June 3 was primary election day in California. In San Jose, it was a little something extra.
Several medical marijuana dispensaries gave away free weed in advance of the election, hoping to convince stoners to vote – and vote in favor of cannabis causes. Key San Jose races were up for grabs, and marijuana is currently hot policy in California’s third-largest city.
“It’s definitely a good idea to get people to vote,” said Juan Lopez, who got a free joint with his regular purchase. “Offers like this don’t happen all the time.”
If the idea pays off, though, it could lead to more stunts of its kind, here and elsewhere.
It’s hard to say how effective it was: Reports from election sites and pot shops suggest the ploy brought in only a handful of extra voters, if that – though turnout is always very light on primary days.
But the plan wasn’t just to pick up some extra votes in exchange for free MMJ, said M. Leanne Gomez, chief operating officer at PapaDon’s, one of the San Jose collectives that offered free weed to voters.
“We want them to be more active in the city council meetings and show much more pressure at the polls,” Gomez said.
PapaDon’s handed out pro-weed T-shirts at a San Jose City Council meeting June 3. That night, council members failed to agree on a major medical marijuana ordinance for a third time, casting a tie vote that sent the proposed policy back to city staff for more revisions.
The ordinance would restrict dispensaries to certain industrial and commercial parts of town; would impose buffer zones between pot shops and homes, child care centers, schools, parks, and libraries; would limit operating hours; would bar minors from stores; and would prohibit people with criminal records from working at MMJ collectives.
Voters also went to the polls June 3 to participate in the primary contest for San Jose’s next mayor and other local elections. The current mayor, Chuck Reed, is prevented by term limits from running for re-election.
Santa Clara County Supervisor Dave Cortese led the pack in the nonpartisan primary, followed by San Jose City Council Member Sam Liccardo. The two men will face off in the general election in November. Both have been relatively soft in their public backing for MMJ, but industry insiders consider Cortese the better candidate.
According to local legal authorities, the weed giveaway was on the up-and-up. The Santa Clara County District Attorney’s office said the effort was legal under local and state election rules.
But the ballot in June included candidates running for federal office, and the same will be true in November. Federal law prohibits schemes that attempt to influence voters with gifts. The group behind the giveaway also published voter guides encouraging weed supporters to vote for certain candidates in local and state races.
Ten San Jose collectives participated in the free weed campaign. The free treat was the same for every customer: a pre-rolled joint, and only upon proof of an “I Voted” sticker.