Weed for Votes Legal?

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.

Josh Koehn is a former managing editor for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley.


  1. Thanks for the links Josh. Having read both the U.S. and the State statutes it sure looks like the state law is poorly written, whether inadvertently or deliberately, and needs to be amended. The fix is simple. Just strike out the last 6 words- “for any particular person or measure”- from 18521 (a).
    Not too worried about it in this instance as the potheads are sure to forget to vote anyway but more generally the implications of it being legal to pay people to vote are a bit disturbing and “there ought to be a law.”.

  2. Lots of businesses use the gimmick of bring in a proof of voting to get a discount. Never heard of anybody ever going after these businesses. Let it go.

    • I think a much bigger story, which is getting no media attention, is that the City of San Jose, along with the San Jose Mercury, directly gave money to the four city council members running for mayor, including Sam Liccardo. This blatantly crosses so many ethical, and possibly legal, boundaries, yet nary a word is said. It would be nice to SJ Inside to look into this.

    • You are absolutely correct . San Jose Politicians are insanely corrupt , and their big worry is a Plant . A plant that in the very near future will be Completely Legal . Where is this outrage when it comes to a Mayor who lies , cheats , and steals , knowingly Breaks campaign laws and now his protege Liccardo is well on his way to emulating this pathetic individual. As far as the ” weed for proof of votes” , Exchanging funds in a dispensary is a “Donation ” and NOT a purchase . don’t see a problem

  3. Something to keep in mind this election if you are a resident of San Jose. Dave Cortese got the endorsement for Mayor from four former Chiefs of Police for San Jose, who co-wrote this article for the Mercury which was just published today. That four former police chiefs would write this article is a powerful statement of how this batch of candidates from the SJ City Council has destroyed the SJPD, blaming this on the officers rather than their own poor decisions. No matter how you vote, it is crucial for every resident in SJ get off their ass and vote, but please read this article prior to voting for Mayor. http://www.mercurynews.com/opinion/ci_25873517/rob-davis-bill-lansdowne-and-lou-cobarruviaz-cortese?source=pkg

    • >That four former police chiefs would write this article is a powerful statement of how this batch of candidates has destroyed the SJPD….

      That four former police chiefs are being paid close to a million dollars a year by the people of San Jose for not being police chief is a powerful statement about how much power the unions already have and why we should NOT be voting for Cortese.

      • Sorry John, but you are ignorant on the facts. Keep sticking your head in the ground while blaming the San Jose Police Officer and Firefighter Associations. Almost 500 officers have left this city in the past few years because of the policies implemented by Liccardo and the other three idiots from this council running for mayor. Cortese is the only one who can possibly build a coalition to save this department. The former police chiefs were no ally of the Police Officers Association, so for them to make this statement is a very big deal, but your hatred of a union will never let you see this.

      • hey earned what they are getting paid . Its not a gift ?AND don’t get it twisted , The Police Chief is NOT in the Union

  4. > Cortese is the only one who can possibly build a coalition to save this department.

    Good grief. This is getting pretty darn close to an extortion threat.

    “Something bad might happen to your city if youse guys don’t make our guy da mayor.”

    “We’re just not going to let you have a police department unless it’s OUR police department.”

    • Put your hatred of unions aside, and look what has happened under the four council members who are running for mayor. All four candidates were behind the policies that have lead to the current crisis, which was the point four former police chiefs were making.

      • One more for Bubble and Galt. This was written by Former Police Chief and current Stanford Hoover Fellow, Joseph McNamara. He very eloquently warned how history was about to repeat itself at the SJPD. Reed, Liccardo etc were too blind to acknowledge this, and other legal opinions, and now there is a department in crisis, just as Chief McNamara warned would happen, and a ballot measure found largely to be illegal, just as legal council predicted. You have Reed and Liccardo largely to thank for this. You also have a majority of this city council who continually demonize and scapegoat the great officers of the SJPD, including Liccardo. Another four former police chiefs, adversaries of the POA at that, have warned that Liccardo is the wrong person at this time, if you are concerned about public safety.

