With the primary election just four days away, a unique rock-the-vote effort is taking place in San Jose. Silicon Valley Cannabis Coalition (SVCC) announced Friday that certain medical marijuana collectives in town will offer free and reduced-priced pot for proof of voting.
“We have a huge opportunity to make a large impact in who runs San Jose,” SVCC director John Lee said in a statement. “Although we may not have regulations on the June ballot, insuring the right politicians are elected is even more important.”
A low voter turnout is expected for the primary, so the offer could shape certain races. With five elected officials running for mayor of San Jose, a couple thousand votes could be the difference between third place and snaring the second spot for the November runoff. Or those votes could prevent a candidate from securing the coveted 50-percent plus one vote threshold to avoid a runoff.
But there's just one question: Does offering weed for votes constitute a bribe? The actual program is called “Weed for Votes,” so they're not exactly playing coy here.
Shannon Bushey, Santa Clara County’s registrar of voters, told San Jose Inside that counsel is looking into the matter and referred questions to John Chase, a deputy district attorney who heads the department’s Public Integrity Unit.
Chase thought the press release might be a joke, but April Fools has passed and Dave Hodges, also quoted in the release, has the sense of humor of a hernia when it comes to legalizing medical marijuana.
“It sounds very odd,” Chase said. “I don’t know. It could violate quite a bit of law. I’ll have to look into it.”
An inspection of the California election code appears to leave Lee, Hodges and the SVCC in the clear. State law (see sections 18521 and 18522) only forbids people from offering payment or compensation to prevent voting or encourage votes for a particular candidate or measure.
There is no mention in the press release on who people should vote for, but anyone passionate about pot clubs in San Jose knows which candidates are for or against. (As a friendly reminder, Councilman Xavier Campos wants to ban pot clubs. But there could be one or two reasons—maybe even a FIFTH—why he doesn't deserve your vote.)
More details about “Weed for Votes” will be released Monday, a day before the election and San Jose City Council meets to once again discuss pot club regulation. The council failed to take any meaningful action in two meetings earlier in May.
UPDATE: Michelle McGurk, spokesperson for San Jose Mayor Chuck Reed, just sent over this email: "I just spoke to the Sec. of State’s legal office," she wrote. "If there is a federal contest on the ballot, which there is, federal law prohibits inducing individuals to register or vote."
So there you have it. Weed for Votes is illegal.
If there's a god, NBC Bay Area's Investigative Unit will now stake out collectives donning "stoner" apparel to make sure no one gets political payback pot. Tony Kovaleski wearing a dreadlock wig, Bob Marley tie dye shirt and suspenders would just make my day.
UPDATE II: Here's a comment from District Attorney Jeff Rosen:
"The offer does not appear to violate California's vote buying law in Elections Code Section 18521. However, because there are candidates for federal office on the ballot, the offer may violate 18 U.S. Code Section 597. Depending on how the offer is administered, it may violate California law."
Your move, Kovaleski.