Marijuana measure on Nov. 2 ballot

July 21, 2004

Bruce Gerstman, The Montclarion

The Oakland City Council approved a measure for the Nov. 2 ballot that would make marijuana use the lowest priority for the city's law enforcement officers.

Advocates of the measure say the law could reduce crime while raising and saving tax money. Critics, though, argue that the law is difficult to enforce and could lead to more youths being exposed to hard drugs.

Council members voted 6 to 2 on Tuesday to place the measure on the ballot, once the City Attorney's Office confirms the measure's language. Council members Larry Reid (District 7-East Oakland) and Henry Change (at large) voted against it, while council members representing some hills neighborhoods -- Jane Brunner, Jean Quan, Desley Brooks and Danny Wan voted for it -- along with Nancy Nadel (West Oakland).

If Oakland voters approve the law in November, the city would enforce it in two phases. First, Oakland police would treat private marijuana use as the department's lowest priority. And the city would set up an oversight committee to oversee this process.

Then, the city would lobby the state legislature to legalize private marijuana use for adults 21 and over, and to give local governments the option of levying a sales tax and issuing business licenses to stores that sell marijuana.

But making marijuana available for nonmedicinal purposes is a bad idea, said councilman Larry Reid.

'If you believe violence associated with marijuana is going to go away, you're crazy,' he said. 'I can't in good conscience support this initiative.'

Advocates of the ballot measure say that taxing marijuana sales would bring money to the city and save money now spent on the enforcement of marijuana laws. Regulating marijuana use could reduce public expenses that come from long-term incarceration, according to the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, the group that acquired more than 32,000 signatures in the hills and other parts of Oakland in order to place the measure on the ballot.

'I'm happy to see that it's on the ballot,' said Judy Appel, acting director of the Drug Policy Alliance. 'It's a really important next step for Oakland making this policy decision. Oakland residents want this.'

However, changing cannabis-related laws at the city level is purely symbolic, said White House Office of National Drug Control Policy spokesman Tom Riley. He said that as cities modify their local laws on drug enforcement, federal laws against marijuana still supersede them.

Riley added that the potency of cannabis is stronger today than it was 20 years ago and that it is no longer a 'soft' drug.

'(The ballot measure) perpetuates the myth that marijuana is not a dangerous drug,' he said.

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