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Voters may say: Relax, it's only pot

Ballot measures in Santa Monica, Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz would require that police not bother adults over private marijuana use.

October 31, 2006|James Ricci | Times Staff Writer

Voters in three California cities will decide Tuesday whether to require their police departments to make the private use of marijuana by adults the lowest law enforcement priority.

The ballot initiatives in Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Santa Monica are direct descendants of Oakland's Proposition Z, which passed overwhelmingly in 2004, and of a similar measure approved by voters in Seattle a year earlier.

Like organizers of the earlier initiatives, backers of the three new measures received financial and technical assistance from the Marijuana Policy Project, a Washington, D.C.-based organization dedicated to the legalization and regulation of marijuana nationwide.

Project spokesman Bruce Mirken said his organization was approached by local activists in each of the present cases.

"We're always talking to activists around the country, and if people are interested in trying to replicate what was accomplished, we definitely want to help," he said.

"Everybody knew we helped the Seattle and Oakland people. Certainly, folks are working together and comparing notes and talking to each other. Obviously, nobody wants to have to reinvent the wheel."

With funds provided by Cleveland insurance magnate Peter Lewis, the organization gave $122,000 to support Measure P in Santa Barbara; $65,000 for Measure K in Santa Cruz; and $155,000 for Measure Y in Santa Monica. The project granted an additional $28,000 directly to the Santa Monica effort.

Partisans of all three measures have been working with the same Bay Area political consulting firm, the Next Generation, which also advised the Oakland campaign. The websites maintained by advocates in the three cities share an identical template.

As offspring of the same parents, the measures share a family resemblance. All would, in essence, instruct police not to trouble adults using or possessing marijuana in private homes, and not participate in federal or state law enforcement projects directed at marijuana users.

They also would establish commissions to oversee the implementation of the measures and require police officers to make reports to the commissions on incidents in which marijuana arrests were made.

Each of the measures would maintain current law enforcement priorities on the distribution of marijuana to minors, its public use and driving under its influence.

Proponents say that passage of the measures would free police resources to combat more serious and violent crimes.

The Santa Cruz measure most directly resembles its Oakland parent in that, unlike the Santa Barbara and Santa Monica initiatives, it covers the distribution, sale and cultivation of marijuana.

"If people are going to be allowed to make personal use of it in their homes, they have to be able to get the marijuana from somewhere," said Kate Horner, campaign coordinator for Santa Cruz Citizens for Sensible Marijuana Policy.

Horner said a poll conducted last year by her organization showed that "83% of voters realize that the war on drugs has failed, and by criminalizing marijuana we're just clogging our courts and wasting our tax dollars and police resources."

The measure is opposed by police and some local politicians.

In Santa Barbara, where more than 11,500 voters signed petitions to get Measure P on the ballot, a proponents' poll indicated that 60% would vote to approve the initiative.

Lara Cassell, campaign coordinator for Sensible Santa Barbara, said there was some mistrust of the measure among city police officers.

Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum opposes the measure but expects it to pass, despite opposition by local police.

In Santa Monica, the Police Officers Assn. has been outspoken in its opposition to Measure Y.

"Basically, it's an unnecessary and overbroad law," said Sgt. Jay Trisler, the group's chairman. "Marijuana is already somewhat of a low priority for law enforcement in general. It's a solution in search of a problem. We don't have an issue here. In cities where it was passed, like Seattle and Oakland, they had issues. All this would do is slow our response down. It still doesn't make it legal; it doesn't change any laws already in place."

Trisler noted that there have been incidents in which police responding to calls about personal marijuana use have discovered large caches of it and other illegal drugs, as well as other serious breaches of law.

"If this ordinance were in place, and if other calls were pending, we wouldn't have gotten to these calls," he said.

Nicki La Rosa, campaign coordinator for Santa Monicans for Sensible Marijuana Policy, said she was optimistic the measure will pass, in part because of the wide range of organizations, including the California Nurses Assn. and Santa Monica Democratic Club, that have endorsed it.

If it passes, Santa Monica would join West Hollywood as the only Los Angeles-area municipalities to have issued such instructions to their law enforcement agencies.

The West Hollywood measure, passed last summer, was not a ballot initiative, but a City Council resolution.

"This is a partially symbolic measure," La Rosa said. "It does help shift the consciousness about this whole drug war, and, as a city that sets precedents, it behooves us to accept this measure."


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