Pot Measure is Tough Sell at Cop Conference

Nov 20, 2011

John McKay, the unlikely cham­pion of mar­i­juana legal­iza­tion, joked that he was about to be fed to lions. Then he walked on stage and tried to con­vince about 130 sher­iffs and police chiefs that he was not crazy. For 90 min­utes Wednes­day, the for­mer fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor from Seat­tle blasted drug laws as failed, anti­quated poli­cies that were a lim­it­less cash machine for mur­der­ous organized-crime syn­di­cates feed­ing America’s seem­ingly bot­tom­less appetite for mar­i­juana. A few in the audi­ence — a gath­er­ing of the Wash­ing­ton Asso­ci­a­tion of Sher­iffs and Police Chiefs (WASPC) at a Lake Chelan resort — nod­ded. But mostly the pic­ture was one of frowns beneath mus­taches. In the end, the cops voted as expected: They unan­i­mously rec­om­mended rejec­tion of Ini­tia­tive 502, a mea­sure headed to the Leg­is­la­ture or to vot­ers next Novem­ber that would legal­ize, tax and reg­u­late small mar­i­juana sales sim­i­larly to alco­hol. But after lis­ten­ing to McKay and a counter-argument by Kevin Sabet, a for­mer White House drug-policy adviser, sev­eral sher­iffs and police chiefs described being squeezed between the ris­ing social accep­tance of mar­i­juana, laws ban­ning its use, and increas­ingly lim­ited law-enforcement resources. McKay said pass­ing I-502 could begin a state-based move­ment to force Con­gress into re-examining mar­i­juana laws. “It will take states to say: This is wrong, this is our state­ment,” he said. Sue Rahr, King County sher­iff and pres­i­dent of WASPC, said that type of advo­cacy can make cops uneasy. “We enforce the law, and here we are being asked to help change the law,” said Rahr, who declined to take a posi­tion in I-502. “That’s a dilemma.” Clal­lam County Sher­iff Bill Bene­dict said he’d have pre­ferred the group take no posi­tion after hear­ing McKay. “What we have is so bro­ken,” he said. “The long-term strat­egy of the DEA is, ‘Spend more money, hire more agents.’ I hope for bet­ter.” For­mer Pot Foe McKay, 55, car­ried legit­i­mate pot-busting bona fides to the debate. In his five years as the top fed­eral pros­e­cu­tor in Seat­tle, appointed by Pres­i­dent George W. Bush, McKay’s office filed charges against Canada’s “Prince of Pot” and led a case involv­ing heli­copter smug­gling of B.C. Bud that ulti­mately net­ted $2 mil­lion, a ton of mar­i­juana and at least a dozen con­vic­tions. After he was forced to resign with eight other U.S. attor­neys in a polit­i­cally moti­vated purge by the Bush admin­is­tra­tion, McKay endorsed mar­i­juana legal­iza­tion in a Seat­tle Times opin­ion piece. On Wednes­day, he reit­er­ated that he doesn’t smoke pot and “doesn’t like peo­ple very much who smoke pot.” But mar­i­juana pro­hi­bi­tion is the rea­son that British Columbia-based gangs smug­gling high-grade pot are the “dom­i­nant orga­nized crime in the North­west,” and it accounts for 40 to 60 per­cent of fund­ing for Mex­i­can car­tels, he said. Pro­hi­bi­tion also fails its objec­tive, he said. “I think it’s pretty clear that our crim­i­nal­iza­tion of mar­i­juana for the last 70 years as a vehi­cle to reduce its use is a fail­ure,” said McKay, cit­ing DEA fig­ures that 16 mil­lion Amer­i­cans reg­u­larly use it. He reminded the assem­bled cops that a sec­ond for­mer U.S. attor­ney, Kate Pflaumer, and the for­mer FBI chief in Seat­tle endorsed I-502, help­ing make it the strongest legal­iza­tion cam­paign to date. “We are putting it on your shoul­ders, to put your offi­cers out there in harm’s way, to enforce a set of crim­i­nal laws that are enor­mously inef­fec­tive,” he said. Skep­ti­cal Author­i­ties It was a tough sell. Mer­cer Island Police Chief Ed Holmes ques­tioned why the state should legal­ize a drug that only is used for impair­ment. “With mar­i­juana, there’s only one rea­son you smoke it. It’s not like it tastes good. You don’t smoke it with your burger,” he said as the audi­ence laughed. Spokane County Sher­iff Ozzie Kne­zovich said of the 244 arrests for mar­i­juana in his county so far this year, only five peo­ple spent more than 48 hours in jail. Most pot arrests were part of more seri­ous charges, he said. “For any­one to run around and tell cit­i­zens we’re keep­ing peo­ple in jail just for mar­i­juana, the data does not track,” he said. State data show at least 9,308 adults and 1,217 juve­niles were charged statewide in 2010 for mar­i­juana pos­ses­sion of less than 40 grams (about 1.4 ounces). Sabet, who worked for fed­eral drug czar and for­mer Seat­tle police Chief Gil Ker­likowske, said stud­ies show use would undoubt­edly rise with legal­iza­tion, and new mar­i­juana taxes would not cover the increased soci­etal costs. And legal­iz­ing mar­i­juana as a means to hurt Mex­i­can drug car­tels, as McKay argued, under­es­ti­mated the gangs’ sprawl­ing resources, Sabet said. “Any­one pre­sent­ing a magic all-in-one solu­tion to both reduce incar­cer­a­tion rates, solve the vio­lence in Mex­ico, cure can­cer and solve our bud­get woes, which is what many marijuana-legalization pro­po­nents are say­ing, we should be very sus­pect,” said Sabet. State’s Big Stake Cam­paign direc­tor Ali­son Hol­comb, who joined McKay in Chelan, said I-502 had about 230,000 sig­na­tures and almost cer­tainly will qual­ify for the Novem­ber 2012 bal­lot. If I-502 were to pass, the state Liquor Con­trol Board, based on fed­eral drug-use sur­veys, esti­mates that about 445,000 peo­ple — 10 per­cent of the adults over age 21 — would use mar­i­juana. The analy­sis esti­mates that 95 per­cent of users would con­sume two grams — roughly two thumb-sized buds — a week, and the remain­ing 5 per­cent of more hard-core users would smoke 2 grams a day. Based on those esti­mates, I-502 would make mar­i­juana a top-five agri­cul­tural prod­uct in Wash­ing­ton, with gross receipts of nearly $582 mil­lion, accord­ing to research by the state Leg­is­la­ture. With a 25 per­cent tax at each link of the pro­duc­tion, dis­tri­b­u­tion and retail chain, I-502 would gen­er­ate $215 mil­lion a year, with nearly two-thirds of it ear­marked for research and addic­tion pre­ven­tion. But one cop at Wednesday’s debate, who declined to give his name, said his son’s strug­gle with mar­i­juana was seri­ous enough that he had his son arrested. The young man has “straight­ened him­self out,” the cop said. “I thank good­ness it car­ries the stigma of hav­ing to be arrested, to have that hang­ing over his head,” he said. Source: Seat­tle Times (WA) Author: Jonathan Mar­tin, Seat­tle Times Staff Reporter Pub­lished: Novem­ber 16, 2011 Copy­right: 2011 The Seat­tle Times Com­pany Con­tact: opinion@​seatimes.​com Web­site: http://​www​.seat​tle​times​.com/

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