Thadeus Greenson/The Times-Standard
Humboldt County District Attorney Paul Gallegos is still looking to pay off some campaign debt and hopes to get a lot of help Wednesday at a pricey Sacramento fundraiser sponsored by a medical marijuana lobbying organization.
According to campaign disclosure forms filed with the Humboldt County Elections Office, Gallegos left the November 2010 campaign cycle -- which saw him best challenger Allison Jackson to retain his office -- with $41,000 in outstanding loans, including $26,000 owed to his wife, local attorney Joan Gallegos.
Enter the California Cannabis Business League, a nonprofit trade association representing the state's the medical cannabis industry with a focus on job creation, public safety and community wellness. Mostly, however, the group's express purpose is to lobby on behalf of its members' business interests, according to President Max Del Real.
”The (league's) byline is to connect cannabis to capitalism. We're not shy about that,” said Del Real, a lobbyist who has been on the front lines of the medical marijuana movement for several years. “God bless the activists, but they're not businessmen and businesswomen. I'm not a patient and I'm not an activist; I'm a lobbyist and I'm a policy wonk. I'm the first guy to put on a suit and hair products and say the word cannabis.”
The league is also a huge fan of Gallegos, who Del Real dubbed a “friend and ally” and a “supporter of medical cannabis” with a forward-thinking perspective on the issue.
Del Real said he came to know Gallegos through his work with the Humboldt Grower's Association, a small lobbying group of medical marijuana growers led by President Joey Burger that works to influence state and local policy. Burger sits on the board of directors for the league, which was started by Del Real, a hired lobbyist for the Humboldt Growers Association.
So when the league recently ramped up lobbying efforts in Sacramento with eyes on setting up a state framework for the industry, it asked Gallegos to serve on its advisory panel and offered to host a fundraiser for him -- an event Del Real said is more of a networking opportunity, noting it will be attended by Capitol bigwigs, representatives of the cannabis industry, members of the California Board of Equalization and the law enforcement community and more.
Gallegos said he sees Wednesday's event as an opportunity to take care of some of his outstanding campaign debt and to learn about the league's work.
”What I understand about them is that they are business people, and their endeavor is to try to promote medical marijuana, promote its safety and jobs and appropriate regulation,” Gallegos said. “I want to hear what they have to say.”
The Humboldt Grower's Association hosted a fundraiser for Gallegos during his campaign, and Burger donated $2,000 to his re-election bid, according to disclosure forms.
Wednesday's two-hour event -- which asks attendees to contribute between $250 and $2,500 to Gallegos' 2010 campaign -- will be held at the upscale L Street Lofts in Sacramento.
Despite the hefty price tag, Del Real insists the event is less fundraiser and more networking opportunity and social mixer. An email invitation for the event bills it as an engagement with Gallegos to “celebrate his support of the medical cannabis industry and its exciting future in California.”
While medical marijuana is legal in California, it remains illegal federally, classified as a Schedule 1 controlled substance. With Gallegos heading south, some have questioned whether there's something wrong with a district attorney benefiting from a fundraiser sponsored by a business group that is acting afoul of federal law.
”I confess that I've certainly contemplated that as well,” Gallegos said, adding that he doesn't see anything wrong with it. “I'm a state officer and it's the state law. I don't enforce federal law. What I do is try to enforce California law, promote California law and respect California law. ... These are people engaged in lawful activity under California law, looking for ways to engage in it in a lawful manner, a safe manner and a way that's out in the light.”
For his part, Del Real said folks in Humboldt County should want as large a voice in the discussions in Sacramento as possible.
”The laws that are made in our statehouse in the next 15 to 20 years in California, those laws will decide in a large way the future and fate of Humboldt County,” he said.
Thadeus Greenson can be reached at 441-0509 or email@example.com.