With an initiative on the ballot to make pot possession a “lowest-priority” crime in Santa Barbara, the city’s weed smokers will have to clear their foggy memories and remember to vote in November’s upcoming election.
Measure P, an initiative for the City of Santa Barbara on Nov. 7’s election ballot, would make adult marijuana possession intended for personal use legally equivalent to jaywalking and minor traffic violations. Santa Barbara Mayor Marty Blum, who does not support the measure, said she believes it will pass – despite opposition from the Santa Barbara Police Dept. – because of strong support from the public.
If the proposition passes, Blum will create a committee to monitor all police activity involving marijuana citations. The committee would require a written report from officers for all such incidents, and would be in charge of ensuring that the laws applicable to lowest-priority crimes are enforced.
SBPD Spokesman Lt. Paul McCaffrey said the measure is a mistake and will interfere with the department’s ability to catch drug dealers. McCaffrey said he believes that if the measure passes, the committee will punish officers dealing with marijuana issues, which could in turn make public use of marijuana more widespread.
“I think if the law passes it’s going to be a problem for a lot of people; it’s going to be less safe,” McCaffrey said. “I think more people will be using marijuana in situations that you don’t really want them to.”
Officers are also arguing that the measure is unnecessary because the SBPD already places very little emphasis on catching adults with small quantities of marijuana. McCaffrey also said the current citation for possessing small amounts of the plant is close to the price of a moving vehicle violation.
“The language [on the Measure] doesn’t take into consideration how much of a priority marijuana enforcement is right now,” McCaffrey said.
Though Blum has been a supporter of medicinal marijuana in the past, she said she does not support the upcoming measure. She said the law is unnecessary because the police already treat marijuana possession as a low-priority crime. Blum said, if anything, the law would inhibit the SBPD’s ability to fight drug dealing.
“What is the problem we’re trying to solve [with this measure]?” Blum said.
One of Santa Barbara’s public officials, a number of citizens, and groups of UCSB students have expressed support for the measure.
Lara Cassell, the campaign coordinator manager for Measure P, said SBPD’s fears are unfounded because the measure would not prevent officers from arresting individuals or prosecuting them. Instead, the oversight committee would help citizens who feel they have been unjustly arrested by the SBPD for marijuana incidents, she said.
“This doesn’t tie the police’s hands in any way,” Cassell said. “The measure is actually only for adult marijuana offenses where the intention is for adult use.”
According to a poll conducted by Sensible Santa Barbara, an organization created to support Measure P, the majority of the city’s population supports the initiative.
City Councilman Das Williams said he supports the proposition because he thinks there are more important things for police to pursue, citing the growing use of methamphetamine in Santa Barbara. Williams also said the measure would allow the SBPD to enforce marijuana laws based on specific situations.
“If you look at the measure and how it basically says you still can enforce the intent to sell, that still gives the police the discretion to enforce marijuana laws,” Williams said.
Ethan Kravitz, a fourth-year computer engineering major and chair of Sensible Santa Barbara, said most UCSB students will not be able to vote for the measure, because it applies only to residents of Santa Barbara. Despite this, the initiative is a popular topic on campus, Kravitz said.
Kravitz said members of UCSB’s chapter of the National Organization for the Reformation of Marijuana Laws petitioned Santa Barbara city residents for signatures to support the measure.
“The whole population’s been really supportive; very few people said anything negative,” Kravitz said. “Most people signed it or were upset that they couldn’t sign it.”
Local supporters and members of the UCSB chapter of NORML collected 10,000 signatures in order to place the measure on the ballot, Kravitz said. Measure P is based on similar laws passed in the cities of Seattle and Denver, and similar measures are currently under consideration by residents of Santa Cruz and Santa Monica, Calif.