Capitol Alert

Willie Brown, NAACP leader enter late talks on medical pot bill

Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, seen in February with baseball’s Dusty Baker, has been consulting with California legislators about medical marijuana legislation.
Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown, seen in February with baseball’s Dusty Baker, has been consulting with California legislators about medical marijuana legislation. Sacramento Bee file

Former Assembly Speaker Willie Brown and California NAACP President Alice Huffman are making a last-minute lobbying foray into legislation to regulate medical marijuana in the state.

With a Friday midnight deadline for the legislative session, and the framework of a consensus marijuana regulation bill settled among labor unions, police chiefs and local governments, Brown and Huffman have been bending ears about how the legislation would affect minority and low-income communities, including a provision that could bar certain felons from being licensed to run pot dispensaries.

Gov. Jerry Brown’s office, which has been working on the measure, is not commenting on its contents. A diverse coalition of supporters said in a letter to lawmakers Wednesday that they believe people with unspecified felony convictions should be precluded from receiving state or local dispensary licenses. The UFCW Western States Council, League of California Cities, and state Teamsters and police chiefs are urging immediate action on a bill, suggesting that the delay stemmed from friction between the Senate and Assembly.

In an interview, Huffman said she met with the governor’s aides on Wednesday to advocate for bill language that creates a legal pathway for felons to work in the medical marijuana industry – if they have been convicted only of nonviolent, drug-related crimes and have not re-offended in the last five years.

“There are people working in the medical marijuana business right now who are worried about what’s going to happen because they are former felons,” said Huffman, adding that she is working on behalf of the NAACP, and not a business client. “Especially those little farmers from the emerald triangle.”

During this year’s debate, and past fights, industry advocates have urged leniency for people with past criminal convictions, arguing it would be unfair to shut individuals with prior felonies out of a regulated cannabis market.

Huffman said she’s also motivated by the belief that any regulations approved for medicinal marijuana would influence the drafting and implementation of an expected measure on the 2016 ballot to legalize recreational marijuana. Willie Brown, who is years removed from office yet still wields influence at the Capitol, did not return a request seeking comment, but at least one lawmaker confirmed being approached by him about the issue.

“I don’t know if Willie has a client or not,” Huffman said of Brown. “But I believe most of us have a common interest around the criminal justice piece.”

Huffman said she suggested to the governor’s aides that they consider delaying the bill until next year. She said she got the impression they won’t oblige, however.

“They are worried about getting it done. Everybody wants this, (and) the staff is committed; they are too far gone,” Huffman said.

She added: “They are putting together something they think everybody will live with.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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