By Sam Laird
Weed. The city of Santa Cruz is poised to legalize it.Well, almost.If voters pass Measure K on Nov. 7, the Santa Cruz Police Department will be required to officially make state and federal laws regarding the distribution, sale, growing, or use of marijuana on private property its lowest law enforcement priority."This is an expression of community sentiment, of what we want police officers’ priorities to be," said Craig Reinarman, UC Santa Cruz Sociology Professor and co-author Crack in America: Demon Drugs and Social Justice.Measure K, which required the signatures of 6,000 local residents to get on the ballot, would not apply to the distribution or sale of marijuana to minors, the use, sale, or growing of marijuana on public property, or driving under the influence of the drug. In addition, a Community Oversight Committee would be appointed to watch over the ordinance’s implementation and keep track of marijuana law enforcement in the city. The committee would be authorized to require individual police officers to provide marijuana law enforcement information within seven days of a citation.Although the two issues are often confused, Measure K would have no effect on the use of medicinal marijuana. Backers of the ordinance argue that it will distance Santa Cruz from the federal war on marijuana, allowing police to focus on more serious and violent crimes while also giving a break to otherwise law-abiding citizens who use the drug recreationally.Opponents of the measure contend that marijuana is already a low concern of law enforcement officials, though drug use among local youth is currently higher than national and state averages. Critics also say that Measure K would put police officers sworn to uphold state law at conflict with local law and would make Santa Cruz a popular destination for marijuana growers and drug dealers."Some people say that marijuana is already a low priority for police," said proponent Kate Horner, campaign coordinator for Santa Cruz Citizens for Sensible Marijuana Policy. "If that’s the case, we don’t see the problem with making it official.""This will free up police and courts to focus on violent and serious crimes," continued Horner, adding that only 25 percent of rapes and 50 percent of violent assaults in Santa Cruz were solved last year.Others feel that Measure K will have a detrimental effect on the police department."If people want to change the laws of what is criminal and not criminal, they need to change the laws, not tell the police how to enforce the laws," said Mary Lou Goeke, director of the United Way of Santa Cruz County.Goeke also expressed reservations regarding the effect of the Oversight Committee on city funding and police resources."The police would have to hire a new analyst to deal with the Oversight Committee, file reports for the Oversight Committee, and look at whether or not officers made marijuana their lowest priority," Goeke said. "It’s a big bureaucracy, and that’s not the right approach to take."Lieutenant Steve Clark of the Santa Cruz Police Department agrees with Goeke, saying that the ordinance "is attacking the issue by attacking law enforcement. We don’t legislate or decide what is legal and illegal.""With Measure K, someone could sue an officer who wrote them a ticket for smoking a joint unless the officer could prove that there was absolutely nothing else they could have been dealing with at the time," Clark said."Clearly we don’t go around looking to sniff out joint smokers," Clark added. "Oftentimes, the enforcement of marijuana becomes a vehicle for addressing another problem, for example an individual downtown selling marijuana to support a heroin habit." Additionally, many opponents, including City Councilmember Ed Porter, worry about the impact of Measure K on Santa Cruz’s reputation and who it will attract to the city."I’m not interested in Santa Cruz being known as the place where you can go get stoned and grow and sell marijuana," Porter said. "As a high school teacher, I can say that there are already enough kids coming to school stoned without it becoming easier to get." Nevertheless, proponents of Measure K downplay anxieties over the drug and maintain the sensibility of passing the measure."Marijuana is far less harmful and addicting than alcohol and tobacco, and there is no violence associated with it," Professor Reinarman said. "The drug war machine has created all kinds of chemical bogeymen and made people very afraid, but marijuana is not a dangerous drug and never has been."