Pubdate: Tue, 14 Sep 2010
Source: Press Democrat, The (Santa Rosa, CA)
Copyright: 2010 The Press Democrat
Author: Julie Johnson, The Press Democrat
Cited: Proposition 19
Bookmark: (Proposition 19)


Retired Law Enforcement Officials Say Legalizing Pot Frees Up Police Resources

A group of retired law enforcement officers Monday endorsed a 
proposition on the November ballot that would legalize marijuana in California.

Proposition 19 would allow adults aged 21 and older to have up to an 
ounce of marijuana and grow a limited amount.

Legalizing the drug would allow government to better regulate its 
use, raise public funds by taxing it and free up officers to focus on 
more violent crimes, said the retired officers, judges and 
prosecutors who comprise the group called Law Enforcement Against Prohibition.

"Do you want to continue what has never worked?" former San Jose 
Police Chief Joseph McNamara said of the current drug law. "In 
attempting to enforce it, we've created lots of crime and illegal 
drug gangs and put otherwise law-abiding people in jail."

The group's endorsement stands in sharp contrast with law enforcement 
and government officials in Mendocino and Sonoma counties who have 
said the law is poorly written and would force each local government 
to come up with its own policies.

"Proposition 19 isn't a solution to our problems," Mendocino County 
Sheriff Tom Allman said.

Opponents say an "opt in" policy meant to let local jurisdictions 
create their own policies would actually create widespread confusion.

"The inconsistency the law presents to citizens isn't fair," Allman 
said. "It would be possible for someone in Mendocino County to be 
doing something legal, then they visit a friend in Lake County and 
get pulled over and are found to be acting against the law."

In Sonoma County, the board of supervisors voted Aug. 24 to oppose 
Proposition 19. Legalizing marijuana could breed more drug addiction 
and create conflicts with the federal government, they said.

Sonoma County Sheriff Bill Cogbill said that legalizing marijuana in 
California won't curb the violence associated with its sales because 
the drug would still be illegal elsewhere.

"We could become a supplier for the world," he said.

If passed, the law would make it illegal to work or drive while high, 
but as written, it doesn't address how to prove a person is high, Cogbill said.

Alcohol is easy to detect through blood tests and breathalizers, but 
evidence of marijuana use lingers in the system, making it harder to 
pinpoint when a person is impaired.

"You could say it's in your system but you weren't influenced by it 
at the time," Cogbill said.

Members of the California Chief's Association and the Sonoma County 
Law Enforcement Chief's Association also voted to oppose the proposed 
law, said Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm, a member of both groups.

As police chief, Schwedhelm hasn't taken a position on the 
proposition, he said, and neither has the city council. But he 
questions proponents' claim that legalizing marijuana would reduce 
violent crime.

"We've investigated many instances of violence related to the 
cultivation and sales of marijuana. Why are people arming themselves? 
Some of these gardens are legal," Schwedhelm said.

Members of the former law enforcement group announced their support 
at two events Monday, one in front of Oakland City Hall and another 
in West Hollywood Park near Los Angeles.

Current law enforcement officials are obligated to support laws and 
are ethically unable to oppose it in public, but retired officers can 
speak out, said McNamara, who is now a research fellow at Stanford 
University's Hoover Institute.

"We're pushing police into a war they didn't declare and they can't 
win, and that comes at so much cost to taxpayers and society," he said.

Local officials say they don't share McNamara's view that officers 
support legalization behind closed doors.

Said Cogbill of the Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chief's 
Association, "We were talking in a room by ourselves, and we all said 
we could see problems with it."

Nationally, President Barack Obama's director of the Office of 
National Drug Control Policy, Gil Kerlikowske, spoke out against the 
proposed law. Nine former Drug Enforcement Administration bosses 
wrote in a letter to Attorney General Eric Holder that legalizing the 
drug threatens federal authority. 
- ---
MAP posted-by: Richard Lake