With a week left to gather signatures for two November referendums, local medical marijuana advocates attracted hundreds of San Jose residents Thursday with the offer of free evaluations.
Naturally, a line stretched down the street.
Standing across the street from City Hall, opponents of a new city ordinance on pot clubs passed out vouchers from noon to 7pm, with a goal of handing 1,000 coupons. Residents only had to write down their contact information and were invited to sign petitions.
The coupons can save residents around $40 to $50 of the normal cost of a doctor evaluation for six months. After that term, patients will need to pay $25 to keep their prescription for a full year.
Dave Hodges, founder of the All-American Cannabis Club and organizer of the referendum initiative, said the signature gatherers are in a time crunch. The council gave final approval of a new ordinance last month, giving Hodges and his crew just 30 days to gather the signatures. Hodges lamented that cannabis advocates “wasted the first week trying to figure out what to do” and spent the next “putting together a signature-gathering firm.”
“We’ve had one of the biggest challenges possible,” he added. “We’re trying to bring awareness to San Jose voters that we need their help to get this thing done.”
Hodges said the referendum supporters needed a strategy to finish strong, which is how the voucher idea came about. He stressed that no one was required to sign the petition in exchange for a free evaluation. The shiny vouchers appear to have helped get around laws that forbid exchanging cash for signatures.
By 4 pm, more than 500 vouchers were gone. When the line hit Fifth Street at one point, there were “close to 150 people,” according to Hodges. Volunteers then increased staffing at the table to expedite the process. Hodges said that although the referendum was not a requirement for residents to get the voucher, “all of them were willing to sign the petition.”
Organizers said the referendum—one to stop zoning, one to uphold patient rights—has now reached 50,000 signatures. The challenge is that there are two efforts. And even if a referendum goes through, the regulations are already set to move forward starting July 18.
“This is all the cannabis clubs joining together,” volunteer Alex Avalos said. “It’s a unity. Everyone’s affected, so we’re coming together.”
Hodges said he felt “renewed hope” at seeing Thursday’s turnout on such short notice.
The city ordinance, which goes into effect next Friday, spells doom for the majority of pot clubs in town, unless they move into the 1 percent of San Jose real estate that is deemed an “industrial area.” The first referendum aims to stop such zoning. The second aims to stop police from being allowed to demand club owners hand over patient records.
Edward Hunnicutt, a signature gatherer, works with terminally ill patients at a doctor’s office. When the ordinance takes effect, he said, patients will need to go to San Francisco or Oakland to get their medicine.
“For them to go from the cars to the door—to watch them do that—is almost painful because they’re dying,” Hunnicutt said.