Until It’s Legal, County Will Enforce Cannabis – May 5, 2010

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Daniel Mintz

Eye Correspondent

HUMBOLDT – County officials have said that federal money for marijuana eradication is of value to the community and the enforcement it buys will continue to be necessary even if marijuana is legalized.

At its April 20 meeting, the Board of Supervisors unanimously voted to accept a $170,000 grant from the federal Drug Enforcement Agency to help pay for the county’s marijuana law enforcement efforts. The grant covers a year that will include a statewide vote on whether to legalize, regulate and tax marijuana.

Sheriff Gary Philp said that if the marijuana legalization measure passes this November, police agencies will still have a role. And he likened legalization to the current situation with medical marijuana.

“(The measure) is very specific, that it will be up to the counties and cities to define what the laws are,” Philp said. “That kind of puts us in the position we’re at right here today – although it could become legalized, it would have limitations on its use.”

Those restrictions apply to the age of users and quantity limits, Philp continued, and “the manner in which it’s grown and transported would be left up to cities and counties to define and that could be kind of confusing, if everybody chose to do something a little differently.”

Philp emphasized that he sees his office as an enforcer of state law, not federal law. “But we certainly don’t believe, even if the initiative passes in November, that all of the legalization issues are going to be resolved – there’s still going to be criminal issues out there,” he said.

“Cartel issues,” export to states where marijuana is illegal and “issues with violence” were mentioned by Philp as concerns that will linger even if the state legalizes. “These funds help us deal with those legal issues and also the crimes related to it,” he said.

Supervisor Mark Lovelace said that activities like growing marijuana in federal parks and privately-owned forestlands would demand a law enforcement response even if marijuana is legal.

But during public comment, Tad Robinson said an ongoing war on drugs has largely targeted marijuana – and a cease-fire is long overdue. “You guys have always had the ability to say, ‘Hey, as far as funding goes – zero, as far as priority goes – zero,’” he told supervisors. “And you’ve never done that.”

Robinson added, “You’ve always dumped it back on us, and even when it becomes legal there’s going to be ‘illegal’ involved in it.”

Lovelace countered that taking the grant is justified and will continue to be. He reiterated his earlier point about marijuana growing that involves trespassing. He also said continued enforcement will be necessary because of the “environmental harm” wrought by sloppy growers.

“I’m well aware that a lot of these grows are not exactly being environmentally sensitive in the amount of rodenticides that are being dumped on properties, the amount of dead wildlife that is found in conjunction with them, and the toxics and pesticides and herbicides that are being dumped into streams,” Lovelace continued.

He said there’s a “tremendous amount of illegal activity” related to marijuana growing and “that will remain the case.”

Later in the meeting, Lovelace, who is on the Marijuana Task Force of the California State Association of Counties (CSAC), reported on the taxation, consumption and price aspects of legalization.

Lovelace talked about the analysis of the state’s Board of Equalization (BOE), which was presented at an Assembly hearing last October. The BOE projects that the total revenue increase from a $50 per ounce marijuana tax could reach $1.4 billion.

If legalized, the price of marijuana could drop by 50 percent, significantly driving up consumption. But the added tax would offset that and the BOE is predicting a 24 percent ultimate increase in marijuana use.

“All of this is based on huge assumptions,” said Lovelace. He also said that at a CSAC meeting the previous week, a representative of the California Police Chiefs Association said the police group is opposed to legalization and is also “hoping to mount an effort to overturn Prop. 215.”

Lovelace said CSAC will eventually take a stance on the legalization initiative.