Pubdate: Wed, 06 Mar 2013
Source: East Bay Express (CA)
Copyright: 2013 East Bay Express
Author: Ali Winston


A New Report Also Shows That 20 Percent of the Drug Arrests Are 
Cannabis-Related Despite a City Law That Makes Pot the Lowest Law 
Enforcement Priority.

Until US Attorney Melinda Haag launched her much-criticized crackdown 
on Oakland's medical marijuana dispensaries last year, the city was 
held up as a beacon of level-headed tolerance toward cannabis in the 
pot-friendly Bay Area. And even when the statewide campaign to 
legalize pot for recreational use failed in 2010, city officials were 
still among the most outspoken in California for large-scale medical 
pot cultivation. Casual weed smokers have also found Oakland to be a 
welcoming place: The successful 2004 ballot initiative Measure Z made 
adult recreational use of marijuana the lowest law-enforcement 
priority for the Oakland Police Department.

However, a report released last week by the city commission that 
monitors OPD's compliance with Measure Z includes troubling findings 
about the racial composition of Oaklanders arrested for 
marijuana-related crimes. According to the Cannabis Regulatory 
Commission's biennial report, roughly 20 percent of Oakland's 
narcotics arrests in 2011 were for marijuana offenses - and 95 
percent of arrestees were black or Latino.

"In a city as diverse as Oakland, the committee needs to take to 
heart that the vast majority of marijuana offenses are being enforced 
against minorities," said Sierra Martinez, an environmental attorney 
who has been a member of the Oakland Cannabis Regulatory Commission 
since 2011. "There is a history of the Drug War being enforced 
against low-income communities and communities of color, and this is 
recent evidence of that reality."

Nationally, marijuana use is more prevalent among whites than blacks 
or Latinos, yet people of color are arrested far more frequently for 
cannabis use. And even though more and more states are legalizing 
medical marijuana - and in the cases of Colorado and Washington, 
recreational adult use of pot - someone is arrested for pot-related 
offenses in the country every 42 seconds, according to an FBI report 
issued last fall,

Of the 452 people arrested for marijuana offenses in 2011 in Oakland, 
74.5 percent were African American, 13 percent were Latino, 5 percent 
were white, 3.7 percent were Asian American, and 0.4 percent were 
Native American. According to 2010 census data, Oakland's population 
is 28.0 percent black, 25.9 percent white, and 25.4 percent Latino.

The 452 arrests in 2011, however, represented a significant drop from 
711 arrests in 2010 and 736 arrests in 2009. The lion's share of 
arrests in each year was for possession of marijuana for sale - 275 
in 2011, 517 in 2010, and 571 in 2009. The arrest data was provided 
to the commission by Oakland Lieutenant Michael Poirier.

However, the commission's report noted that OPD's dramatic reduction 
in staffing, Oakland's spiking violent crime rate, and the passage of 
SB 1449, which decriminalized the possession of less than an ounce of 
cannabis in California as of January 1, 2011, as other potential 
reasons for the numerical drop in arrests.

Michael Wilson of the Alameda County Public Defender's office told 
the Cannabis Regulatory Commission in October 2012 that his office 
rarely sees marijuana-related offenses. The few cases the Public 
Defender's Office does deal with, Wilson told the commission, "often 
have several other factors involved," and marijuana use in public 
spaces such as a street corner or in a vehicle often provides 
officers with probable cause to further engage or search that individual.

Anecdotal evidence over the years indicates that OPD officers have 
used marijuana offenses as a form of leverage to bring charges 
against suspected gang members, either through criminal court or the 
mechanisms of parole or probation violations. Court documents from 
the city's gang injunctions in North Oakland and the Fruitvale 
district showed that several of the defendants in both cases, 
including Abel Manzo, one of the main defendants who contested his 
gang status in front of Alameda County Superior Judge Robert Freedman 
in 2011, were contacted initially by OPD for marijuana-related crimes.

"If we detain somebody, they have numerous baggies of weed on them, 
they're on probation for selling weed, we don't consider that a 
medical cannabis offense and they'll go to jail," Assistant Police 
Chief Anthony Toribio told the city council Public Safety Committee 
on February 26.

OPD also has to contend with numerous illegal large-scale grow 
operations in the city. Several grow operations are discovered each 
year, and some involve heavily armed individuals with links to larger 
criminal organizations. In late April of last year, OPD arrested 
eleven people in a raid on a fortified East Oakland warehouse. 
Officers seized 2,500 marijuana plants, 50 pounds of dried pot, 
$40,000 in cash, 7 firearms, and body armor from a building that had 
interior doors that were reinforced with steel.

Still, Martinez and other members of the Cannabis Regulatory 
Commission believe OPD is still overly concerned with a substance 
that Oaklanders have made clear is not a threat. Martinez noted that 
20 percent of all narcotics arrests in recent years have been 
cannabis-related. "At a time when violent crime in on the rise, it's 
a waste of resources to be enforcing the marijuana offenses," he said.

The cannabis commission also recommended that the city council modify 
its anti-smoking ordinance to let property owners allow pot smoking 
"in designated rooms of hotels, restaurants, clubs, cannabis 
dispensaries, and other facilities, so long as they are properly 
ventilated and do not pose objectionable odor hazards to neighbors." 
Commission members have noted that there is no evidence that smoking 
marijuana causes cancer or emphysema, nor is there evidence of harm 
from second-hand smoke.
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