Lowest Priority Policies

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Marijuana: California Superior Court Upholds Santa Barbara's "Lowest Enforcement Priority" Law

A California Superior Court judge Tuesday rebuffed an effort by the city of Santa Barbara to undo the city's voter-mandated policy of making the enforcement of the laws against marijuana use the city's lowest law enforcement priority. Voters approved the law, known as Measure P, last November with more than 65% of the vote, but recalcitrant city officials sued local activist Heather Poet, the initiative's proponent of record, in a bid to get the measure overturned.

The city argued that the law should be overturned because it interfered with state and federal marijuana law enforcement, but Judge Thomas Anderle disagreed, dismissing the case. "Nothing in [Measure P] prohibits enforcement of state law... Police officers can still arrest those who violate drug possession laws in their presence. The voters have simply instructed them that they have higher priority work to do," he said in his ruling. "Santa Barbara is free to decline to enforce federal criminal statutes," he added. "Indeed, the Tenth Amendment to the United States Constitution prohibits the federal government from impressing 'into its service - and at no cost to itself - the police officers of the 50 states.'"

Judge Anderle also cited California's ban on SLAPP suits, or strategic lawsuits against public participation, which bars officials from suing individuals for their political activities. Although the city claimed in court filings that it sued Poet only because it needed someone to sue to challenge the law, Anderle found that the lawsuit arose from "her constitutional right to participate in the process of formulating laws" and thus violated the SLAPP suit law.

"Today's ruling is a major victory for the democratic process and a resounding affirmation of voters' right to de-prioritize marijuana enforcement," said Adam Wolf, an attorney with the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project, which represented Poet in the proceedings and which filed the successful motion to dismiss. "The people of Santa Barbara would rather local law enforcement focus on combating serious crime than policing marijuana use. Today's ruling confirms that the voters can make this fundamentally local decision about their community's safety."

"It was terrifying to be sued by my own government, and for a fleeting moment it made me feel maybe I shouldn't have gotten involved in the democratic process," said Poet. "But this decision proves we do have a voice and we should never be afraid to use it. It also affirms that people in Santa Barbara, and throughout America, can protect their communities by having police focus on serious crime, rather than marijuana offenses."

Measure P makes "investigations, citations, arrests, property seizures, and prosecutions for adult marijuana offenses, where the marijuana was intended for adult personal use, the city of Santa Barbara's lowest law enforcement priority." At least six other California jurisdictions have enacted lowest law enforcement priority initiatives as part of a broader effort to end marijuana prohibition in the state.

Judge rejects lawsuit over pot

Santa Barbara, CA
United States
Los Angeles Times

Pot petitions seek reduced enforcement

Denver, CO
United States
The Denver Post (CO)

2006 Newsmaker Andrea Tischler: Fighting to legalize marijuana

Santa Cruz, CA
United States
Santa Cruz Sentinel (CA)

Marijuana: Lowest Priority Initiatives Coming to Maine

Maine is set to become the latest state to try passing local initiatives to make adult marijuana use the lowest law enforcement priority. A state group with affiliations with the Marijuana Policy Project, the Maine Marijuana Policy Initiative (MMPI), has submitted petitions to officials in five western Maine towns, and is already set to go to the polls in Sumner. Town meetings in Farmington, Paris, West Paris and Athens, where petitions have been delivered to local officials, may also consider the initiatives next year.

Maine campaign ad
Maine activists are starting small, but thinking big, MMPI executive director Jonathan Leavitt told the Associated Press. "The purpose of the ordinance is to let the county, state and federal government know that many people believe the marijuana laws are not working," Leavitt said.

Lowest priority initiatives have proven extremely successful since first pioneered in Seattle in 2003. Cities that have passed such initiatives now include Oakland, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica, California; as well as Columbia, Missouri; Eureka Springs, Arkansas; and Missoula, Montana.

But Farmington, Maine, Police Chief Richard Caton didn't think much of the idea. Who knows what kind of people might be attracted to town, he warned the AP. Also, the chief said, police would be caught between local and state and federal law. "A better way, if this is the sentiment of the people, is to change the state and federal laws," he said.

The Maine lowest priority ordinances would prohibit communities from accepting federal funds that would be used to enforce the marijuana laws and would require police to submit reports on the number and type of marijuana arrests to each municipality that adopts the ordinance, he said. Municipal officials would be required to notify state and federal officials they want to see marijuana taxed and regulated, not prohibited.

