Marijuana Legalization Divides California Law Enforcement

Most in California are ready to say “Yes” to legalization of recreational marijuana. It’s been more than 20 years since we were the first state to allow medical marijuana. But at least one group has historically sided firmly against legalization of the drug: Law enforcement.police

Today, law enforcement groups and individuals are divided.

As The Los Angeles Times reports, many in law enforcement do still staunchly oppose making the drug available for recreational use, others recognize it could be a benefit to the state.

The conflict starts right here in Los Angeles. Take L.A.P.D. Chief Charles Beck. Although he says he’s still looking over the 62-page recreational marijuana ballot initiative proposed for the November election, he said his basic stance is there are enough problems with intoxicating alcohol and drugs that are already legal. He noted the substance causes significant physical and mental impairment, and he worries about the impact that will have on many aspects of daily life here in L.A. Plus, with the drug still outlawed by the federal government, marijuana dispensaries in L.A. are forced to operate as cash-only enterprises, which tends to attract crime.

On the reverse side, former L.A.P.D. officer Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom has taken a different stance, coming out strong in support of the measure. So too did former LAPD deputy chief Steve Downing, who stated flatly that the “War on Drugs” was a failure.

“I should know as I once led it,” Downing said, adding that police policies concerning drugs have done more to harm to individuals and the community than they did to attack marijuana use. So many were unnecessarily and unfairly criminalized. Plus, we have the evidence now that shows us marijuana isn’t the “gateway drug” many proclaimed for so long.

By continuing to criminalize it, Downing said, we are putting money in the hands of the street gangs and the cartels. He explained that when we ended prohibition on alcohol, consumption of it didn’t go up. What changed was that it got safer, and the businesses of men like gangster Al Capone died off rapidly.

Downing said police are wasting thousands of hours with things like small-time marijuana possession. That takes away time and resources that could instead be devoted to serious crime.

The proposed ballot measure, “Adult Use of Marijuana Act” would give those over the age of 21 the right to possess, transport and use up to one ounce of the drug for purposes of recreation. It would also allow individuals to grow up to a half dozen plants. A proposed 15 percent retail tax on the drug is suggested, and there would be an outright ban on public use or use while driving (driving under the influence of any intoxicating substance is already illegal under current law).

In San Francisco, District Attorney George Gascon said as a former police chief there and a former LAPD assistant, he does support the legalization of marijuana in general. However, he urges caution to avoid certain mistakes that were made in Colorado and Washington state.

He insists any system would need to have the ability to test motorists for being under the influence and similar intoxication levels would need to be set. Our L.A. marijuana lawyers have written extensively on this issue. In theory, what Gascon proposes makes sense. However in practice, we know that marijuana behaves differently in the body and that intoxication is not as easily measured with marijuana is it is with alcohol. That means we’re going to end up punishing regular users of the drug – which stays in the human body for days or weeks after consumption – for impairment, even though they may not actually be under the influence.

Still, most rank-and-file officers have expressed the opinion that pursuit of marijuana prosecutions is “a waste of time,” Gascon said. For those who pledge to serve, protect and help, many question the harm that such action has on a community, versus the nominal or non-existent benefit.

The Los Angeles CANNABIS LAW Group represents growers, dispensaries, collectives, patients and those facing marijuana charges. Call us at 714-937-2050.

Additional Resources:

Just Say Yes: Some California Law Enforcement Leaders Support Legalizing Recreational Pot, May 5, 2016, By Richard Winton, Los Angeles Times

More Blog Entries:

Pending Marijuana Ruling Could Limit Federal Prosecutions, May 6, 2016, California Marijuana Lawyer Blog