Pubdate: Sun, 31 Jul 2016
Source: Orange County Register, The (CA)
Copyright: 2016 The Orange County Register
Author: Brooke Edwards Staggs


A growing number of Southern California law enforcement organizations 
and leaders are voicing objections to a state ballot measure that 
would legalize recreational marijuana, saying it would make the state 
less safe.

"I'm vehemently opposed to it," Orange County Sheriff Sandra Hutchens 
said. "I think that it would be a terrible move for California to make."

San Bernardino County District Attorney Mike Ramos said the 
initiative to legalize marijuana "will do nothing to curb 
black-market activity in California." He is one of several police 
officials who is actively opposing the measure, a group that includes 
the Riverside Sheriffs' Association, the Association for Los Angeles 
Deputy Sheriffs and the California Police Chiefs Association.

Law enforcement remains one of the most influential voices when it 
comes to debating issues such as marijuana legalization, according to 
Dan Schnur, director of the Jesse M. Unruh Institute of Politics at 
USC. And its credibility doesn't seem to have declined, he said, 
despite recent controversies surrounding the relationship of police 
and community.

But marijuana legalization advocates so far have collected 40 times 
more campaign cash than opponents. And with fewer Republican leaders 
in California who can help raise money for causes backed by men and 
women in blue, Schnur wonders if law enforcement's anti-pot megaphone 
will be big enough to be heard by voters.

"Unless the opposition is able to identify a very generous funding 
source, it's difficult to see how they get their message out in a way 
that allows them to move public opinion," he said.

Proposition 64 would allow Californians 21 and older to possess up to 
an ounce of marijuana and grow as many as six plants. The measure 
would prohibit driving while impaired, giving cannabis to minors or 
consuming it in public. It also includes provisions for licensing, 
testing, labeling, advertising and local control over marijuana businesses.

But some public safety officials contend the measure doesn't go far 
enough to drive out illicit sales, keep roads safe and protect young people.

"We are concerned that this proposition is bad public policy and does 
nothing to prevent advertising and marketing to children and 
teenagers near parks, community centers and child-centric 
businesses," said Tom Dominguez, president of the Association of 
Orange County Deputy Sheriffs, which recently donated $5,000 to the 
opposition campaign. "It is a danger to our youth and the communities 
we have been sworn to serve."

Last week, the association joined 97 organizations, politicians and 
community leaders who are opposing Prop. 64. They include Orange 
County District Attorney Tony Rackauckas, Costa Mesa Police Chief 
Robert Sharpnack and El Monte Police Chief David Reynoso.

"You hear people say it's not as bad as alcohol. But if you smoke 
marijuana and drive, it does impair you," said George Hofstetter, 
president of the Association for Los Angeles Deputy Sheriffs, which 
has donated $10,000 to oppose legalization. "I hope we can get the 
word out there, but there's a lot of support for it right now."

The anti-Prop. 64 Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies has raised 
$159,150. Proponents of legalization have raised $6.5 million, with 
more than three months to go before the Nov. 8 election.

The legalization effort lists 112 endorsers, including some law 
enforcement organizations, such as the National Latino Officers 
Association, Blacks in Law Enforcement of America and Law Enforcement 
Against Prohibition. Likewise, it includes a number of public safety 
leaders, though most who are speaking out in favor of marijuana are retired.

"It's time for law enforcement to admit that the drug war has been a 
failure," said Nick Morrow, a former Los Angeles County Sheriff's 
Department deputy who's advocating for Prop. 64. "Marijuana is not 
going to go away if you do nothing. I don't see the rationale in not 
regulating it."

Legalizing marijuana will generate significant tax revenue, but 
public safety officials are divided over whether California will come 
out ahead in the end.

Prop. 64 establishes a 15 percent sales tax, plus a tax by weight for 
growers. The Legislative Analyst's Office estimates that would 
generate up to $1 billion each year, which would be directed to cover 
the cost of the program, invest in research, offset environmental 
impacts and boost law enforcement.

"Marijuana today is the largest cash crop in the state of California, 
and it is untaxed, unregulated," said Jim Gray, a retired Orange 
County Superior Court judge who is campaigning for Libertarian 
presidential candidate Gary Johnson. "It's time that this change."

Hutchens, the Orange County sheriff, doubts new tax revenue will 
offset the cost of potentially having more drivers under the 
influence of marijuana and more people in addiction treatment. But 
she also added that financial benefits aren't the proper basis for 
assessing the merits of the measure.

"Even if they were making money hand over fist, to me it's not a good 
enough reason to legalize marijuana," she said. "Is the next thing 
that we decide to legalize going to be methamphetamine or cocaine so 
that we can tax and regulate it?"

The Legislative Analyst's Office also reports that California law 
enforcement and justice systems might save $100 million each year if 
Prop. 64 passes because minor possession would be legal and penalties 
reduced on a number of marijuana-related crimes.

Hutchens also questions claims that legalization will free up jail 
cells, pointing out that marijuana possession of an ounce or less was 
decriminalized six years ago.

"I don't have people in jail for possession of marijuana unless it's 
a lot of marijuana packaged for sales," she said.

Another point of contention is how legalization will impact 
California's multibillion-dollar black market.

If marijuana is regulated under Prop. 64, Gray said revenue would be 
shifted from violent drug cartels and street gangs to licensed 
California business owners.

"If you don't support intelligent regulation, you're supporting the 
cartels," Morrow said.

But a number of law enforcement leaders reject that notion.

Ramos, the San Bernardino D.A., and others point to a paragraph in 
the 62-page measure that ensures entrepreneurs in the recreational 
market wouldn't be turned down for a business license due to prior 
felony convictions for controlled substances.

Advocates say that provision means longtime medical marijuana 
business owners can't be shut out of an expanded market based on 
crimes that no longer would be felonies under the new legal standards.

But John Lovell, a longtime lobbyist for law enforcement groups 
including the Riverside Sheriffs' Association, said: "What is 
incredible about this provision is that it says, 'We don't care if 
you're a cocaine dealer or a heroin dealer. You can't be denied a 
license because of that.' "

Hutchens said she has been following news out of Colorado since the 
state became the first to allow recreational marijuana sales two 
years ago. She noted the state still has a significant black market 
and said there's no reason to expect California's entrenched 
underground market also wouldn't persist.

Both sides argue that their biggest concern is keeping young people 
away from marijuana.

"I don't think we need one more thing to dumb down our young people 
and impact their motivation to do well in life," Hutchens said.

Prop. 64 supporters including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom have argued that 
regulating marijuana will make it less available to young people by 
moving sales into a strict legal structure with stiff penalties for 
selling to minors.

Morrow said he has done a "litmus test" of sorts with his two teenage 
sons. He asked them, "If I gave you $20 to get me a six-pack of beer 
or a baggie of weed, which one would you come back with first?" Both 
teens told him it would be much easier for them to get marijuana, 
since they could go to a kid at school rather than face a liquor 
store owner who requires a valid ID.

A solid majority of Californians seem to agree with Prop. 64 
advocates. A May survey by the Public Policy Institute of California 
found 60 percent of likely voters support legalization.

"Convincing donors to fund a campaign against an initiative with 60 
percent support is a tough sell," Schnur said. "Barring a very 
unforeseen surprise, it's difficult to see how the opposition will be 
able to raise enough to be competitive."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom