Pubdate: Sat, 03 Jul 2004
Source: Contra Costa Times (CA)
Copyright: 2004 Knight Ridder
Author: Bruce Gerstman
Cited: Office of National Drug Control Policy
Cited: Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance
Bookmark: (Decrim/Legalization)
Bookmark: (Ballot Initiatives)
Bookmark: (Cannabis)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


OAKLAND -- An organization that seeks to make marijuana legal has
secured enough signatures to put the issue before city voters in November.

The Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance collected about 32,000
signatures. That means voters may decide whether adults 21 and over
may use marijuana in private, according to the City Clerk's office.

If the initiative passes, Oakland police initially are expected to
treat private marijuana use as the city's lowest law-enforcement
priority, according to the ordinance. The law then calls for the city
to lobby the state Legislature to pass a law giving local governments
the option to issue business licenses to stores that sell marijuana
and levy a sales tax.

Critics argue that legalizing cannabis would expose more youths to
harder drugs, but advocates say it could reduce crime and save tax

"We wanted to have voters on record saying they want the state law to
change, " said Joe De Vries, a member of the alliance and a resident
of the Laurel neighborhood. "We want (the council) to be confident in
rethinking the drug law."

The alliance's campaign envisions Oakland and other cities issuing
licenses to stores to sell marijuana to people over 21, De Vries said.
This will bring revenue to the city, he said, and free up money now
spent on enforcing marijuana laws.

Legalizing cannabis also could curb expenses associated with long-term
incarceration and other social problems, such as the difficulties for
ex-convicts re-entering the job market, he said.

"Until we have a system that people can go into a legitimate business,
we can't get rid of these problems," De Vries said.

But legalizing marijuana is no answer to social problems, said Andrea
Barthwell, deputy director of demand reduction for the White House
Office of National Drug Control Policy. Restricting the use of alcohol
and tobacco by age has not worked, she said, and there is no evidence
that it would work for marijuana.

She said people who use marijuana on a recreational basis often use
harder drugs and are responsible for drug epidemics around the
country, including the use of methamphetamines and OxyContin.

"The notion that making marijuana legal would reduce social problems
is preposterous," she said.

The proposed law will go before the City Council on July 20, when
council members will decide whether to put it on the ballot. Council
members Desley Brooks and Nancy Nadel have endorsed it, according to
the alliance.

The legislation is vague and offers too many enforcement problems,
Oakland police Chief Richard Word said in a written statement. Muggers
would target buyers and sellers of marijuana, he stated, and children
could obtain marijuana from adults too easily.

"If more adults are allowed to possess, sell and use marijuana, one
can logically assume that more minors will gain access to it, as they
do alcohol today," he stated. "I am concerned that irresponsible
adults will buy cannabis and simply re-sell it to minors and others on
the street, in cars, in bars," he stated.

Alliance volunteers collected signatures in Montclair recently, where
the proposed law received mixed reviews from Hills residents.

"If you legalize it, it gives people more of a license to abuse (it),"
said Sue Cummings, who was on a lunch break in Montclair Village.
"People need more structure and rules, because they don't always make
wise choices."

In Montclair Barbers, Rocky Becker was taking a break from cutting
hair. He said the law sounds fine.

"If they're (smoking) at home, and not outside in front of kids, I
don't care."
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