Lt. Hart Daley of the Oxford County Sheriff's Department didn't like the sound of that. "We still consider drug offenses on the top of the list of our priorities," Daley said.

Attitudes like Daley's are why local initiatives are only the beginning.

Marijuana: San Francisco Supervisors Approve Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Policy

The San Francisco Board of Supervisors gave final approval Tuesday for an ordinance making marijuana offenses the police department's lowest priority. The San Francisco district attorney is also directed to make prosecuting marijuana offenses her office's lowest priority. Public marijuana sales, possession by minors, and use by motorists will continue to be prosecuted.

The ordinance also creates an oversight committee through which people who feel they were wrongly targeted can seek a review of their cases. And it requires the Board of Supervisors to annually notify the state and federal governments that "the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco has passed an ordinance to deprioritize marijuana offenses by adults, and requests that the federal and California state governments take immediate steps to tax and regulate marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution and to authorize state and local communities to do the same."

The ordinance introduced by Supervisor Tom Ammiano passed 8-3.

"San Francisco should determine its marijuana policy locally, not hand it over to the federal Drug Enforcement Administration," the ordinance read. "Law enforcement resources would be better spent fighting serious and violent crimes."

San Francisco now joins Oakland, Santa Cruz, Santa Barbara, Santa Monica, and West Hollywood on the list of California cities that have embraced lowest priority ordinances. Only West Hollywood and San Francisco have adopted such an ordinance through action by elected officials; in the other cities, action came through voter initiatives. Seattle, Columbia, Missouri, Missoula, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas, have also passed such initiatives.

A panoply of state and national drug reform organizations supported the move. Among them were Drug Policy Alliance, the Marijuana Policy Project, California NORML, and a number of local drug reform groups and political clubs.

"By urging our law enforcement community to ignore adult marijuana offenses, our police officers can focus on battling the increase in serious and violent crime, much of which is ironically directly related to our failed prohibitionist approach to drugs," said Camilla Field, deputy director of the Drug Policy Alliance San Francisco office. "This vote represents one small, but significant, step toward making our communities safer."

And one more small step toward undoing the marijuana laws.

San Francisco Board of Supervisors Vote Overwhelmingly to Deprioritize Adult Marijuana Offenses; Now Officially Lowest Law Enforcement Priority

For Immediate Release: November 15, 2006 For More Info: Camilla Norman Field, tel: (415) 713-2388 San Francisco Board of Supervisors Vote Overwhelmingly to Deprioritize Adult Marijuana Offenses; Now Officially Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Measure Supported by SF Police and Drug Policy Reform Advocates SF Joins Seattle, Denver, Oakland, West Hollywood and More in Passing Measures that Free Police From Wasting Scarce Resources On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3, to approve an ordinance deprioritizing low-level marijuana offenses by adults. The decision is pending the formality of a second reading next Tuesday. With Tuesday’s approval, San Francisco has sent a clear message that our country’s marijuana laws are ripe for real reform. The county is not the first to pass such a measure. Berkeley, Seattle, Denver, Oakland, West Hollywood, and—as of last week—Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Eureka Spring, Arkansas, and Missoula, Montana, have all passed measures making marijuana the lowest priority of local law enforcement. The San Francisco legislation was sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, co-sponsored by supervisors Mirkarimi, Daly, and McGoldrick, and was supported by the San Francisco Police Department, the Public Defender’s office, and other drug policy reform organizations, including the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, California NORML, Californians for Civil Liberties, Axis of Love SF, the Harvey Milk LBGT Democratic Club, and Hempevolution.org. “There are many better ways that we can be using our tax dollars and empowering our law enforcement than wasting money and resources on marijuana offenses,” said Supervisor Ammiano in the San Francisco Chronicle. Camilla Norman Field, Deputy Director of Drug Policy Alliance San Francisco, who was deeply involved in the effort, said in response to the vote, “By urging our law enforcement community to ignore adult marijuana offenses, our police officers can focus on battling the increase in serious and violent crime, much of which is ironically directly related to our failed prohibitionist approach to drugs. This vote represents one small, but significant, step toward making our communities safer.” Similar to Oakland, West Hollywood, and Santa Cruz, this ordinance deprioritizes the investigation, citations, arrests, and property seizures for marijuana offenses by adults (including possession, distribution, and sale), with a few exceptions: driving under the influence, involving minors, on or within view of public property, and when public safety is jeopardized. The measure also creates an oversight committee that can review cases in which individuals feel they were wrongly targeted. The ordinance also directs the Board of Supervisors’ Clerk to annually notify state and federal governments that, “the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco has passed an ordinance to deprioritize marijuana offenses by adults, and requests that the federal and California state governments take immediate steps to tax and regulate marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution and to authorize state and local communities to do the same.” According to the FBI's annual Uniform Crime Report close to 800,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2005 — 88% for possession only. This number exceeds the total number of arrests in the U.S. for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. In California, over 1,400 people are in state prison serving sentences for marijuana felonies, over ten times as many as in 1980. While many feel this measure is largely symbolic and doesn’t change existing policy, Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s comments at Monday’s committee hearing that 5-10% of his caseload currently involves adults prosecuted with marijuana-related charges, demonstrates the very real need for this ordinance. “There are a range of counterproductive policies for people who are convicted of a marijuana offense,” continued Ms. Field, “Students lose federal financial aid, and families get kicked out of public housing. It is time to be ‘smart on crime,’ not ‘tough on crime’.”
United States

