After hearing from the community, Santa Monica’s City Council has decided to place an initiative on the November ballot that would make adult marijuana use the lowest priority for the police department.
The Council had limited options regarding the initiative since supporters were able to obtain more than enough signatures for it to qualify for the ballot (7,335 people signed the petition). Either they had to allow the voters to decide or adopt it as an ordinance.
Councilmember Kevin McKeown summed up the consensus of the Council that it was better to place the initiative on the ballot since it wasn’t locally generated. “The precise language that was given to us [from the Marijuana Policy Project out of Washington D.C.] creates problems we don’t need and solves problems we don’t have. Our efforts to negotiate a resolution that could be adopted as an ordinance failed.” He also mentioned there would most likely be a “robust public debate.”
The Council had initially discussed the issue on June 27, but delayed a decision so City staff could do an analysis on the issue. Santa Monica Police Chief James T. Butts prepared that analysis in the form of an impact report.
Butts noted that the proposed initiative “fails to define what quantifiable amount of marijuana would equate to an amount possessed for personal use versus an amount possessed for purposes of sales.” It also “fails to distinguish marijuana from concentrated cannabis, i.e. “hashish” and “hash oil” and “fails to address marijuana cultivation for personal use which under current law are felonies.” He also concluded that the proposed ordinance would cause his department to have to ignore calls about public marijuana use, the smell of marijuana which “often provides the basis of a significant investigation,” strict time consuming reporting requirements for marijuana offenders and “require the police department to ensure that all other requests for police services (including barking dogs, parking violations, construction noise, reports and other non-emergency calls) are handled before a police officer is dispatched to a call involving an adult in possession of marijuana on private property.”
Nicki La Rosa from Santa Monicans for Sensible Marijuana Policy (SMSMP) told the Council many of Chief Butts’ assertions about the initiative “are directly at odds with actual text of the initiative.”
Vicki Norris also disagreed with the staff report by noting a similar initiative has been successful in Seattle. “While the police were initially against it, they came to appreciate that arrests have gone down, use has not gone up and they can concentrate their time on violent and other serious crimes.”
Jack Cole, a retired undercover narcotics police officer, agreed with Norris. “By doing this you can perhaps even save lives. I believe law enforcement could use their time better because now they are spending so much time and energy chasing around marijuana smokers.”
Resident Rita Loenthal urged the Council to support the initiative by noting, “The goal in the larger sense is to deal with the criminal justice system and the failed drug policy in this country. Things have to start somewhere. Certainly, Santa Monica can contribute…to the larger scope of this whole problem.”
Others spoke about the medical use of marijuana. Luciano Hernandez, also from SMSMP, noted, “Marijuana is not a cause of cancer from the latest research. Medical marijuana is a valid, legally prescribed medicine the State of California has approved.”
Tricia Roth M.D., the Chair of the local Substance Abuse Committee of the Academy of Pediatrics, disagreed by stating, “There’s no scientific evidence that says marijuana is not a cancer risk. There is a recent incidence of leukemia in children of parents who smoked marijuana.”