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Marijuana Group Wants To Dig Deeper Into Police Records

Herb Fellow

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Seven city residents volunteer their time to ensure police essentially ignore adult marijuana use on private property, a law overwhelmingly passed by Santa Cruz voters in November 2006. The group known as the Measure K Oversight Committee includes the head of the local United Way, a retired state Department of Justice employee, an attorney, a former downtown business owner, a retired college instructor and a former journalist now working at UC Santa Cruz.

The committee, appointed by individual City Council members as a requirement of the law, met for the first time in September and released its first public report last week.

The report indicates no missteps by police in busting people for marijuana.
Out of more than 20,000 arrests and citations between December 2006 and November 2007, the report showed 387 were related to marijuana. The committee has received three grievances from people claiming improper arrests.

However, police say none of the marijuana arrests conflict with Measure K.
Police contend all the marijuana arrests involved other crimes such as domestic violence. Marijuana alone is rarely reason for police to contact an individual, police spokesman Zach Friend said. "Adult marijuana use has never been the most pressing issue of our agency," Friend said. "Little or nothing has changed since Measure K passed."

But some committee members are unsatisfied with their role, and would like greater authority to question police and look more closely at arrest reports related to marijuana. Arrest data is passed from the Police Department to Tina Shull of the City Manager's Office. Staffers relay the information to the committee. Committee members don't look at the specific police reports.

"We're just rubber stamping what the police and city staff have done," committee Chairman Larry True said. "We're taking the numbers they give us and saying OK. I was hoping for more direct involvement with the police department." Committee member Eric Rice said he's not comfortable with the recent report. He says the committee should be able to meet more often and undertake their own studies into how the law is being enforced.

The committee is required to meet at least two times a year, though they've already met four times. The council recently denied a request for the committee to meet more often due to the time and expense of city staff needed at the meetings.

"I feel frustrated because I'm not sure what we're supposed to be doing and we haven't been given the opportunity or tools to figure it out," said Rice, who works for the UCSC Office of the Registrar. "We don't know if those complaints are valid or not."

Rice and True proposed expanding their scope of responsibility to include undertaking studies related to marijuana offenses, spreading public awareness to encourage more community participation in ensuring the law's compliance and allowing the committee to compile all marijuana arrests, citations and property seizures.

But council members didn't agree to the increased role. "Frankly, I think the committee has a fairly minimal role," Councilman Mike Rotkin said. "There's not much for them to do. Their job is to make sure the law stays on track."

United Way Executive Director Mary Lou Goeke voted against Measure K in 2006, but joined the committee to make sure the law works as it's intended.
Goeke doesn't share the concerns of other committee members who feel they should have greater responsibility. "I don't think it's our job to comb through police records," Goeke said. "We don't need to be tying up the police officers with bureaucratic reports. Our police department is treating marijuana as it should be treated."

Measure K was designed to make adult marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority for the city. Similar laws have been passed in Seattle, Denver, Oakland and Santa Monica as part of a national effort to eventually legalize the drug. The law requires the creation of a group to oversee its enforcement and issue a semi-annual report to city leaders.

Source: Santa Cruz Sentinel
Copyright: 2008, Santa Cruz Sentinel
Contact: Shanna McCord at 429-2401 or smccord@santacruzsentinel.com
Website: Santa Cruz Sentinel
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