At least 60 students and local marijuana legalization activists, as well as a man with a “Will Work for Marijuana” sign, held session in downtown Santa Barbara yesterday to discuss a proposition that would make marijuana-related offenses the lowest priority for Santa Barbara city police.
Sensible Santa Barbara, a committee formed by the UCSB chapter of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws (NORML), met at 2:30 p.m. in the Santa Barbara Public Library to discuss the proposition. Ethan Kravitz, chair of Sensible Santa Barbara and NORML co-chair, said the proposition calls for Santa Barbara city law enforcement to officially treat marijuana possession and use by adults as a less serious offense than other crimes. Sensible Santa Barbara is currently circulating a petition to place the proposition on the city’s November ballot and needs 10,000 signatures before May 15, he said.
Heather Poet, a third-year film major at UCSB, said she supports the initiative because it calls for increased police accountability. If the proposition passes, officers would be required to submit a report any time they catch an adult with marijuana for personal use.
“[The proposition aims to] make sure that any time there is an arrest made, the officers have to account for that. … and have to be judged for that,” Poet said.
Lauren Vazquez, founder of the UCSB chapter of NORML, said Mayor Marty Blum has agreed to appoint a committee to oversee police enforcement of marijuana laws, should the proposition pass.
Poet said she thinks the proposition will help people who use marijuana for medical reasons because it would make it harder for the police to investigate them.
“It makes it so that innocent medicinal marijuana patients here in Santa Barbara aren’t being manipulated or abused in any way,” Poet said.
Mickey Norris, a consultant for the campaign, said proposition supporters argue that the initiative would save the Santa Barbara Police Dept. money and would give the police more time to focus on violent crimes.
“The police should not be wasting their time and resources on non-violent marijuana users,” Norris said.
Norris said she is also working as a consultant for three similar initiatives in West Hollywood, Santa Monica and Santa Cruz. All of the propositions are based on similar laws that recently passed in Oakland, Seattle and Denver.
“We are optimistic that if we can get this on the ballot, it will pass,” Norris said.
Norris and other speakers at the event reiterated that the proposition is only the first step toward the decriminalization of marijuana in the city of Santa Barbara and the state. She said NORML hopes to have a statewide initiative to make marijuana a lowest priority crime on the 2008 ballot.
In the weeks leading up to the deadline, NORML members will table in front of the UCen and Arbor to collect signatures. The petition can only be signed by Santa Barbara city residents, so members of other communities like Isla Vista cannot sign it. Vazquez said NORML members are urging students who live on-campus to sign the petition, since UCSB is on city land.
Kelly Devecchio, a first-year UCSB student who lives in Francisco Torres, said she attended the event to support the proposition.
“I believe that marijuana smokers should not be punished for pretty much chillin’,” Devecchio said.
As of press time, the Santa Barbara Police Dept. could not be reached for comment.