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Marijuana Advocates Push Proposal To Ease Drug Law

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Marijuana proponents are pushing for a new city law that would essentially make recreational pot use legal on private property.
A petition drive is under way by the advocacy group Santa Cruz Citizens for Sensible Marijuana Policy to get an initiative on the November ballot that would make marijuana offenses the lowest priority for police and cut off federal drug-enforcement resources to ensure this.

But the law enforcement community is questioning the legality of the initiative, as well as its common sense.

"By making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority on private property, essentially every house in Santa Cruz would be a safe house," City Attorney John Barisone said.

The city attorney and police chief note such an initiative defies state law because marijuana is an illegal substance, and would pit authorities between conflicting directives – except in the case of medical use.

"I think it creates a lot of problems, and it's got some real legal problems," Barisone added.

Supporters of the initiative, though, insist it's a "sensible policy" that would end wasting taxpayer money on policing to "criminalize cannabis consumers."

"If police work is about making the public safer," said initiative author Theodora Kerry, "we really feel whether or not adults are using marijuana privately in their homes does not affect public safety."

The proposed policy would also create a community oversight committee, which would include Santa Cruz residents and representatives from the Police Department and the county District Attorney's Office, to track marijuana arrests. The proposed ordinance also would not allow the city to accept federal funds for fighting marijuana use.

A telephone poll conducted in October that questioned 400 registered voters in Santa Cruz showed 82 percent "agreed or somewhat agreed" that adults using marijuana should not be criminalized, said Andrea Tischler, owner of the Compassion Flower Inn, a bed and breakfast in Santa Cruz that allows medical marijuana use on site.

"We want the police to focus on violent acts," Tischler said. "Plus, it's far less harmful to use marijuana than alcohol, which is totally legal."

Police Chief Howard Skerry said the department receives complaints about drug use in the community, and "marijuana is certainly part of that."

As far as priority, Skerry said "in-progress calls" and "life safety" calls always take precedence.

The proposal still allows for cracking down on marijuana use by minors and on public property.

At least 10 percent of the city's 34,228 voters must sign the petition by April 20 to qualify the question for the November ballot. If 15 percent of registered voters sign it, the group could force the city to hold a special election, City Clerk Leslie Cook said.

Complete Title: S.C. Marijuana Advocates Push Proposal To Ease City Drug Law

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)
Author: Shanna McCord, Sentinel Staff Writer
Published: March 9, 2006
Copyright: 2006 Santa Cruz Sentinel
Contact: editorial@santa-cruz.com
Website: Santa Cruz Sentinel: Breaking News, Sports, Business, Entertainment & Scotts Valley News

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