A History of the Cannabis Lobby in San Diego

by on September 5, 2023 · 4 comments

in History, San Diego

Roll up for Cannabis Equity

By Terrie Best

10 years ago, a party celebrating the 17-year anniversary of medical cannabis proposition 215 was held at SeedleSs in Ocean Beach.

At that gathering, hosted by the San Diego Chapter of Americans for Safe Access, SDASA, our city’s current cannabis retail permitting ordinance sprouted into life.  A few years before that, city cannabis retail operators had already stopped one ordinance by way of an arguably misguided peoples’ referendum petition. By city charter, we had to wait at least a year to try again for permission to use city land to sell cannabis.

That first tossed out ordinance was the product of the recommendations from the 2009-2010 Medical Marijuana Task Force. The taskforce was a group of 11 people made up of lawyers, professors, a community organizer, a land use expert, a couple of boot licker types and one patient co-op operator.

The group was appointed and convened by the city council and then roundly ignored by them. Council did pass an ordinance but it favored a de facto ban using land use code and also, within that first ordinance, Marti Emerald, then city councilmember, amended it with an order to all established retail collectives: shut down immediately.

This ordinance was not acceptable for that reason.  Some would say perhaps those already operating and ordered to shutter could have sued instead of paying for a voter petition drive that tanked the entire law. But that’s what most of the current operators did to protect themselves from a law that ordered them to shut down and relocate.

Meet the new law, same as no law. Since shops were already being told to shut down and had been harassed by the city since their doors opened, not much changed except the persecution level.  Still, the operators didn’t agree with the don’t-let-the-perfect-be-the-enemy-of-the-good philosophy and had gathered signatures to stop the law.

Except for the wildcard that was Bob Filner (a story for another column), for some time that was the end of the possibility of having a right to exist in San Diego if you wanted to provide cannabis medicine to sick people. Those who didn’t get shut down still thrived anyway and then, a guy with some funds met an activist with some time and history was repeated at SeedleSs.

Eugene Davidovich, a cannabis defendant who beat his case in criminal court and raised awareness around cannabis, had turned himself inside-out to convince the city council to craft that first doomed land use ordinance.  He and the organization he led, SDASA, had rallied people to attend the public hearings, SDASA collaborated with over 25 organizations and dozens of people – who should be thanked – to get the city to follow the advice of the Medical Marijuana Task Force.

Along with other nonprofits, a “Stop the Ban” campaign was organized. Roughly 3,500 personalized letters from cannabis patients were sent to city council members pleading for safe access in the inner cities, pleading to not allow the drug war to win and push collectives into industrial zones.  I know this because I hand-addressed and stamped the majority of those envelopes to city hall.

Still, after six hours of public testimony on March 28, 2011, council ignored the Task force request to loosen the land use restrictions and passed an ordinance so hated by the cannabis industry that they paid signature gatherers to stop it.  The shops continued to operate and they continued to be harassed and arrested.

Then a few years later we had another opportunity. The well-funded man at the SeedleSs party was Michael Llamas. He pledged  $200,000 to Davidovich to establish an organization to revisit an ordinance to the city council.

Next, a cross-section of patients, cannabis retail operators, educators and activists was formed. A little heavy on industry votes and light on advocates, the group called themselves Alliance for Responsible Medicinal Access, ARMA.  They very quickly learned the ropes and hired a lobbyist, Rachel Laing (currently with Todd Gloria’s office).  She has a lot to do with why we will be celebrating 10 years of permitted cannabis in 2024.

The reports I received at the time from ARMA folks I knew were that Rachel Laing was the shit. She had contacts on both sides of the aisle and was well regarded. I remember meeting with a land use expert at the county around 2013 also now with Gloria’s office. His eyes popped open when I told him Laing was working on re-establishing a cannabis ordinance in the city. With regard to the county he urged “Get us Rachel Laing.”

ARMA was a short-lived organization. Michael Llamas only came through with $100,000, not twice that amount that he had initially promised at SeedleSs. There was some in-fighting, some resigned in a huff and the remaining group – solely industry operators – then reformed into the United Medical Marijuana Coalition.

Most of the individuals in the group got permitted under the ordinance Rache Laing lobbied for. They still had to move anyway and as the current ordinance passed council, Marti Emerald rubbed it in a little bit from the dais.  Having smarted over the overturning of the first law, she laid a record that the first ordinance had been less restrictive than what was now being passed, so there.

