By Daniel Correia
Santa Cruz voters passed Measure K in November 2006, officially making marijuana law enforcement the Santa Cruz Police Department’s (SCPD) lowest priority. But more than three months later the SCPD says that the ordinance hasn’t affected day-to-day law enforcement.
“There has been no change operationally since the implementation [of Measure K],” said SCPD Spokesperson Zach Friend. “And when we reviewed the 266 cases of marijuana citations for 2005, none would have applied to Measure K.”
Measure K doesn’t affect instances of driving under the influence of the drug, crimes dealing with minors, or sales on public property. According to Friend, the majority of marijuana citations are the result of searches performed for a different reason.
“It’s important to note that the police department already prioritizes its calls,” Friend said. “Private marijuana usage in a home—the police department really has no interest or time to deal with those calls.”
Measure K also mandates a special oversight committee made up of community volunteers picked by the Santa Cruz City Council. The committee is responsible for reviewing case grievances, summoning police officers to hearings, and organizing summary reports tracking marijuana-related crimes.
“The purpose of the oversight committee is to be able to track the changes,” said Kate Horner of the organization Santa Cruz Citizens for Sensible Marijuana Policy. “The intended effect of Measure K is to limit the amount of resources being used up with marijuana crimes and the committee will allow us to see whether that’s true.”
However, city leaders are worried about the added costs and hassles of an oversight committee for a law that has had little effect on police operations. Assistant City Manager Martin Bernal estimated expenses between $50,000 and $60,000 to pay a new city employee to be present at all the semi-annual committee meetings and act as a liaison to the city.
“It’s one more job for city staff to do,” said City Attorney John Barisone. “Every time you have a committee, you have to have a city employee present and you either hire more staff or certain tasks that were being done previously need to be done less or not at all.”
City officials are taking their struggle with Measure K to court, hoping to strip the oversight committee of some of its powers that, according to Barisone, conflict with laws stated in the town charter.
“In the [town] charter it’s prohibited to give direct orders to city employees and we don’t want to expose the committee members to litigation,” Barisone said. “[The committee] has the ability to require police to fill out forms, they’re authorized to have police explain their conduct, and it requires the District Attorney to send someone to the committee meetings and they just can’t do that under our charter.”
The committee has yet to be formed, but its members are expected to be chosen sometime in March, as stated by Measure K. Barisone, however, emphasized that the language of the ordinance needs to be cleared up.
“We’re going to court to ask for their interpretation,” Barisone said. “We don’t want to create a situation of legal uncertainty.”