Given the overall national trend towards reforming marijuana policies, and the host of local problems caused by our city’s dependence on the unreliable oil market and our out-of-control public safety spending, many are wondering why Long Beach has not ended our inexcusable ban on commercial cannabis activities. And while it would be wrong to simply assign all the blame for this multi-faceted public policy quandary onto one person, it is obvious by now that Councilwoman Suzie Price’s illogical crusade against this medicine is endangering both the fiscal viability and public health of this city.
Mrs. Price is an Orange County District Attorney and a novice politician who easily won a barely contested seat onto the council last year by running as a nominal Democrat who is “tough on crime” [full disclosure I was asked by mutual friends to help with her campaign but refused to do so because of her support for the death penalty]. Since assuming office she has more or less continued the laissez-faire economic policies of her predecessor, Republican Gary Delong, especially with regards to her efforts to expand the alcohol-fueled nightlife of 2nd Street. In fact despite her oft-cited support for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and her own residents growing concern with the binge-drinking at 2nd street bars, Price has stated on numerous occasions (including on the public record during council meetings) that she believes that alcohol sales aren’t responsible for crime. She went onto recognize the “personal choice” behind someone’s decision to imbibe alcohol and even defended her choice to expand the already overly-saturated bar scene on 2nd street out of fears of reprisals from that specific business community.
But hypocrisy regarding intoxicants isn’t a crime, nor is it even particularly novel for a politician who came from a world where objectivity and nuanced analysis are professional liabilities. However Price’s argument against legally regulated cannabis went a step further into the land of absurdity when she began citing the legal issues of Belmont Natural Care, a now defunct dispensary that operated in her district before she assumed office. Both in public and in private conversations with stakeholders (including in a lobbying meeting with me), Price and her office have shaped a narrative that describes that business at the symbol of everything that was wrong about the quasi-legal world of medical cannabis dispensaries.
Belmont Natural Care (BNC) was a disgrace, and by all accounts it’s owner John Walker and his lawyer, Richard Brizendine, were justifiably prosecuted for failing to abide by either any of the existing state regulations regarding cannabis or federal guidelines for proper banking. However what makes Price’s continued use of BNC in her argument against establishing clear local policies for medical cannabis, is the fact that her own office has a direct connection to BNC’s most notable (yet un-prosecuted) crime: bribery.
In 2012, Suzie Price’s predecessor in the third district, Gary Delong ran unsuccessfully for Congress. As part of the opposition research against Mr. Delong (which I have attached here), the Democratic Party found evidence of what they called a “possible play to play” scheme involving Delong and Brizendine. It seems that BNC’s lawyer donated close to $2000 to Mr. Delong in exchange for the Councilman’s support of favorable regulations regarding buffer zones for BNC. In fact, as the report details, this alleged exchange took place only “two days after Brizendine was accused of money laundering associated with a marijuana dispensary”.
Banking regulations like the ones that Mr. Walker went to prison for are extremely complicated and relatively easy to break even for a responsible operator. However corruption is a far clearer and perhaps even more damaging crime against the social contract. This is why it is extremely disconcerting that Mrs. Price not only failed to properly provide context for the sort of crimes she is wishing to prevent by maintaining the ban, but that she also hired the field deputy from Mr. Delong’s ethically-challenged office and promoted her to the extremely powerful position of Chief of Staff. If the allegations of bribery and improper lobbying in Delong’s office are true, it is quite possible that Price has elevated someone who had direct knowledge of these activities to a position of real influence over public policy in this city.
But the issue of Mrs. Price’s credibility does not end there. On September 30th the New York Times editorial board published an op-ed specifically calling out the unit in which Mrs. Price established her career for engaging in over 30 years of “unconstitutional abuses” regarding a secret system of using paid criminal informants that were used to help secure death penalty convictions in Orange County. The details of these illegal jailhouse convictions were never disclosed to defense attorneys, and the discovery of this system by the OC Public Defender’s Office lead to Price’s unit being kicked off the Seal Beach shooter case via an unprecedented judicial decree. Given Price’s extensive work in this unit, including one high-profile death penalty case in 2013, it is not unreasonable to think that Price either used this database or at least had knowledge of it’s existence.
Mrs. Price has established that she doesn’t like providing legal access for cannabis to because of her sincere concern that patients would somehow endanger, rather than patron, ice cream stores on 2nd Street (seriously she said this). In her defense of prohibition, a system that has cost the city millions and ruined the lives of scores of people for no good reason, she has made ambiguous claims without proper statistical data and employed racist dog-whistling terms to describe patients who use cannabis. But while Price is within her right to be hilariously wrong on a public policy issue, she does not get to assume anything resembling the moral and ethical high ground, especially when there are serious questions about her own capacity to exert these values in her own chosen professions.