. Douglas Quan also sat nearby and got regular updates from me for his news stories being sent back home. Jeremiah, Britney and I were surprised that there weren’t more people there to watch the results. There were about 200 or so, but spread over a large area and huddled in groups against the cold that swept in after sunset.
The numbers of viewers on our Cannabis Culture Ustream account kept rising, up to 4,000 at once, but the voting results failed to gain any ground and we had to sadly watch and report as the hours passed by and nothing changed. It was a disappointing end to a magnificent campaign.
After Prop 19 was declared a failure by the media, the projected image changed from the news channel to a camera inside Oaksterdam University, where Richard Lee was on stage prepping to make an announcement. The Prop 19 campaign’s core backers were on stage with him and he thanked everyone for their support. Everyone took turns speaking, led by the campaign spokeswoman Dale, and they enthusiastically thanked the volunteers and staff who had accomplished a final vote of 46% yes – not victory, but an incredible number of Californians who wanted to end prohibition and replace it with a solid, sane model of control and taxation.
Jeremiah, Britney and I said goodnight to our viewers at midnight as the tables were being folded up and the chairs packed away, and we spoke to Richard Lee when he came out to say goodbye to attendees. Feeling sad about the defeat, but still excited by everything that had happened, we walked to our hotel and relaxed while discussing it all. I went to bed and fell asleep right away.
DAY 4 – WEDNESDAY, NOVEMBER 3
I woke up to a phone call from CBC radio “As It Happens”, a major cross-Canada show, and did an interview for them that Marc told me afterward was “absolutely perfect, just wow, great job!” (I played the audio for him over the phone; it’s file number 3 here, and begins after the 7:25 mark.) CKNW radio ran a quote from me, as did News 1130, and after that, Douglas Quan called for an interview we had arranged to discuss the results. I went down to the hotel lobby, where he filmed a quick interview video and took notes for his story.
Jeremiah came down to the lobby and we had breakfast (Britney was too tired) then had to pack up and leave by 11am. I did an interview with the Vancouver Courier, and then another one for the Georgia Straight, so Marc was definitely right when he said that my presence in Oakland for the campaign would get lots of media attention! Even though it was an electoral defeat, there were many smaller accomplishments and steps forward.
It was another brilliantly sunny day, and I was happy to be heading home after such a truly awesome experience in California. We got a cab for the airport, and discussed what had happened, how the so-called “marijuana movement” prohibition profiteers – the growers and some “compassion club” dealers – sided with the police, prisons, evangelicals, cartels, booze companies and others who opposed Prop 19. The cracks that had formed in the movement’s solidarity broke wide open, and sadly, a lot of anger and resentment boiled over throughout the next few days, understandably so. I just hope that these wounds can heal quickly, but it’s hard to say if those who profit from prohibition and the quasi-legal status of medical marijuana are willing to ever vote for a policy that forces them to leave the underground and get legitimate. Time will tell!
It was a phenomenal experience to be at the epicenter of the Proposition 19 campaign, and I am so utterly pleased to have been part of it. We may not have reached victory this time, but the campaign and team in place will not be defeated two years from now, when California or other states have legalization on the ballot! There is no way to turn back everything that has been accomplished. There are too many US states ready for legalization and other progressive drug policy changes including improved medical marijuana legislation and access. I saw for myself the effort and passion behind the Prop 19 election and education campaign, and thank everyone involved for doing such pivotal and essential work. It was an honour to serve beside you all even if just for a couple days! Next time, we’ll all be celebrating victory, and hopefully my husband Marc Emery will be free and at my side to see it happen with me.
Free Marc Emery!