Activists seek term limits for supervisors

January 18, 2006

Gig Conaughton, North County Times

Angered by county supervisors' decision to challenge California's medical marijuana law, and backed by a national marijuana advocacy organization, local activists Wednesday filed letters of intent to start a voter-initiative to impose term limits on supervisors. Medical marijuana proponents say the five county supervisors, all of whom have served at least three consecutive four-year terms, are "out of touch" with voters and that term limits could eliminate the problem.

"These supervisors have been running unopposed, and they (feel) they can do anything they want," said Claudia Little, one of the activists who signed papers at the county Registrar of Voters office. "They're insulated ... and their attitude is just arrogance. We need to stop this dangerous activity of them not listening to their constituents."

Bill Horn, the board's chairman, said term limits "are a huge mistake."

"What they've done in the state of California (has) led to short-term thinking," said the North County supervisor, adding, "As far as I'm concerned, if you want to get rid of your guy, just don't re-elect them."

County supervisors voted unanimously in December to sue the state to try to overturn California's 9-year-old, voter-approved medical marijuana law, Proposition 215, the "Compassionate Use Act."

County lawyers said that the lawsuit is expected to be filed in federal court Friday. Supervisors intend to ask the federal courts to overturn Prop. 215 on the ground that it should be pre-empted by federal law ---- which outlaws all marijuana use and does not recognize marijuana as having any medicinal value.

Passed by more than 55 percent of voters in 1996, Prop. 215 states that "seriously ill Californians have the right to obtain and use marijuana for medical purposes" when recommended by a doctor.

Meanwhile, officials from the Marijuana Policy Project said Wednesday that they would help county residents gather the 66,121 signatures needed to qualify a two-term limit measure for supervisors on the November ballot.

The project is a national nonprofit that wants to see marijuana use regulated no stricter than alcohol is.

Spokesman Bruce Mirken said the group, funded by its 19,000 dues-paying members, was ready to pay to hire signature gatherers to help qualify the term-limit measure.

"This is not something we embrace lightly or easily," Mirken said. "But what the supervisors did was just way over the line. This is a way of saying, 'Hold on, being elected to office is not a blank check. You're still responsible to the people who elected you.'"

The project spent $15,000 to conduct a telephone poll of 500 county voters that was released this month. The survey stated that most respondents supported Prop. 215 and opposed the supervisors' plan to challenge it. The survey also stated that 66 percent of respondents "strongly supported" term limits for supervisors.

The five seated county supervisors ---- Horn, Pam Slater-Price, Dianne Jacob, Greg Cox and Ron Roberts ---- opposed Prop. 215 when it was placed on the ballot in 1996. And they have each called Prop. 215 a "bad law" that could lead to marijuana abuse.

But they had largely ignored Prop. 215 until November 2004.

Then, a new state law ordered counties to create an identification card and registration program to help identify medical marijuana users ---- marking the first time they were ordered to officially recognize and aid Prop. 215.

The board voted to defy the law, and then said in December they would challenge Prop. 215 itself.

On Wednesday, Horn, the board's chairman, said he and other board members realized the medical marijuana law was an "emotional issue," and that people were angry with supervisors.

But he said the board felt it had no choice but to sue to overturn Prop. 215. Horn and supervisors have said they're not comfortable creating identification cards for those using marijuana medicinally. Even with the cards, federal agents could still arrest users.

"We opposed Prop. 215 when it came up; that isn't the point," Horn said. "The issue is the state's asking the county to do something here that they know darn well is illegal.

"I'm not saying there might not be some medical benefit," he said. "I'm not a doctor. I'm not a pharmacist. I don't know. Just don't ask us to break federal law."

Horn, who is running in June for a fourth term in office, said he thought imposing term limits would do more harm than good.

He said term limits have proven to be failures at both the state level and in the city of San Diego, resulting in politicians who suffer from "short-term" vision. He said the state and city of San Diego's financial debt problems had been caused by political short-timers who did what was politically expedient at the expense of long-term fiscal responsibility.

But incumbent supervisors have found scant opposition in recent years. In 2004, Jacob, Slater-Price and Cox each won re-elections outright in primary elections. No one challenged Jacob or Slater-Price, and Cox trounced his lone opponent with 82 percent of the vote.

"One of the things we found in doing research is that there haven't always been competitive elections for these races," Mirken said. "Re-election has been, perhaps, too automatic and people haven't been able to hold supervisors accountable for their actions."

Little, who said she is a military veteran, grandmother and nurse practitioner who has used marijuana to relieve the chronic pain of arthritis, agreed.

"They're (supervisors) an entrenched elite, actually," she said.



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