Pubdate: Mon, 18 Oct 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)
Bookmark: (Cannabis - California)


Marijuana prompted several men to strong-arm their way into a west 
Santa Rosa home last week and tie up residents with duct tape. It 
lured a pair into an illicit garden in Round Valley where they were 
shot dead by its tenders.

It led an unknown killer to shoot a 31-year-old father in his Santa 
Rosa garage, leaving him for dead and making off with the goods.

Marijuana may be a mellowing depressant when ingested, but its trade 
often is the nexus of violence. The huge profits made in the 
marijuana business drive much of the associated crime.

Proposition 19, the Nov. 2 ballot initiative that would legalize 
marijuana in California, at its best would slash profits from the 
illegal trade and curb the violence, backers say.

At its worst, critics say, it would pit local and federal law 
enforcement against each other. Marijuana cultivation would 
proliferate, as would efforts to steal the drug and transport it 
outside the state to sell at higher prices, opponents contend.

"I think you're still going to have violent crime associated to it, 
and I believe it may even increase because of the availability," 
Sheriff Bill Cogbill said.

Polls offer conflicting analyses of voters' inclinations toward Prop. 
19. Of people surveyed by the Public Policy Institute of California 
in September, 52 percent said they'd vote yes, 41 percent said they'd 
vote no and 7 percent were undecided. But a Reuters/Ipsos poll 
released Oct. 5 reported that 53 percent of Californians surveyed 
oppose legalizing marijuana and 43 percent support it.

Researchers at the Rand Corp., a think tank based in Santa Monica, 
predict that legalization will slash the profits in the marijuana 
trade and that as production costs go down, so will the risks.

By their estimates, the cost of an ounce of indoor-grown sinsemilla, 
the prized seedless buds of a female plant, could fall as much as 84 percent.

That would undercut the price outside of the state as well, the Rand 
report said.

"If you make the trade legal, it's not clear that the same people 
would be involved in it or even attracted to it if there aren't the 
same kinds of profits," said Elliott Currie, a professor of 
criminology, law and society at UC Irvine.

Currie's research has focused on drug policy, trafficking and drug 
abuse, including a 1993 book that in part looked into the effects of 

"If marijuana is illegal and you want to get some, that means you 
have to hang out with people who may also be selling crystal meth, 
heroin and other bad drugs," Currie said. "Severing that connection 
between marijuana and the hard drugs can only be a good thing."

"I disagree," Santa Rosa Police Chief Tom Schwedhelm said. "Car 
stereos, anyone can buy, but people still break into cars to take them."

The Sonoma County Law Enforcement Chiefs' Association opposes Prop. 
19, as does the California Chiefs' Association and many other law 
enforcement organizations.

A group of retired officers, judges and prosecutors called Law 
Enforcement Against Prohibition, however, supports the measure. Its 
members argue that current marijuana laws have done nothing to stanch 
violent crime.

"The question is quite simple when you boil it down: Do you want to 
continue what has never worked?" said former San Jose Police Chief 
Joseph McNamara, a member of the group.

Marijuana has become far more mainstream in California since voters 
in 1996 passed Proposition 215, the medical marijuana initiative 
formally called the Compassionate Use Act. Hundreds of people gather 
without fear of arrest each year in Laytonville to watch judges give 
awards to growers who deliver the best high.

Licensed clinics across the state now provide pot to people with 
recommendations from physicians, and backyard plots have 
proliferated, creating more targets for criminals.

The California health department issued 337 medical marijuana IDs to 
Sonoma County residents and 280 IDs to people in Mendocino County 
during the 12 months that ended June 30. The IDs are voluntary and 
may represent only a small fraction of the people with physician 
recommendations for pot.

Local authorities say the prevalence of indoor marijuana gardens has 
led to an increase in home invasion robberies.

A week ago, three men, two with firearms, grabbed a woman by the hair 
as she walked up to her west Santa Rosa home and pulled her inside. 
The suspects apparently had been tipped off to a large-scale illegal 
marijuana growing and processing operation in the home, said Sgt. 
Steve Fraga, who runs the violent crimes unit. The men bound the 
woman and another man with duct tape and made off with an unknown 
amount of processed pot.

