San Jose cops off DEA squad

October 09, 2002

Mark Simon, SF Chronicle ,

San Jose Police Chief William Lansdowne has yanked his officers off the Drug Enforcement Administration task force that raided a Santa Cruz medicinal marijuana club a month ago. Lansdowne said his four officers and one sergeant have better things to do - - such as tackle the methamphetamine epidemic -- than harass local pot clubs, which are operating within state law. 'I think the priorities are out of sync at the federal level,' said Lansdowne, who said he agrees the state's voters made the right decision in legalizing marijuana for medical use under regulated circumstances. 'The problem in California right now is methamphetamines, not medical marijuana.' Lansdowne said the DEA-led raid put his officers in the middle of a 'clear conflict' between state and federal law. In 1996, California voters approved Proposition 215, which permits local governments to regulate distribution of marijuana for medicinal purposes. Federal law outlaws marijuana use in any manner. The federal government has argued -- and the argument has been upheld in federal court -- that U.S. marijuana laws override state or local ordinances. A little more than a month ago, an armed and DEA-led task force raided the Wo/Men's Alliance for Medical Marijuana in Santa Cruz, seizing 167 plants and arresting founders Mike and Valerie Corral. WAMM has been operating since 1996 under the supervision and approval of city, county and local law enforcement officials. WAMM grows its own marijuana organically on its own farm. 'It's unfair to put our officers in a position of deciding how they're going to enforce a law that's in conflict with local law,' Lansdowne said. The San Jose officers had been assigned to the DEA's High Intensity Drug Trafficking Area task force, a unit that also included personnel from the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the FBI and the Santa Clara County sheriff's office. DEA spokesman Rich Meyer would not disclose the size of the task force. A sheriff's spokesman said Santa Clara County deputies remain on the unit. The San Jose officers have been reassigned to the department's own narcotics unit and the state Bureau of Narcotics task force. The DEA's Meyer reacted diplomatically to Lansdowne's decision to withdraw his officers from the task force. 'He's certainly entitled to his opinions, and we have great respect for him, ' Meyer said. 'However, the federal law is very clear when it comes to marijuana, and our mandate is to enforce the laws.' Lansdowne, a 32-year veteran of the San Jose Police Department, the last four as chief, said his responsibilities are clear -- he must follow the state law. 'I think the public made the decision for us that if it's well-managed, it's legal,' he said. 'Our district attorney believes that, the state believes that, and I believe they're correct, so long as there are controls in place.' Incidentally, Proposition 215 passed with 81 percent of the vote in Santa Cruz and with nearly 63 percent of the vote in San Jose. IN OR OUT: For the past several weeks, rumors have been percolating out of Washington, D.C., that U.S. Transportation Secretary Norm Mineta is on his way out. Mineta, a former congressman from San Jose, is the lone Democrat in the Bush cabinet, and that has fed speculation that administration hard-liners want to get rid of him. The rumors say, alternately, that the White House is unhappy with the way Mineta has put together the Transportation Security Administration or that Mineta had some unnamed disagreement with the president or White House staff in a key meeting. 'There has been a steady buzz among second-level politicos at the White House that he'll be the first Cabinet officer to leave, that he's not well, that they want to get rid of him,' said one Transportation Department source. It's not true -- Mineta is fine and so is his relationship with the president, the source said. The proof of the latter is that the Transportation Security Administration is still under Mineta's jurisdiction and that it is being lavished with resources. The department source noted that it's quite possible politics will prompt Mineta's removal after the November elections, when the White House would want to begin focusing hard on the 2004 re-election campaign. Under those circumstances, Cabinet members serve as presidential surrogates on the campaign trail, and the Transportation Department budget is one conduit for cementing political alliances. With that in mind, White House political operatives might want that job to be held by a Republican, the source said. Mark Simon can be reached at (650) 299-8071, by fax at (650) 299-9208, or by email at

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