Pubdate: Sat, 11 Oct 2014
Source: Alaska Dispatch News (AK)
Copyright: 2014 Alaska Dispatch Publishing
Note: Anchorage Daily News until July '14
Author: Suzanna Caldwell


As both sides of the campaign fight to find support for or against 
marijuana legalization, one group has remained steadfast in their 
opposition: Alaska police chiefs.

Ten police chiefs met Wednesday in Anchorage to emphasize something 
voters have been hearing for months: that the heads of Alaska police 
departments are firmly against Ballot Measure 2, an initiative that 
would legalize and tax marijuana for those 21 and over in Alaska.

The chiefs are from a broad swath of the state, from rural villages 
to Alaska's largest city. At a press conference Wednesday, the chiefs 
reiterated their own concerns as well as those from the Alaska 
Association of Chiefs of Police. That organization, which represents 
about 150 chiefs and commanders across Alaska, released a survey in 
June saying that local law enforcement could see up to $6 million in 
increased costs should Ballot Measure 2 pass. They also released a 
14-point reasoning earlier this summer arguing why Alaskans should 
not support legalizing recreational marijuana.

Those points were reiterated Wednesday by the chiefs assembled. The 
timing was convenient, according to the association's executive 
director, Kalie Klaysmat. She said many were in town for an emergency 
preparedness conference held biannually in downtown Anchorage.

Nome Police Chief John Papasodora worried about the implications of 
the measure in Western Alaska, where substance abuse issues factor 
into a majority of arrests they deal with.

"We already have the highest arrest rates of any Alaska community," 
Papasodora said. "I can see that increasing (if Ballot Measure 2 passes)."

Anchorage Police Chief Mark Mew noted the disconnect between state 
and federal law and the impacts that would have on officers, a point 
he emphasized earlier in the year. He worried about the position in 
which that would place his officers.

"(This initiative) increases all kinds of ambiguity," he said.

Mew also had concerns that revenue would not go directly to the 
police force. He cited other examples -- including alcohol and 
tobacco taxes -- that have not consistently gone to public safety and 
prevention needs.

While the initiative would tax marijuana at $50 per ounce at the 
wholesale level, it does not -- and cannot -- say where that 
appropriation would go. Only the state Legislature can allocate tax 
revenues. In Colorado and Washington, those funds have gone toward 
prevention programs, education and public safety.

Many of the chiefs represent law enforcement in rural communities 
like Kotzebue, Nome and Unalaska. They noted that their small police 
forces are already strained, and that marijuana would increase 
burdens (and overtime costs) on their departments.

Valdez Police Chief Bill Comer added that regardless of the revenue, 
there are larger concerns about the sheer human impact if 
legalization comes to pass.

"How can revenue compensate victims from tragedies with this law?" 
Comer asked. "There is no compensation."

Others in law enforcement disagree

Norm Stamper, who was the Seattle chief of police from 1994 to 2000 
and is now retired from law enforcement, said he understood the 
concerns of the Alaska police, but thought many of those concerns 
were unfounded.

Stamper now works for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a 
nonprofit organization made up of current and former members of the 
law enforcement and criminal justice communities who favor marijuana 
legalization. Stamper will be in Alaska in late October to campaign 
in favor of legalization.

"Prohibition is responsible for far more crime, greater levels of 
violence and police resources than any kind of good that comes from 
those laws," he said.

Stamper doesn't believe legalization leads to the increased costs the 
Alaska chiefs cited. He noted that Seattle hasn't seen tremendous 
increases since legalization occurred. He was critical about concerns 
over increased training costs, since marijuana is already being used 
in Alaska communities.

"Given marijuana is currently banned for adults as well as young 
people, and currently they are making arrests, why would they have to 
provide more training?" Stamper asked. "Apparently they aren't 
providing it now, and it raises a question about responsibility."

Bill Parker, former Alaska Department of Corrections deputy 
commissioner and co-sponsor of the initiative, was sharply critical 
of the police chiefs' concerns. He said issues about marijuana laws 
in Alaska and enforcement were one of the reasons they drafted an 
initiative in the first place.

He said police are already in charge of enforcing Alaska drug laws -- 
which he said are not working. Parker said law enforcement 
campaigning against the reform of those laws is just making 
everything more difficult.

"We're standing in our own way there; we're not looking at 
solutions," Parker said in a phone interview Wednesday. "I see this 
as piling on uniforms and badges before they think it all the way 
through. I think the peace of Alaska would be easier to keep without 
this crazy war on marijuana."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom