Move over, chamber of commerce and labor unions. There could soon be a new political powerhouse in Silicon Valley — and it’s marijuana.
Sean Kali-rai and Victor Gomez, two former San Jose city employees who work as lobbyists, launched the “Silicon Valley Cannabis Alliance” — a trade organization just for weed dispensaries, cultivators, distributors, delivery services and lab testers. The new association will include marijuana businesses in Santa Clara, San Benito and San Mateo counties.
But it’ll be more than just a business group for pot shops. The SVCA will have a political action committee to endorse and raise money for cannabis-friendly candidates and legislation. It’s the first of its kind in Silicon Valley.
“Cannabis businesses are being turned away from municipalities. They’re not being treated fairly like other businesses and someone needs to help them,” said Kali-rai, who worked for former San Jose Mayor Ron Gonzales and now represents five of the largest San Jose dispensaries. “They deserve some respect and maybe this organization can help them get that.”
Despite a love-hate relationship with City Hall, the marijuana industry is a powerful one in San Jose. The city reaps an estimated $10.5 million in annual tax revenue from its 16 sanctioned medical marijuana facilities. The shops employ an estimated 800 people.
And although voters last spring approved Proposition 64 which legalized recreational marijuana in California, some Bay Area cities — including San Jose — have imposed bans on growing or selling recreational weed. Kali-rai said politicians are failing to honor the will of voters and that’s something he and Gomez will address through the new organization.
“It’s clear that every Santa Clara County city and the incorporated communities want to see cannabis in their communities,” said Gomez, an ex-Hollister councilman who previously ran a political committee for the silicon valley organization (the former chamber of commerce) and worked for San Jose council members Magdalena Carrasco and Johnny Khamis. “Voters spoke and that’s what they said.”
Kali-rai and Gomez said SVCA will consider a voter initiative to create a cannabis ordinance in those cities. The duo is also looking at putting some heavy-hitters on the organization’s board — including former Mayor Chuck Reed, who serves as the SVCA’s attorney.