Eureka Springs : Victory energizes ‘pot’ law backers (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette)

United States

Election 2006: Local Marijuana Initiatives Win Across the Board

Statewide medical marijuana and marijuana legalization initiatives had a tough time at the polls on Tuesday, but it was a different story for a set of local measures that make adult marijuana possession offenses the lowest law enforcement priority. In three California cities, small-town Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and college town Missoula County, Montana, voters sent a clear message to law enforcement and local officials that they should find better things to do than persecute pot users.

Voters in Albany, California, also passed a medical marijuana initiative, Measure D, supported by Americans for Safe Access.

Tuesday's lowest law enforcement priority victories, which were funded by the Marijuana Policy Project, are the latest of a series of initiatives that started in Seattle in 2003 and now include Oakland, California, and Columbia, Missouri. In California, initiative supporters hope to use this week's victories as a springboard to either more local initiatives or statewide action in the near future.

In the Golden State, as part of the California Cities Campaign, the cities of Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica all passed lowest priority initiatives, with 65% of the vote in the first two and 64% in Santa Monica.

Sensible Santa Barbara campaign director Lara Cassell told Drug War Chonicle Thursday the group was eager to move on to implementing the new lowest priority policy. "We are looking forward to working with the police and the city council to get this up and running," she said.

But Cassell and the rest of the California Cities Campaign crew are not resting on their laurels. They are instead seeking to broaden the impact of their victories. "We are looking at the state and federal levels and we hope this will strengthen the case for reform," she said. "The voters have sent a really clear message that the drug war has failed and it is time for a new approach."

That same message was resonating -- though not quite as loudly -- in Big Sky Country. In Missoula County, Montana, the lowest priority initiative there won with 53% of the vote. Ignoring strong opposition from local law enforcement, voters in what is arguably Montana's most liberal county sent a strong signal that they, too, are looking for an alternative to the drug war, or at least marijuana prohibition.

Instead of listening to the police, a majority of Missoula voters listened to Citizens for Responsible Crime Policy, the group that proposed the measure and got it on the ballot. Led by spokesperson Angela Goodhope, the group argued that police should emphasize solving crimes that threaten people's lives and property, not those involving the use of marijuana by adults.

"We are very pleased that Missoula voters approved a clearer, safer and smarter crime policy," Goodhope told the Missoulian newspaper. Voters rejected law enforcement claims approval would result in the loss of federal anti-drug dollars, she noted. "None of the negative outcomes our opponents predicted will come true," Goodhope said. "We know that for a fact."

Meanwhile, down in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, a counterculture haven near the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, voters approved a similar lowest priority initiative with 64% of the vote. Sponsored by the Fayetteville/University of Arkansas NORML, the Eureka Springs vote marked the first rollback of marijuana prohibition in Arkansas history.

The strong showing in local races from California to Montana to Arkansas suggests that American voters are ready for more sensible marijuana policies, said National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws executive director Allen St. Pierre. "What these results tell us is that citizens strongly support reforming America's marijuana laws, but that they prefer to do so incrementally," he said. "These successes on the municipal level, once again, affirm that a majority of US citizens don't want adults who use marijuana responsibly to face arrest or jail, and they do not want their tax dollars spent on policies that prioritize targeting and prosecuting marijuana offenders."

Missoula OKs initiative relaxing enforcement of marijuana laws (Helena Independent Record, MT)

United States

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