In last week’s column I gave credit to the Ahmanson Foundation for their generous grant to 415 PCH. I meant to say the ANNENBERG Foundation. I know they both have a lot of money and do things locally, and it was an honest mistake, but the ANNENBERG Foundation deserves super credit for stepping up and helping Santa Monica with this glorious project. So thank you ANNENBERG Foundation (they deserve at least three big all cap mentions after that faux pas). I sure hope we don’t make that mistake again.
Last week’s Council meeting had a discussion on a proposed ordinance to lower the police priority on the arrest or ticketing of marijuana users. Not surprisingly, SMPD Chief James T. Butts, Jr. opposed this idea. The surprise was that Councilman Kevin McKeown also opposed it. Both got into the minutiae of the plan and claimed it to be poorly crafted. Chief Butts also told me that it is bad policy to politicize law enforcement.
Well, you might guess where I stand on this. I felt the initiative to be well thought out and would certainly have encouraged the City Council to instruct the police locally to make it happen. How we prioritize our laws IS political. And I was concerned that in an election year some of the councilpeople might be pandering to the police for their union endorsement rather then thinking of good public policy.
Santa Monica’s Sensible Marijuana Policy initiative is in synch with other communities. Mendocino’s Measure G, passed 60-40, requires the Board of Supervisors and Sheriff to make marijuana enforcement their lowest priority. There, the Sheriff and DA were actually advocates for the measure! Their argument was that their departments have more important fish to fry. Oakland has a similar measure, as does West Hollywood. Seattle, Washington has had an almost identical policy for over three years now and it has been deemed a success, freeing up police resources. Portland, Oregon has a measure on the fall ballot that appears to be widely supported. Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz also have it on their fall ballots.
My own view is that drug law enforcement falls disproportionably on the poor and people of color. In those neighborhoods drug users are criminalized. In affluent white communities any problem is considered a mental health issue. Kids at Crossroads go to Betty Ford; Kids in Oakwood go to jail.
I am not encouraging kids to smoke pot or cigarettes or cigars. I would even suggest enforcing the same laws we have on the books for underage drinking, smoking and driving. Arresting them however, routing them through juvenile detention centers where they go to the “graduate school of crime” is the worst scenario and needs to be avoided. And adults certainly don’t need to be hassled for this either.
I am opposed to legalizing marijuana. I am in favor of totally decriminalizing it. The difference? If we legalize it we get the government involved and we tax it, regulate it, get big business behind it and advertise it. As far as I know they have not “legalized” other herbs; chamomile, mint and basil are all free to grow and distribute, as much as the market will bear. If we “legalize” marijuana we destroy small growers who are the backbone of this business. By most accounts pot is the largest cash crop in the state and supports people living on the land. The state’s northern economies would be ruined. Plus, I don’t want Philip Morris to have one more huge profit center to ram down our throats.
A scenario was posed at the council meeting whereas a smoker and a pot smoker were sitting near each other on the beach. The concern was that with these new instructions the police would then have to make the cigarette smoker a higher priority then the pot smoker, which McKeown considered “extreme.” Not by me. There is ample proof that secondhand smoke causes serious health risks. Furthermore, if you have ever been on a beach cleanup you will see that much of the debris is cigarette butts. People use the beach as an ashcan. Can’t say that for pot smokers, where no health risks have been proven and most users cart off their roaches. Still, smoking is illegal on the beach so police could ticket both parties. I would just pick the cigarette smoker first.
The July 25th session of the City Council will once again address this issue. Jack Cole, executive director of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, will make a statement to the council. Let’s hope they do the right thing this time, give police their instructions and avoid a costly initiative ballot measure.
There are a couple of promising new City Council candidates for this November’s election. Terry O’Day, Executive Director of Environment Now, and Gleam Davis, who has already been endorsed by the powerful local political organization Community for Excellent Public Schools (CEPS), are two that have put their hat in the ring. It would be nice to get some fresh thoughts and energy and less institutional memory on that council. These two appear quite capable and have solid backgrounds. I was told Ms. Davis is not just smart, “she is brilliant.” They will be tested over the next several months at many public forums and debates. Both need to refine their overall message and provide us with a clear picture of what we would get if we voted them in. Get out and see them and choose for yourself. Political debates are fun and meaningful.
The three current councilmembers running for reelection are Kevin McKeown and Pam O’Connor, leading contenders for the SMRR endorsements, and independent Robert Holbrook. McKeown will be attacked relentlessly by more conservative members of the business community and by hotel interests in town that are still upset over the living wage ordinance battle. They bring hundreds of thousands of dollars to bear. The voters have so far rejected their ideas and supported McKeown and will most likely do so again. Holbrook barely won his seat during the last election, but squeaked through when Josefina Aranda and Abby Arnold split their votes. A political insider told me, “I am not sure why Bob is running – what issues does he stand for?” He is well liked, however, by those who know him. LA Councilman Bill Rosendahl told me he considers “Bob a friend.” That will help. Plus Holbrook will most likely have the SM Chamber of Commerce support and other conservative groups. The kicker will be if fellow councilman Bobby Shriver decides to vibrantly work for his campaign and contribute financially. That may make the difference.
This weekend was “opening day” at the beach for me and my dear friend Steve. We have been bodysurfing together for 40 years now and each year we take our first rides together. This year we opened our season a full month late, as we normally begin around June 15. That is when the waves are near perfect, the water is cooler and cleaner and the beaches emptier. This was a glorious weekend at the beach, the waves at station 27 were large and early in the day there were many rideable waves, however, the riptides were strong and the tide in. It was a big day for our family as I assisted my son in his first boogie board day. We left the beach that day with him saying, “Can we get one more ride daddy?” Life will never be the same, for him or us.