Back to top

The Big Influence of a Pro-Cannabis Political Committee

Sam Sabzehzar 2013-02-09 0 comments

By Robert A. Raich  |  February 9, 2013

In 2004, the voters of Oakland enacted Measure Z with 65.4% of the vote.  Among other things, that ballot measure made all private adult marijuana offenses Oakland’s “lowest law enforcement priority.”

As a necessary adjunct to qualifying and passing the initiative, the advocates formed a political action committee (PAC) registered with the California Fair Political Practices Commission.

That PAC not only served as a conduit for raising and spending funds on behalf of the ballot measure, but it has also served a number of other useful purposes for promoting drug law reform.

The founders named their political committee the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance (OCLA). Even during its first election cycle, the existence of the committee proved to be a useful vehicle by which to endorse candidates for all manner of local offices.

For races in which candidates’ positions were not already known to members of the committee’s board, it sent out questionnaires or scheduled personal interviews with the candidates, in order to ask them their positions on issues of importance to the board.

This helped cement candidates’ favorable stances on issues, personally introduced candidates and other political leaders to members of the board, and had the effect of educating the candidates and their operatives to the fact that there is an organized political constituency supportive of drug policy reform.

After passage of Measure Z, its organizers revitalized the PAC in subsequent election cycles.

Among other activities, OCLA endorsed candidates and ballot measures, made direct monetary contributions to selected campaigns, and made independent expenditures to publicize its endorsements among its “constituents,” i.e., people most likely to respond with favorable votes upon learning of OCLA’s endorsements, such as readers of alternative newsweeklies, and patrons of medical cannabis dispensaries and adult-use marijuana clubs.

OCLA has helped win a string of impressive victories.

For example, in the most recent election, the great majority of OCLA’s endorsed candidates won their elections, including in OCLA’s two highest profile races: At-Large City Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, a staunch supporter of medical cannabis and social marijuana, and City Attorney Barbara Parker, who filed a lawsuit on the City of Oakland’s behalf challenging the federal government’s forfeiture attempt against property housing a dispensary.

Success has bred its own further successes. It has been gratifying in recent years to observe candidates pandering to the OCLA board over who is a more steadfast supporter of reform.

Also pleasantly surprising has been the extent to which candidates have proudly featured OCLA’s endorsements in their own campaign materials.

Although OCLA could conduct some of its projects without forming a PAC, its most influential undertakings have involved financial activity, for which a PAC is required.

Any group that makes contributions or expenditures exceeding $1,000 for the purpose of influencing an election must register and report as a PAC. Doing so involves some record keeping and paperwork, but the results have proven to be well worth the effort.


Robert A. Raich is one of the founders of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance and is the attorney who took both medical cannabis cases to the United States Supreme Court.  His website is