Sunday, March 12, 2006

Marijuana Advocates Push for Less Enforcement in Ballot Initiative


Santa Cruz - Smoking a recreational joint at home should more or less be legal for adults in Santa Cruz, says a local marijuana advocacy group that's pushing for a new city ordinance that would make marijuana offenses the lowest enforcement priority for police.

Santa Cruz Citizens for Sensible Marijuana Policy plans to kick off its campaign Saturday to gather at least 5,000 signatures for a petition that would also require the city to lobby for legalizing marijuana on state and federal levels.

"There is great opposition to the drug war the way it is being done," campaign coordinator Andrea Tischler said today. "Many believe the drug war is a failure and those who use marijuana should not be criminalized."

Instead, police resources should go toward fighting "more serious and violent crimes," Tischler said.

"The money they spend investigating marijuana crimes is money misspent," she said.

Last year, police made more than 100 marijuana-related arrests, Tischler said.

Santa Cruz police did not return calls seeking comment today. A call to the Santa Cruz city attorney was not immediately returned.

By adopting the city policy, which would also support a "tax and regulate" approach to marijuana use, advocates hope the grassroots effort will eventually balloon into a statewide initiative, making marijuana purchases as legal as buying alcohol or tobacco, Tischler said.

The policy would also create a seven-member oversight committee, comprised of city council appointees, two Santa Cruz County District Attorney representatives and a policeman. The oversight committee would track marijuana arrests and address grievances brought to the committee by citizens.

"The committee would ask police to provide information about the reason the police officer gave the citation and arrested the individual," Tischler said.

She noted, however, that it'd be up to the city council to take action if the committee finds that the police department is not abiding by the policy.

A telephone poll conducted last October that questioned 400 registered voters in Santa Cruz found that 82 percent "agreed or somewhat agreed" that using marijuana should not be a crime for adults, Tischler said.

"That really encouraged us to (try to) put the initiative on the ballot," Tischler said.

Oakland voters also inspired the initiative by overwhelmingly passing Measure Z in 2004. That measure made marijuana-related crimes a low priority for police, following concerns that police enforcement was taking away tax dollars from social programs.

If placed on the ballot and passed by voters, the city ordinance would conflict with state law, which permits medical marijuana use only. Federal law still prohibits marijuana use for any purpose.

The policy would not protect minors smoking marijuana, individuals selling marijuana to minors nor use in public places.

So far, Tischler said more than 1,000 people have signed the petition.

At least 10 percent (3,423) of the city's 34,228 voters must sign the petition before the April 20 deadline to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

The campaign kick-off will be held in room 6 at the Louden Nelson Community Center, located at 301 Center St. in downtown Santa Cruz, starting at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.


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