To this day, under Laing’s former partner, lobbyist Phil Rath, UMMC is still a major force in how the San Diego industry expands (UMMC doesn’t want expansion unless it’s them doing the expanding) and have insinuated themselves into the conversation about how to mitigate the harms caused by San Diego’s war on cannabis, presumably to stop social equity retail land use permits (there’s that competition thing again).

I tried to engage Rachel Laing to advocate for social equity causes before she took the job she currently has at the Mayor’s office but she said she had a conflict of interest – still having ties to Phil Rath and the permitted cannabis industry.

Social equity advocates organizing to fight for their place in the 10-year-old industry missed that five-minute window of opportunity between the time Laing severed her cannabis consultancy ties and the time she took her place in Todd Gloria’s staff.  Damn!

Still, we smile because you cannot jail the revolution (Fred Hampton, RIP).  Join the fight by contacting your city council representative and ask for equitable safe access in our neighborhood. And, fill out the Cannabis Social Equity anonymous survey.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Douglas Einer September 6, 2023 at 4:25 pm

I would really like to see the Escondido City Council Finally respect the Voting Public who voted 52.1% in favour of legalization of Recreational Cannabis in 2016.

The initial excuse was that the Voting Public didn’t know that they’d be able to actually purchase cannabis in the city in which they voted, (AKA) “the voters ‘Don’t Want’ to be able to get their medical and/or recreational cannabis within Escondido City Limits.

This/these Anti-Democracy attitude/s are well beyond ridiculous and need to be called out as the Religio-Authoritarian policies that they truly are.

Please let me know how I may be a part of righting these egregious, Relio-Authoritarian policies.


Terrie Best September 12, 2023 at 7:52 am

Thanks for reading Douglas!

Unfortunately as you are no doubt aware, politicians do not do our bidding! We have to keep asking and asking and then asking again. Then we have to ask others to ask! It is beyond annoying. I encourage you do do it because eventually it will work. It is just boring and slow.

What you have described is very similar to what most smaller municipalities are facing with regard to their votes being ignored. Prop 64 passed with a high vote in all but a few cities and SD county.

There’s help on the horizon from the state as they offer more and more incentives to cities and counties to license cannabis in their towns.

To learn more go to https://www.cannabis.ca.gov/ and ask what incentives you can use to get change in Escondido.

Please keep at it and reply if you have further questions. Good luck and thank you! Terrie


sealintheSelkirks September 12, 2023 at 3:02 pm

Good luck with changing the minds of those that rule over you in Escondido. Obviously they don’t like VOTING or other signs of democracy to interfere with what their narrow little brains want. Why, I’d bet they’d even send cops to physically harass and arrest people that protest such behavior by the rulers of Escondido the bastion of freedom in north San Diego County!
Escondido sounds just like the beach towns in Senator Biden’s home state that continue making cannabis even more illegal while seriously promoting excess drinking by being the party-towns they are well-known for being.


Biden could remedy this but unfortunately he is still keeping cannabis federally illegal even though the states are ‘legalizing’ by local laws which, as we all know, does NOT make it legal as Federal laws trump local. Biden said he won’t de-schedule it, and then idiotically gives the DEA, in reality whose existence/funding depends on cannabis remaining illegal due to the large importation busts that funds them, the ‘right’ to decide just how illegal it will remain.

I mean, really? (eyes covered with palm)

And the only reason cannabis is even sort of legal is because the state governments figured out it increases their revenue streams with the ridiculously high taxes they slap on it along with local grow bans. But your local city council won’t implement what the voters want!

Same thing here in Washington State. Local towns full of alcohol get to make the choice! Even had my medical grower paperwork ‘updated’ a few years ago to include that it may not be GIVEN AWAY. But I can give booze away to anybody I want to. Ahahahaha how sick is that?

Good luck, and maybe start a petition drive to recall your politicians?



sealintheSelkirks September 14, 2023 at 10:53 am

Here’s more info on what’s happening at the federal level:

DEA Head Misspoke About Biden ‘Letter’ Directing Marijuana Scheduling Review, Justice Department Says

“DEA is now carrying out its own review before making a final call. Because DEA has jurisdiction over the CSA, it is not bound to follow through on the health agency’s recommendation, but some feel the scientific conclusion, in addition to political and public pressure, will influence DEA to make some kind of change.”


And look who doesn’t like this and says to ignore what the science says (many links to follow in this article):




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