        “From 1976 to 1991, I served as police chief of San Jose. I was never a member of, nor represented by, the Police Officers Association and was not included in the Police Retirement Fund. I do not collect a pension from San Jose and have no vested financial interest in whether or not the Pension Reform Ballot Measure passes. I do firmly believe, however, that the issue of pension reform has been unfairly framed for discussion against the legitimate interests of the police and the public.

        During my 15 years as chief, I was often at odds with the POA during contract negotiations and earned a Vote of “No Confidence” by the POA, which nearly cost me my job for fighting with them over work conditions and discipline. Nevertheless, I always supported paying competitive police salaries and benefits for the simple reason that you can’t have a police department without cops.

        In the 80s, police salaries and benefits in San Jose had fallen so low that we could not compete for recruits with other police departments or against the enormous demands of Silicon Valley’s expanding labor market. At one point, I was forced to reduce educational standards for appointment and received a letter of reprimand from the otherwise supportive Latino Peace Officer’s Association. The salary situation got so bad that a wave of “Blue Flu” struck. For seven harrowing days the city hung on the brink of anarchy. Fortunately, enough cops worked 12 hours on and off to prevent a crime wave, but they notified the City Council that they could not continue indefinitely. Finally, a judge ordered the POA back to work. Negotiations resumed and the City Council ratified a contract that gave officers more than they had agreed to accept before the work stoppage. The Council also fired a city manager that had bungled the negotiations by demeaning cops, raising emotions to a level all too similar to today’s political climate.

        It’s a lesson for the future. Present police benefits are not the sole or primary cause of the city’s fiscal problems. Many other questionable political decisions have depleted city revenues and increased non-essential costs during a time calling for restraint in spending. A succession of mayors and city councils did what they had to do to hire cops. The city and POA engaged in tough and extended negotiations following state laws. Cops did not “occupy” City Hall or engage in unlawful conduct to insist upon their demands. Both sides signed legal contracts guaranteeing today’s benefits for existing employees. In return, San Jose got a bargain, becoming the safest large city in the nation with the least per-capita police staffing, and the United States Civil Rights Commission declared the SJPD a national model.

        Benefits for future employees have always been fair game for negotiations, but it is not in the public interest to demoralize the police by breaking existing contracts negotiated in good faith. The police are the ultimate symbol of American government and its defender against mobs.

        When cops themselves lose faith in government’s willingness to follow its own laws, it doesn’t bode well for democracy as a whole. It is imperative that the police who protect citizens’ rights don’t come to believe that the public has turned against them and lost respect for the important job they do.”

        Joseph D. McNamara is a research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

        • Thanks, Observation. I hear where you’re coming from and believe me I am happy for the thought and discussion that goes on over at the Hoover Institution.
          McNamara writes, “Present police benefits are not the sole or primary cause of the city’s fiscal problems. Many other questionable political decisions have depleted city revenues and increased non-essential costs…”
          He’s right.
          Some of us think that Dave Cortese was before, is now, and will continue to be one of these very politicians who make the “questionable political decisions” that Mr. McNamara is talking about.

          • I see a vote for any of the council members for mayor as a guaranteed continuance of failed policies, and the continued free-fall of the police department from a national model to a third rate department. Cortese might be able to at least turn things around back towards the right direction, where the others only guarantee more of the same. I could see SJPD continuing to hemorrhage officers leading to the point where SJPD is absorbed into the Sheriffs Department; talks concerning this have taken place. If so, Cortese’s experience with the County may help make this a smoother transition.

      • > Put your hatred of unions aside, …

        Dear Mr. Observation:

        Would you like to admit or deny that you are associated with the Cortese campaign? At some point, this might become more than a gossipy blog question.

        I think the campaign is going to have some ‘splainin’ to do to the election authorities and, possibly, to other organs that take an interest in voting rights and ask questions about vote suppression and voter intimidation.

        The “campaign”, or people like you who have enthusiastically supported its means and ends, have arguably tiptoed very close to the line defining the boundaries of extortion and defamation.

        In certain political circles, it’s accepted as business as usual to casually toss around epithets like “racist” and “hater”, and other slanderous characterizations. But sometimes, people take exception to malignant and malicious smack talking and ask for some meaningful social discipline. Ask Donald Sterling.

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