A mini-scandal is brewing after a political advisor to California Senate Leader pro tempore Kevin de León accepted hash oil, part of a vape pen, and cannabis-infused coffee beans from a marijuana lobbyist. The incident allegedly occurred in May and was reported Wednesday by BuzzFeed News.

Refreshingly, no one seems to care that the gifts were medical marijuana products. The source of controversy here is that Josh Drayton, the aide in question, accepted gifts from a lobbyist totaling more than the $10 per month value allowed by the California Political Reform Act, and did not report the gift as he would seemingly be required to by that state law.

The word “seemingly” is key, because in fact Drayton does not technically work for Senate leader de León and so did not technically break the law. But many believe Drayton violated the common ethics that form the basis of the Political Reform Act in accepting these gifts.

Drayton is paid and employed by a private group called Senate Democrats. Michael Soller, a party spokesman, said that Drayton is not a policy advisor. “He has absolutely no legislative or policy role, has never advised Sen. de Leon nor any legislator on official matters,” Soller said.

However, BuzzFeed News points out some inconsistencies with that story. For instance, that Drayton was observed in the company of registered marijuana lobbyist Nate Bradley of the Cannabis California Industry Association, discussing strategies to convince de León to go along with an upcoming medical marijuana bill. “We’ll get him somehow,” Drayton told Bradley immediately after Bradley gifted him some hash oil and medicated coffee.

Also, Drayton’s business card credits him as an “advisor” and features de León’s name above his own, which is clearly meant to give the impression that Drayton works for the state senator.

No one is pretending this is an obscene example of political corruption. Drayton never said his attempt to persuade de León regarding the upcoming bill was in return for the roughly $80 worth goods he received, and it most likely wasn’t. Drayton probably went home, got high (which he was probably going to do anyway) and then continued to advise the Senate Leader’s office in some capacity to support the upcoming MMJ bill (which he was probably going to do anyway). And these kind of small favors are likely not rare occurrences in California’s (or any other state’s) government.

But the incident exemplifies a cavalier attitude toward ethics that marijuana lobbyists (especially ones as singularly successful as Bradley) should really take care to avoid so as to keep the reputation of the pro-cannabis political movement away from shadiness and toward legitimacy and professionalism.

Image of the Capitol building in Sacramento via Wikimedia Commons

Parker Winship