Pubdate: Sat, 30 Oct 2010
Source: Lodi News-Sentinel (CA)
Copyright: 2010 Lodi News-Sentinel
Author: Fernando Gallo
Cited: Proposition 19
Bookmark: (Proposition 19)


If marijuana is legalized on Tuesday, don't expect the Lodi Police
Department to suddenly have a lot more time.

A review by the News-Sentinel found that the number of marijuana
arrests in Lodi is far below the state average. In 2008, the most
recent year that data is available, a paltry 1.5 percent of all
arrests in Lodi were marijuana-related, according to the state
attorney general's office. By comparison, statewide marijuana-related
offenses accounted for five percent of all arrests. Overall, there
were only 15 felony marijuana arrests in Lodi in 2008.

Lodi interim police chief Gary Benincasa said he wasn't surprised by
the arrest numbers.

"Fifteen felony arrests doesn't sound out of line," Benincasa

Judge Bob McNatt, who presides over criminal trials at the Lodi branch
of the county superior court, said the numbers are consistent with
what he's seen involving marijuana.

"For the most part, I think it is (a minor issue)," McNatt

Galt's arrest numbers were significantly higher; in fact, Galt had
more total marijuana arrests in 2008 (91) than Lodi (64), despite
having about 40,000 fewer residents. More than eight percent of Galt's
total arrests were marijuana-related.

"A majority of (our) contacts with young people, if we end up doing
any kind of a search or ask if they have anything illegal in their
pockets, they've got weed on them," Galt Police Chief Loren Cattolico

Galt's marijuana arrest numbers have also been on the rise in recent
years. There was an average of 40 arrests a year from 1999 to 2004,
but since 2005, Galt has averaged more than 68 marijuana arrests annually.

Cattolico said he doesn't believe marijuana is more prevalent in Galt
in comparison to Lodi, and attributes the higher arrests numbers to
his city's size: Larger cities like Lodi have bigger issues to deal
with, he said, and can't focus as much on marijuana enforcement as
Galt can.

"When we come across (marijuana), we write it up," Cattolico said.
"And Lodi, maybe their approach is they're so busy with other calls,
they just don't have time to write it up. So they end up just taking
it away from the kids or throwing it away."

Benincasa said he was surprised by the disparity in pot arrests in the
two cities, but denied that Lodi cops were any less stringent on marijuana.

"We have a no-tolerance approach; if we find marijuana violations, we
take action on them," Benincasa said. "I guess I can't explain (the
disparity), because I know that we're really proactive. When we come
across (marijuana), we take enforcement action on it."

For Lodi, the numbers suggest that police won't have much less to
worry about if Proposition 19 passes Tuesday. The controversial
proposition, officially titled the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis
Act of 2010, would allow anyone 21 years of age or older to legally
possess and grow marijuana. Local governments would also be able to
regulate and tax marijuana.

The California's Secretary of State's office estimates that hundreds
of millions of dollars in tax and fee revenue could be generated if
the proposition is passed, and tens of millions could be saved in
prison and jail costs.

Despite the potential monetary windfall, there is nearly universal
opposition to the measure among law enforcement officials. According
to the No on Prop. 19 campaign's website, nearly 100 current and
former sheriffs and police chiefs have publicly opposed the measure.
San Joaquin County Sheriff Steve Moore, Benincasa and Cattolico are
also against it.

"The proposition itself is not very clearly thought-out," Moore

"There are too many unknown factors," Benincasa said. "How are the
cities going to do it? Is it really going to generate this money? In
my opinion, I don't think so."

Cattolico agrees. "I don't see us making any money on taxing it," he

Lodi police Lt. Chris Piombo even wrote an editorial in the
News-Sentinel on Oct. 11 declaring his opposition to Proposition 19,
writing: "No matter what the Yes on Proposition 19 people tell you, it
isn't about generating tax revenue. It's about getting high."

Many opponents take issue with the wording of the measure, and both
Benincasa and Cattolico said it is very poorly written.

Others fear there will be more drivers under the influence of
marijuana, which will pose a substantial safety risk. But McNatt said
that driving under the influence of alcohol cases happen about five
times more often than cases that involve driving under the influence
of other drugs. And those cases include people charged with driving on
harder drugs such as methamphetamines or cocaine.

Gary Mull, president of the California Cannabis Association and
medical marijuana activist, said law enforcement officials tend to
exaggerate the criminal impacts of marijuana.

"They go after some larger (marijuana) growing operations. ... But
most of the raids and arrests usually resulted in acquittals or
they've not filed charges," Mull said. "Most (officers) don't care
that much about marijuana."

Although Mull favors legalization, and believes a lot of the alleged
harms of legalizing pot are overblown, his organization is also
against Proposition 19. Mull said the measure has too many negative
implications for marijuana users, such as making it a crime for people
21 years old or older to share medical marijuana with people younger
than them, resulting in a six-month jail sentence.

"I understand the passion of the folks who want it legalized, but this
just isn't the way to do it," Mull said.

Should the proposition pass, there will be a host of new issues for
the city to deal with, such as licensing of marijuana sales,
determining how to generate taxes, and the possibility of a
non-medical dispensary within the city limits. City spokesman Jeff
Hood said Lodi currently has a moratorium only on medical
dispensaries, which will expire in April, and a non-medical dispensary
could only be permitted by local ordinance. Benincasa said a
dispensary could bring an unwanted element and more crime to the area.

"Our community doesn't want a dispensary here in town," Benincasa
said. "I think they would be very uncomfortable with it."

But Mull said the negative local impact of dispensaries is a

"There is no demographic for medical marijuana dispensaries," Mull
said. "When you compare it to your local market, the number of
(criminal) incidents having to do with marijuana dispensaries is minuscule."

Mull said there is only anecdotal evidence of dispensaries being
criminal hotbeds, and cites the now-defunct Galt Wellness Center as
proof that these stories are isolated incidents.

"The little Galt dispensary was open for 3 1/2 months ... and there
was never an incident there," Mull said. "In any business, somebody
can get robbed."

Poll numbers for the measure vary, but a Public Policy Institute of
California survey of likely voters released Oct. 20 has it trailing 49
percent to 44 percent. Seven percent of voters remain undecided.
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MAP posted-by: Richard Lake