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Both sides of Prop. 19 battle deploy law enforcement officials

Joseph D. McNamara, a retired San Jose police chief, is the face of the 'yes' campaign. But most local, state and federal crime fighters oppose it.

November 01, 2010|By John Hoeffel, Los Angeles Times

Beck and Raney say no resources are spent just to hunt down recreational pot smokers. "It's not a drain at all," Raney said. When officers find marijuana, though, they file charges to uphold the law.

This approach has led to racial disparities, with blacks and Latinos much more likely to be arrested for possession than whites. Proponents of Proposition 19 have highlighted this to appeal to minorities, winning endorsements from associations representing black and Latino officers.

Law enforcement officials say few Californians are in prison for marijuana crimes, but McNamara said incarceration is "brutal and it's vicious, and it can destroy your kid's chance to have a decent life."

McNamara believes that ending prohibition could eliminate the underground market. "Not only does the black market create a lot of violence," he said, "but it also creates a drug culture and a crime culture in a lot of neighborhoods."

Beck said he's not convinced that the price would drop enough to wipe out the black market, noting that medical marijuana, easily available in Los Angeles, sells at higher prices than street weed.

Raney warned that the initiative would lead to more drugged drivers on the road. But McNamara said anyone who wants to smoke pot in California is probably already smoking it.

Although Beck sees many downsides to the initiative, he also finds flaws in arguments made by law enforcement. He dismissed complaints that the measure fails to include a standard for drugged driving. He noted that there is no such standard now but that police officers enforce the law. "There's other ways to do it," he said.

john.hoeffel@latimes.com

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