Politics Before Public Safety

As I watched the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on the conflict between federal and state marijuana laws Tuesday, I was struck by the open and honest testimony of a sitting, elected sheriff, John Urquhart, who identified a longstanding issue in law enforcement: that of hubris. Sheriff Urquhart posited:

"We -- the government -- have failed the people and now they want to try something else. Too often the attitude of the police is 'We're the cops and you're not. Don't tell us how to do our job.' That is the wrong attitude and I refuse to fall into that trap."

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a group of law enforcement officials opposed to the drug war, of which I am a board member, has stated that one of the failures of the drug war is the loss of respect between the police and the communities we have sworn to protect. Simply put, leaders from many law enforcement agencies continue to take the attitude that when it comes to the implementation of the will of the people, it can and should be ignored.

The story of the battle between the will of the voters as expressed through California's Proposition 215, the measure to legalize medical marijuana, and law enforcement organizations is long. This week another chapter was introduced with twin bills in the California Assembly (AB 604) and the Senate (SB 69) that have been designed by legislative leadership to address the lack of clarity surrounding medical marijuana. The statutory language of these bills was designed to be consistent with the Department of Justice's newly announced policy and addressed many of the complaints voiced by law enforcement leaders over previous bills.

Despite the growing support among legislators and the public, law enforcement organizations such as the California Police Chiefs Association and the California Narcotic Officers' Association continue to oppose the bills, even though the bills were crafted to respond to concerns they had expressed in the past. For example, these versions now include language requested by law enforcement groups requiring providers to comply with appropriate environmental, security, and local land use regulations that would undercut the illicit market for criminal traffickers, rogue operators, and bootleg growers on public lands.

More importantly, it allows localities to ban dispensaries, the lack of which was one of the chief criticisms of past bills made by CPCA and CNOA's joint lobbyist John Lovell. The new bills say quite clearly that all bans implemented by local government will be respected. If a city does not want dispensaries, they can ban them.

With the introduction of the two bills, retired LAPD Deputy Chief and fellow LEAP board member Stephen Downing reached out to the President of CPCA, Chief Kim Raney, who stated in the Sacramento Bee that "we stand ready to work with the legislature to compose a bill that addresses these concerns while meeting the needs of legitimate medical marijuana users." He hoped to extend an olive branch between patients and law enforcement by offering to broker a meeting between the CPCA and American for Safe Access, the nation's largest medical marijuana patient advocacy organization. His hope was that each side would be able to bridge the politics and address the concerns that have played out in the Capitol on both sides of the aisle.

The results of his outreach were predictable: The CPCA not only refuses to support the bill revised to meet their needs, it simply ignored the request to meet with ASA. Clearly, Chief Raney in correspondence shows exactly the opposite of the values displayed by Sheriff Urquhart at Tuesday's hearing. The disconnect between the CPCA and the Sheriff reflects our police leaders' unwillingness to humbly listen to and work with the people. The values displayed by the Sheriff reflect the belief that police are peace officers in service of others, not politicians more concerned with their own ideological view. It is this intransigence that reflects badly on the law enforcement profession and validates that the Chiefs continue to places politics before public safety and safe access for patients.

Lieutenant Commander Diane Goldstein (Ret.), board member of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, a group of 100,000 law enforcement officials and other supporters opposed to the war on drugs.