It was one of 10 home invasion robberies involving marijuana so far 
in 2010 in Santa Rosa, Schwedhelm said. There were seven in 2009.

Two people have been killed in the city since 2004 during marijuana 
robberies. Andre Grant, 31, was shot to death April 10, 2006, in a 
garage, where he was tending 25 marijuana plants, police said. The 
killer or killers made off with the plants in the still-unsolved case.

Maximiliano Izquierdo Martinez, 20, of Windsor was fatally shot to 
death in 2007 when he entered a Rincon Valley rental home intending 
to rob the occupant of his marijuana, police said. Detectives found 
more than 300 pounds of processed marijuana and $26,000 in cash at 
the Beech Avenue home.

Five pot-garden workers have been shot to death this year during 
backwoods confrontations with authorities in Mendocino, Lake, Napa 
and Santa Clara counties, and unprecedented level of violence that is 
attributed to the growing influence of ever-more-violent Mexican drug 
cartels, more aggressive law enforcement tactics and the sheer 
proliferation of large-scale pot operations.

Fraga, the Santa Rosa police sergeant, shares the view of many local 
law enforcement officials who question whether legalization would 
reduce violent crime.

"It wouldn't change anything," Fraga said. "You still have the haves 
and the have-nots. The people doing all the work, and people who want 
to just go steal it."

Most home invasions are driven by drugs and cash, said Diana Gomez, 
Sonoma County Assistant District Attorney. The cases that come to 
prosecutors increasingly involve marijuana, not methamphetamine and 
harder drugs, she said.

"The nature of what they're going after has changed," Gomez said. Her 
office has filed only a handful of home invasion robbery cases each 
year since 1999, including six cases so far in 2010, Gomez said. Most 
involve marijuana, she said, though she didn't provide exact numbers. 
"There's still a whole bank of cases which go unreported," she said.

Sonoma County Sheriff's detectives, including those working for 
Sonoma and Windsor police departments, have worked 13 home invasion 
robberies in which marijuana was stolen in the past 12 months, 
Sheriff's Capt. Matt McCaffrey said. They've also handled five 
nonresidential robberies involving pot

Those numbers are "probably on the conservative side, and of course 
only those that were reported to us," McCaffrey said.

Mendocino County Sheriff Tom Allman said he's not necessarily against 
legalizing marijuana, but he does not support Prop. 19.

"I'm not opposing this law because it's marijuana, I'm opposing the 
law because it's not written in a way that's consistent," Allman said.

Proposition 19 would give local governments the sole authority to 
regulate the sale, transportation and consumption of the drug in 
their jurisdictions. Allman and others have said this would create a 
maelstrom of confusion.

"It's possible that all 58 counties would have 58 different marijuana 
laws," Allman said. And that could hold true for the state's 481 

"We don't have the resources to take on more regulation and 
enforcement of things," said Sonoma County Assistant Sheriff Steve 
Freitas, who will replace Cogbill as sheriff in January.

It's unclear how legalization would affect the swaths of forestlands 
clear-cut for clandestine marijuana gardens, much of which 
authorities say is produced to sell out of the state.

"Just because you make it legal in California doesn't mean the rest 
of the world will follow," said Bob Nishiyama, who commands the 
Mendocino Major Crimes Task Force. "Part of Mendocino's problem is 
we're the provider country for marijuana for the rest of the world."

Agents with the state's Campaign Against Marijuana Planting, or CAMP, 
removed 572,680 marijuana plants from forests in Mendocino County 
during the 2010 marijuana season, a number that topped those 
destroyed in all other counties, CAMP spokeswoman Michelle Gregory 
said. Agents pulled 374,958 plants out of Lake County and 311,147 
plants out of Sonoma County.

Gregory said their operations likely would continue if the law passes.

"If they are still operating on public lands and in national parks, 
there will still be a need to take care of those issues," Gregory said. 
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