San Diego ASA Holds HARM Accountable

By: Terrie Best, SDASA
January 03, 2010

Terrie target[1] As a part of San Diego Americans for Safe Access (SDASA) efforts to Stop Operation Green Rx, I recently requested and attended a county meeting along with some prominent drug policy reformists and recovery advocates from the San Diego Community in an effort to ascertain why, year after year, county contracted organizations such as The San Dieguito Alliance, Tri City Prevention , Collaborative, SWACC (Safety Wellness Advocacy Community Coalition) and North City Prevention Coalition are allowed to lobby against safe access for medical cannabis patients under the cover of federally granted drug prevention money.

As a representative of SDASA, I became aware of Health Advocates Rejecting Marijuana (HARM) (the group to which the heads of these organizations all belong) and as a volunteer in San Diego’s recovery community, I took offense to this waste of federal money – earmarked for drug prevention – used to circumvent state law and safe access for patients.

Truly, the concentrated and relentless opposition to clarity of the Compassionate Use Act which these groups force upon the city’s lawmakers time and time again has been at the helm of quite a bit of suffering for San Diego patients.

SDASA’s concerns and efforts culminated in a meeting with Dr. Jennifer Schaffer, Director of Behavioral Health Services; Susan Bower, Director of Alcohol and Drug Services and Linda Bridgeman-Smith, Prevention Services Manager. At the meeting a number of pointed questions were asked about the San Diego County’s process for deciding how prevention’s 20% slice of federal drug services money fits into the County’s overall addiction strategy.

While my concern with this issue was about the county contractors lobbying on the county’s dime to plea for a ban on cannabis collectives and regulations, the overall tone of the meeting was to discover how we might achieve a shift in San Diego County’s philosophy on drug prevention, making it less law enforcement driven – a model called “environmental prevention” – and more about an educational based effort.

The educational approach to prevention is an idea whose time has come, and San Diego County falls very short in using some of the evidenced-based and engaging strategies, that other more progressive counties are using their federal drug prevention funds for.

I first encountered HARM when it came to ASA’s attention that the group had invited a Fullerton attorney, Martin J Meyer, General Counsel to a number of law enforcement associations, to speak and empower city and county staffers to impose a ban on medical marijuana dispensaries.

When we looked into who heads up this organization and found it to be county contractors, SDASA quickly called a protest and set forth an agenda to investigate and open a dialog to stop this practice. This agenda included providing documentation on HARM to the San Diego County Grand Jury as well as involving the County Board of Supervisors.

Ironically, HARM attended and opposed the Medical Marijuana Task Force which is a panel of people whom the San Diego City Council tasked with helping give San Diego clarity on the safe access issue. The concerns the group griped about would mostly resolve themselves should the task force be allowed to do the work the City Council requests. Yet HARM seems to have a knee jerk reaction at the very idea of marijuana as medicine and continually opposes any action to provide clarity to the Compassionate Use Act.

HARM’s logo and agenda are on the County’s Alcohol and Drug Services webpage as a county initiative and the initiative makes an appearance in the County’s Prevention Plan, which states HARM is tasked with addressing the availability of marijuana, paraphernalia, business practices, and media messaging that encourage, normalize or trivialize marijuana use. Since there is nothing said about medical marijuana in the Prevention Plan, from which this group gets its marching orders it is apparent that over the years HARM has stepped very far astray of the mission they are funded for.

The seminars, investigation of collectives, and passing out of propaganda stickers against safe access at county and city meetings are evidence of the over step.

When pressed for reasons why this is allowed to continue, the Health and Human Services representatives during our meeting, distanced themselves from HARM’s actions, assured us the county did *not* host the Martin Mayer seminar nor do they authorize HARM to use county funds in its medical marijuana eradication endeavors.

They maintain that the Mayer seminar was a project HARM funded not with county funds but some other private funds. Presumably HARM uses the county funds it receives for other services more in keeping with its actual agenda as laid out by the sanctioned Prevention Plan. But, we have yet to see evidence of that and the county representatives did not say what those efforts are.

This all raises the question, how does the county keep HARM accountable in its use of funds to be sure there’s no misuse or seepage into their rouge eradication agenda?

No explanation or processes were set forth by officials in the meeting and I question if they’ve even thought of it.

SDASA will continue to monitor this issue and call for accountability of HARM’s county money. In the meantime, drug policy activists, addiction specialists and recovery advocates will continue to work on a long term strategy for all San Diegans toward a more progressive prevention strategy, one that engages our youth to make good choices on their own, rather than engaging in campaigns to arrest and prosecute. This strategy should include at-risk kids in its mission and provide for a broader use of federal block grant money and should not include opposition to state law.

Let’s hope that by the January 5th San Diego City Council Meeting where the Council intends to vote on medical marijuana recommendations provided to them by the Medical Marijuana Task Force, these groups will rethink their approach, and refocus on their original mission, rather than continue to subvert state law.

SDASA sincerely thanks and appreciates the dedication of Dr. Schaffer, Susan Bower and Linda Bridgeman Smith for their time and attention. We are certain they will work toward a prevention plan we can all stand by.


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