|Santa Cruz Marijuana Measure Could Face Challenges|
Posted by CN Staff on July 20, 2006 at 06:46:51 PT|
By Shanna McCord, Sentinel Staff Writer
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel
Santa Cruz -- A Santa Cruz police officer would be forced to crack down on littering before arresting someone for selling pot to an adult in a private parking lot if a ballot measure to make marijuana crimes the lowest priority for police becomes law.
The littering scenario was cited in a letter from City Attorney John Barisone to the City Council this month that warns of possible legal tangles the city could face if an ordinance is adopted that eases up on adult marijuana offenses.
Santa Cruz voters will vote on the marijuana ordinance Nov. 7, if the City Council decides Tuesday to put the measure on the ballot, which it is expected to do.
Proponents say the measure will give police more time and resources to fight serious crimes, like the recent surge in violence in the Beach Flats and on the Westside. The measure is not meant to allow "potheads to smoke on every corner," supporter Andrea Tischler said.
Barisone's letter points out that state law — in which marijuana is considered an illegal drug except in some medical cases — would override the proposed city ordinance, and police officers are sworn to enforce all state and federal laws.
Police officers could also run into problems with the proposed cannabis ordinance when subpoenaed by the county District Attorney's Office to testify in criminal prosecutions of adult marijuana offenses. According to Barisone, officers would be in violation of the ordinance if they testified in marijuana cases; however, disobeying a district attorney's subpoena would conflict with state law.
The ordinance also prohibits police officers from cooperating with state and federal agents investigating marijuana crimes. But Barisone said the state attorney general is authorized to appoint local officers to assist with regional criminal marijuana-related operations — a violation of the proposed city ordinance.
Police records show 254 citations in 2005 for possession or use of marijuana in amounts less than an ounce, though Friend said "the vast majority" of those cases resulted in the person being released at the scene.
Not everyone agrees the proposed ordinance would be a problem.
Gerald Uelmen, a law professor at Santa Clara University, said the measure is legal.
"Every community can say where they want their police resources allocated," Uelmen said. "I don't read it as police should close their eyes to marijuana. All they're saying is they don't want their police department to allocate a lot of resources to it."
Exceptions in the proposed marijuana initiative include minors, sale or use on public property and driving under the influence.
Similar ballot measures are being considered in Santa Monica and Santa Barbara.
Barisone's letter is a "conservative interpretation" of the measure, said proponent Craig Reinarman, a sociology professor at UC Santa Cruz.
If the council chooses not to put the marijuana question on the ballot, proponents could sue the city.
"Marijuana is already the lowest priority in Santa Cruz," Councilman Mike Rotkin said. "We either have to adopt the measure or put it on the ballot, otherwise they could take us to court."
Complete Title: Santa Cruz Marijuana Ballot Measure Could Face Legal Challenges
Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)
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