OAKLAND -- It may be awhile before you can pick up some party pot at the store when you stop for cigarettes, tomatoes and milk in the city of Oakland.
But that's the ultimate vision held by advocates for the legalization of marijuana -- for recreational use, not just medical. And they're hoping Oakland voters will nudge it closer to reality.

On Monday, members of the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance turned in more than 32,000 signatures to city election officials to get the Oakland Cannabis Initiative on the November ballot.

With at least 12,000 more than the required 20,000 signatures for ballot initiatives, Alliance members are feeling pretty confident of the measure's success. Officials at the City Clerk's Office confirmed the signatures were turned in Monday but said the names must still be certified in the next 14 business days before the item can proceed to the voters.

"It makes us feel really good and confident that we're headed to the ballot in November," said Alliance member Joe DeVries.

The measure would not decriminalize pot in Oakland until cannabis is legalized by state officials, but it would prepare the city for the possibility, outlining ways to tax and regulate sales when the time comes.

Until that happens, the measure, if passed, would merely direct the Oakland Police Department to treat the private adult use of marijuana as its lowest priority.

"The measure would ultimately have the city tax and regulate the private adult use of cannabis in Oakland for people 21 and over," DeVries said. "It would help us keep cannabis under control, keep the city from wasting law-enforcement resources on it and keep cannabis out of the hands of children."

DeVries said the Alliance is perfectly aware that the city can't legalize marijuana on its own.

"We know this. That's why, in the text of the initiative, we're giving the city an out," DeVries said. "It says the city needs to do this as soon as it is possible under state law. And we believe in the next couple of years there will be state legislation allowing local

jurisdictions to legalize and regulate cannabis sales.

"And that would get rid of the street dealing of marijuana," he said. "If you put it behind the counter, put it in a store -- it's basically a substance up there with caffeine, tobacco and over-the-counter medicines -- then you basically take it off the black market, take away the profit for the dealers and get it off the street corners," he said.

Police, however, dispute the assertion that being able to buy pot legally in the store would get dealers off the street.

"It's not going to solve all the problems they say it's going to solve," said Oakland police narcotics Lt. Rick Hart. "How much would it cost in stores? How difficult will it be to get it? There's still going to be a black market if it's too expensive in the store and you can get it for less on the street.

"Also, you'll still have the under-21 folks interested in purchasing it, and where are they going to get it?" Hart said. "Because stores would presumably be carding, young people couldn't get it there and would still buy it on the street. So you won't have less dealers. As long as it's a lucrative business on the street, it's gonna be out there."

And Hart said personal adult use of marijuana is already a pretty low priority in Oakland. "Currently, if we stop someone and they have less than an ounce, if they have one joint in the car, they only get a citation anyway," he said. "Even now, we're not handcuffing people and taking them to jail for that. So the only thing that would change would be the amount they could have."

Aside from law-enforcement issues, advocates of the measure say money generated by taxing marijuana sales would help fund vital city services.

"The revenue it could generate for the city is phenomenal," DeVries said.

While proponents of the measure say it is completely separate from the medical marijuana issue, some people in the medical marijuana movement are concerned it might discredit medical users, DeVries said.

"They're afraid people will say, 'See, we told you that's what they were all after in the first place. They weren't really using it for medical.' But that's not going to happen. That's why we don't want to associate this with medical use. This is an economic issue, a law-enforcement issue. It's entirely separate."

Richard Lee of the Bulldog Cafe on Broadway, one of Oakland's medical marijuana dispensaries, said he didn't know of anyone on the medical side who is opposed to the measure.

"If anything, it should help get the prices down for medical users and raise availability, and we could increase hours," Lee said. "Plus, you wouldn't have cops saying, 'You don't look sick to me.'

"Exactly how this is going to play out has yet to be seen, but I do think there's a lot to be learned from how medical marijuana laws have developed, which could apply to laws for private recreational use," Lee said. "The city of Oakland is already permitting clubs, while the federal government still considers them illegal. That says a lot."

Indeed, the Oakland City Council recently voted to issue permits to medical marijuana dispensaries -- but only four permits, forcing a handful of others to close and bringing both praise and objections from the medical community.

"Medical marijuana started with a local movement, with San Francisco's Proposition P in 1991, five years before the statewide Prop. 215," Lee said. "Personal-use laws could happen like that too, if we get another few cities in the next few years to pass similar ballot measures as this one, and get more and more support for it -- we'll see what happens."

Source: Alameda Times Star
Author: Angela Hill, STAFF WRITER
Published: June 22, 2004
Copyright:2004 by MediaNews Group, Inc. and ANG Newspapers
Website: http://www.timesstar.com/Stories/0,1...227652,00.html