Pubdate: Sun, 2 May 2010
Source: San Diego Union Tribune (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Union-Tribune Publishing Co.
Note: Seldom prints LTEs from outside it's circulation area.
Author: Michael Stetz, Union-Tribune Columnist
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Who knows, in the near future, on a Friday night after a tough week 
of work, those so inclined could legally fire up a joint.

And who knows, by California allowing that, some of this might happen:

A) The tax base gets a much-needed bump.

B) Cops can chase real bad guys, not recreational pot smokers.

C) The medical marijuana farce goes up in smoke because the drug can 
be had legally. (A lot of bad backs? Mysteriously cured!)

D) And another possible consequence: Prisons would have more room to 
house society's worst criminals, particularly violent sex offenders.

The proposed Chelsea's Law includes a one-strike penalty against 
those who commit forcible sex crimes against children. It's named for 
Poway teenager Chelsea King, killed by convicted sex offender John 
Albert Gardner III.

There's one problem, though. Prisons are jammed.

So is it time to take the bold step and legalize marijuana, which 
might help ease the problem? Momentum for it is growing.

A referendum will be on the November ballot, permitting personal use 
of the drug for those 21 and over. Cities or counties could allow for 
its sale and tax it. (Or not, it'll be up to them.) It'll also be OK 
for people to grow small amounts of it.

"It would free up prison spaces for really, really bad guys," said 
Aaron Smith, California policy director for the Marijuana Policy Project.

Granted, California's prisons are not overflowing with marijuana 
criminals. Only about 1,630 -- or 1 percent -- are serving time for 
either having significant amounts of marijuana, selling the drug or 
cultivating it.

But 1,630 spaces are 1,630 spaces. (Enjoy one, John Gardner.) By 
comparison, there are 2,446 inmates -- or 1.4 percent -- serving time for rape.

Right now, it seems as if a lot of people were smoking something when 
crafting the current marijuana laws.

Go to a medical marijuana storefront. When I did, I saw mostly young 
people, um, in pain. It's easy to get a doctor's approval for medical 
marijuana. You don't have to have something horrible like cancer. 
Insomnia will do. And who can sleep well in these times?

The San Diego City Council is wrestling with how to regulate medical 
marijuana storefronts because they started popping up more, 
particularly after the Obama administration said it wasn't going to 
attack those operating under state guidelines.

The San Diego County District Attorney's Office has raided a number 
of medical marijuana providers over the years, claiming they were 
selling the drug illegally. But convictions have been tough to get of 
late. In two recent cases, the operators were acquitted, with jurors 
complaining that the state laws are unclear.

The trials took weeks.

How much is all of that costing us? Well, don't stop counting. The 
DA's office said it's not giving up when it comes to trying to 
convict an operator it thinks is more Cheech & Chong than Dr. Welby.

The police are also cracking down. In 2008, the most current year for 
statistics, 78,000 marijuana arrests were made statewide. About 
four-fifths were for small amounts of marijuana -- less than an 
ounce. It's a misdemeanor, so you don't get jail time, but it's on your record.

These misdemeanor arrests have been skyrocketing, jumping 127 percent 
from 1990 to 2008. While cops are going like gangbusters against pot 
smokers, they're not doing so well when it comes to violent 
criminals. In 1999, the statewide clearance rate for violent crimes 
was 50 percent.

In 2008, it was 43.5 percent.

"One of the best reasons for doing this is it allows for the 
reallocation of law enforcement," said Quintin Mecke, spokesman for 
San Francisco Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, who has introduced legislation 
to legalize marijuana for those over 21.

If it's made legal, it's also goodbye to the black market's 
near-total control of the sale and distribution of it, Mecke said. 
And some of the crime associated with that, including violent turf 
wars in Mexico, will drop.

If government controlled and taxed it, the possible revenue could be 
around $1.3 billion, Ammiano's office has estimated.

Some, of course, question all of this. Legalizing marijuana is no 
silver bullet, said Dana Stevens of the El Cajon-based Communities 
Against Substance Abuse. If the marijuana is taxed, how in the world 
can that price compete against what a street dealer charges, she asked.

Her biggest concern, though, is how it affects young people. "What's 
it telling them?"

If marijuana weren't so accessible now, such arguments might be more 

A Field Poll last year showed that 56 percent of Californians support 
legalizing the drug, so it's not a, um, pipe dream.

And if Chelsea's Law becomes a reality, we, as a society, have to make choices.

Or build more prisons. 
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake