In early March, the tension among the crowd at Cesar Chavez Park ran thicker than the wafting marijuana smoke. Medical pot patients protested across the street from the old Sacramento City Hall building, decrying a plan to close dozens of dispensaries and impose strict rules on a handful of cannabis stores that might survive.
Before suspicious eyes, Max Del Real stepped onto a stage in one of his signature designer black suits.
"As soon as I got to the microphone," he recalls, "somebody yelled, 'Capitalist! Get him off the stage!"
Del Real pleaded for an opportunity. "I'm a cannabis lobbyist," he explained.
In public and behind-the-scenes negotiations, Del Real would go on to help forge a compromise with city officials that promised new tax revenues for the capital city and gave Sacramento's 38-registered marijuana dispensaries a path to stay in business.
The smooth-talking Del Real, a product of Sacramento's Jesuit High School who graduated from UC Berkeley with an English degree and a specialty in rhetoric, also emerged as perhaps California's best known marijuana industry lobbyist.
Del Real, 35, who runs California Capitol Solutions in Sacramento, is hardly a grizzled cannabis crusader. The advocate for medical pot entities isn't a marijuana patient. The well-coiffed pot businesses-to-policy makers negotiator prefers his Jameson Irish Whiskey - with a splash of ginger ale - to his cannabis clients' Northern Lights Blueberry or Granddaddy Purple.
Del Real is the lobbyist for Sacramento Alliance of Collectives, an association for 14 local dispensaries. He also represents pot shop interests seeking permission to operate under proposed medical marijuana ordinances in Chico and Fresno.
He clients have included Statewide Insurance Services, which offered the first specialized coverage for cannabis businesses. He previously worked with the Green Door Dispensary in San Francisco, where he sought the blessings of activist Dennis Peron, a renowned author of California's 1996 medical marijuana law, to win entree to the city's medicinal pot community.
Most recently, Del Real ventured to Humboldt County and the long-illicit heart of California's marijuana culture. At a public forum, he tried to rally support for a local marijuana farmers' association effort to convince the county to license and tax outdoor gardens for the medicinal trade.
"The revolution is starting here," Del Real proclaimed. "Let's recognize the greatest cannabis in the world is growing outdoors under the Humboldt sun."
His presentation drew as many hisses as cheers.
Kim Nelson, a mustachioed, shaggy haired pot tender and member of a Humboldt medical marijuana association, had concerns over the details of Del Real's pitch. But he looked on with begrudging approval. "I kind of like that guy," he said.
Max Del Real, the cannabis lobbyist, had another connection.
Pictured: Max Del Real visits with Caleb Counts, president of the Sacramento Alliance of Collectives, at Counts' Fruitridge Health and Wellness dispensary. Peter Hechtfirstname.lastname@example.org