Los Angeles County Sheriff, Lee Baca, held a news conference on Friday to let the voters of Los Angeles know that he and his deputies will continue to enforce the current marijuana laws even if Proposition 19 passes and Californian voters make marijuana legal for all adults.
He also adds that he doesn’t think that it will pass. He used a letter sent to nine former chiefs of the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration by Attorney General, Eric Holder last week to strengthen his claims. Attorney General Holder’s letter went public the day after it was sent. In it he vowed to vigorously enforce drug laws when it came to recreational use of marijuana, regardless of the outcome of proposition 19.
When asked if he had ever tried marijuana, Baca (pictured) answered an unequivocal “Hell no”. He said that legalizing marijuana would increase the cost of drug rehabilitation, cause traffic accidents and force employers to battle with employees getting high on the job. He also claimed that legalizing marijuana would provide a safe cover for drug cartels selling harder narcotics. He said that Californians using less than an ounce in their homes were already a non-priority for his department, but said they would continue to target dealers. He said that local law enforcement agencies should go by federal drug laws that prohibit cannabis. On the chance that prop 19 does pass, he reiterated that it would have no effect on what his department does.
Sheriff Baca was joined in the new conference by Los Angeles County District Attorney, Steve Cooley who is a candidate for California’s Attorney General. Sheriff Lee Baca has worked closely with Los Angeles County District Attorney Steve Cooley who is the Republican candidate for California’s Attorney General. Cooley has already made it very clear how he feels about Proposition 19. As the LA District Attorney, Cooley worked with Sheriff Baca to tirelessly badger the LA city council to outright ban any medical marijuana dispensaries.
But if you don’t want Steve Cooley for California’s Attorney General, his opponent, Democrat Kamala Harris, has a similar stand on Proposition 19 and legalizing marijuana in general. Paul Armentano, the deputy director of NORML wrote a piece for the LA Times last week that says it doesn’t matter which candidate wins the race for California’s attorney general, they will have to respect the outcome of the election gracefully.
At a debate between the two a few weeks ago neither Harris or Cooley would state whether they would, as attorney general, enforce and defend proposition 19. Harris answered the question in a rambling quest to let lawyers do her dirty work saying, “I believe that if it were to pass, it would be incumbent on the attorney general to convene her top lawyers and the experts on constitutional law to do a full analysis of the constitutionality of that measure … and what action, if any, should follow.” Cooley had a less ambiguous answer about the measure saying about it, “I really am strongly opposed to Proposition 19 for many reasons. I would be inclined to advise that it is unconstitutional and preempted by federal law.”
Armentano points out in his article that given the attorney general is sworn to uphold all of the laws of the state, not just the ones that he or she supports and agrees with, both candidates responses to the question were disconcerting. Both candidates personal biases against marijuana legalization could compromise their ability to objectively carry out their duties as the attorney general. Voters pay for enforcing these criminal policies with their tax dollars, and should have a say. But even if Proposition 19 fails to pass in the election in November, California’s next attorney general will have to face the issue head on. With national and state surveys showing a steadily increasing public support for legalization from less than 20% in the late 1980s to almost 50% today, and support nearing 60% on the West coast, voters are only likely to offer more support to a similar measure in a future election. Armentano piece has this thought provoking question; “If a government’s legitimate use of state power is based on the consent of the governed, then at what point does marijuana prohibition — in particular the federal enforcement of prohibition — become illegitimate public policy? Whoever is California’s next attorney general will need to answer that question objectively.