Lowest Priority Policies

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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

Voters take on pot, sick pay, minimum wage and healthcare (Los Angeles Times)

United States

Feature: Lowest Law Enforcement Priority Marijuana Initiatives Face the Voters in Five Cities

Inspired by successful local initiatives making marijuana the "lowest law enforcement priority" in Seattle and Oakland, activists in three California cities -- Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica -- are busy working to ensure that similar measures pass there in November. Similar measures are also on the ballot in Missoula, Montana, and Eureka Springs, Arkansas.

"Lowest priority initiatives are relatively cost efficient and for the most part productive," said Paul Armentano, senior policy analyst for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), some of whose local affiliates are involved in the Arkansas effort. "They are a way to tap into the sentiments of local voters, and we have certainly seen the success of similar initiatives, especially in Seattle, where their law has some teeth and has yielded a drastic reduction in local arrests. These are not necessarily just symbolic, and they put law enforcement priorities more in line with what the taxpayers prefer," he told the Chronicle.

Such initiatives typically include language like the following from the web site of Santa Monicans for Sensible Marijuana Policy, which notes that the initiative there "makes marijuana offenses, where cannabis is intended for adult personal use, the lowest police priority" and "it frees up police resources to focus on violent and serious crime, instead of arresting and jailing nonviolent cannabis users."

In at least one California community, however, the initiative language is a bit stronger. In Santa Cruz, in addition to making marijuana offenses the lowest law enforcement priority, the initiative sponsored by Sensible Santa Cruz would "establish a city policy supporting changes in state and federal laws that call for taxation and regulation for adult use of marijuana."

The Missoula initiative is a bit weaker. While it contains the standard lowest law enforcement priority language and calls for the creation of an oversight committee, it only recommends -- not mandates -- such a prioritization.

The Eureka Springs initiative (not available on the web) would modify the town's city ordinances to read: "When any law enforcement officer suspects any adult of possession of a misdemeanor amount of marijuana and/or possession of marijuana paraphernalia, that person shall not be required to post bond, suffer arrest, suffer incarceration, suffer prosecution, be taken into custody for any purpose nor detained for any reason other than the issuance of a citation. There shall be a strong presumption that the proper disposition of any such case is to suspend the imposition of sentence and/or require community service work and/or drug counseling and education." The ballot language continues by pointing out that: "The message of this ordinance is that people should not use marijuana, but should also not lose opportunities for education and employment because of such use. The limited resources of law enforcement should be directed primarily toward crimes of violence or property loss. The enforcement of laws against marijuana shall be the lowest law enforcement priority."

With the November elections now just a matter of days away, Drug War Chronicle decided to check in win initiative organizers to see how things are shaping up. In California, long-time drug reform activist Mikki Norris, a veteran of the successful Measure Z lowest priority campaign in Oakland in 2004, a member of the California Cities Campaign and an advisor to local organizers this year, told the Chronicle the Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, and Santa Monica initiatives were all in good shape, but that Santa Monica was shaping up as the most difficult challenge.

"We are getting more and more endorsements in all three cities and we've got the Democratic Party clubs in all three cities, and that's important," said Norris. "It's going to really depend on turnout on Election Day, and we still haven't seen what the opposition will do in terms of things like last-minutes mailers."

Santa Monica's changing demographics and complicated local political environment are posing a challenge to success there, said Norris. "Santa Monica has been changing in recent years, and there is now a complex politics there with the luxury hotel lobby very influential and police department that is well-regarded and strongly opposed to the initiative," she said. "Santa Monica is going to be the toughest to win," she predicted.

"We have the most contentious of the three campaigns," agreed Nickie LaRosa, who is heading up the campaign in Santa Monica. "Santa Monica is no longer super-progressive, and people are inclined to look to community leaders and the police for direction. While we have some community leaders with us, we don't have any local elected officials on our side, and the police association is against us," she told the Chronicle.

Still, LaRosa said she was "optimistic" about the initiative's chances. "We're working to do something that will have a very positive effect on the city, and we have a strong grassroots effort. We'll be doing direct mailings when it gets close to Election Day, but for many people, this issue isn't even on the radar yet. We've been laying low -- trying not to create a platform for the police to attack us. We're flying under the radar and trusting that the direct mail campaign will motivate voters who want to see a better city with fewer unsolved crimes."

Things are a bit more relaxed in Santa Cruz, where there is no organized opposition to the local initiative, said campaign coordinator Kate Horner. "We have the support of several council members and county supervisors, and we're doing quite well in terms of community support," she said. "We are very confident the voters will turn out and support this; I think it's just a question of by how much."

Victories in all three cities will send a strong message across the state, said Norris. "That will set us up in a position to go to the state legislature and say that cities across the state are voting to decriminalize and it's time to look at reducing penalties," she said. "Possession is still a misdemeanor here, and we could bring it down to an infraction. Victories in these cities should also encourage elected representatives from those areas to vote for marijuana law reform. It is time to try an alternative to current policy, and winning in November only strengthens our hand," she said.

Meanwhile, up in Montana, Missoula initiative organizers are gearing up for a final push to victory in the face of opposition from local law enforcement and youth substance abuse prevention groups. "We're dealing with the Reefer Madness mentality," said campaign spokesperson Angela Goodhope. "The cops and the substance abuse people make these outrageous claims that everybody is going to start smoking pot, but they don't have any evidence to back them up. We know that liberalizing drug laws in other places has not led to an increase in drug use."

Although initiative backers can easily rebut such claims, it is difficult to match the media access available to police, said Goodhope. "It's tough to combat them if the media just prints this stuff uncritically," she said. "They are also claiming -- falsely -- that if the initiative passes, they will lose federal funding."

But while there is organized opposition in Missoula, it is also the Montana county most likely to be friendly to a lowest priority initiative. Home to the University of Montana, the city has a reputation in the Big Sky state as a mecca of free-thinkers. According to Goodhope, activists across the state met last year after the successful statewide medical marijuana vote, analyzed the results, and found the strongest support in Missoula County.

But Goodhope is nervous as the days tick down. "I stay awake at night thinking about what we can do, what new tactic we can use, what it's going to take for us to win this," she said.

And down in Arkansas, activists affiliated with local NORML chapters have focused on the eccentric small town of Eureka Springs, another bastion of free-thinkers in a conservative state. "Eureka Springs is a special place," said Kelly Maddy of Joplin NORML just across the state line in Missouri. "We originally were aiming at Fayetteville, but when we saw we were coming up short, Eureka Springs was the natural fallback," he said.

Again, law enforcement is proving the biggest obstacle, with local police in Eureka Springs saying they will not enforce the local ordinance if it passes, but will continue to arrest people under state law. "They may not want to enforce the lowest priority law, but if it passes, it will be clear signal to police what the voters want," he said.

In about 10 days, we shall see how the political landscape has shifted and whether we will have five more communities that have essentially rejected marijuana prohibition.

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