The drug war soldiers on - Page 3

Why Tom Ammiano's well-meaning marijuana ordinance hasn't tamed the cops

Under Proposition 215, passed by voters more than 10 years ago, you still don't need a license to prove to officers you're a cannabis patient, a fact Woo from the DA's Office didn't seem fully aware of during our interview. San Francisco state assemblymember Mark Leno simply created the license system in 2003 to encourage law enforcement to stay off your back with the right paperwork.

So despite each of California's awkward lurches toward decriminalization, without a complete, aboveground regulatory scheme, users still exist in a form of criminal purgatory, and demand for cannabis still spills onto the street. The most anyone can pray for is being confronted by a cop who happens to be in a good mood that day.

"It still comes down to the discretion of the cop," Ammiano told us.

His law nonetheless quietly represents something that few other decriminalization efforts have in the past: its premise does not hinge on the notion that cannabis possesses medicinal qualities. It simply says taxpayers are weary of spending $150 million statewide each year enforcing marijuana laws and clogging courts, jails, and the probation system with offenders.

The ordinance also includes the formation of a community oversight committee composed of civil liberties and medical cannabis advocates. They'll be responsible for compiling arrest rates and obtaining complaints from civilians in the city who believe they've been unfairly accosted by officers.

"I think [the department] would be more likely to take it seriously if they received a lot of complaints about what they're doing," said Mira Ingram, a cannabis patient and committee appointee. "So I'm hoping with this committee, we'll be able to bring all of this stuff out and be a sounding board for people who have problems with [police]."

Ammiano's office told us the ordinance simply codifies what was already the prevailing attitude in the SFPD's narcotics unit. But it remains doubtful as to how far the cannabis committee could go in forcing fundamental changes in department culture, especially considering the committee couldn't punish officers for vioutf8g the lowest-priority law or even for refusing to provide detailed information about individual cases.

"Until we can change that culture, it's not going to go away," admits Michael Goldstein, another committee appointee. "It would be my hope that ... eventually we would have some empowerment to forestall and limit what they do in that regard. But you understand what it takes to completely transform an organization like that. It ain't gonna happen. I've been around [San Francisco] for 30 years."

While Delagnes told us that he's not altogether opposed to the idea of repealing prohibition, the SFPOA has attacked local officials who publicly support cannabis users, a signal that even after an entrenched, decades-long war against narcotics, the Police Department may be a long way from making marijuana a truly low priority.

Police commissioner David Campos, an aspirant to the District 9 supervisor seat now held by Ammiano, drew fire from the SFPOA when he recently criticized a regular antagonist of the city's medical marijuana dispensaries, an SFPD sergeant and particularly aggressive drug cop named Marty Halloran.

"Commissioner Campos said Marty Halloran has no business being a police officer," Delagnes angrily told the commission in April. "Oh really? Well, for someone who has obviously dealt with this situation with a complete lack of integrity and has failed to act in a fair, impartial, and objective manner, I believe the opposite is true of Mr. Campos, and perhaps you should not be sitting on this commission."

Does that sound like an end to prohibition looms?

For Luce, the most alarming recent trend is officers finding a homeless street addict as a hook to direct them toward a more prominent dealer.

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