California and National Elections

Oakland Pot Measure Blazes Toward Victory

Updated 11/03/04 12:25 PM
OAKLAND – Designed as a blueprint for legalizing marijuana throughout the state, a city ballot measure requiring Oakland law enforcement agencies to treat illegal possession of the drug as the “lowest priority” won a decisive victory on Tuesday.

Measure Z, the Oakland Cannabis Initiative, received 64 percent of the vote with all the city’s 257 precincts reporting.

About 100 people gathered in downtown Oakland at the Bulldog Coffee Shop, headquarters for the campaign on election night to cheer as more precincts began reporting.

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Dale Gieringer (right) of California NORML, and Richard Lee, Owner of the Bull Dog Cafe discuss election results.
Photo credit: Nicole Hill

Although the measure calls for police to all but ignore illegal marijuana use by adults, opponents said police already considered marijuana enforcement as its lowest priority.

“It orders the police to do something they’ve already done,” said Gil Duran, press aide for Mayor Jerry Brown. “It’s a symbolic measure that doesn’t really do anything.”

Co-author of the initiative Joe DeVries, however, said it would prevent thousands of people from being arrested in the coming years, claiming law enforcement still aggressively arrests people for possessing marijuana.

The measure requires Oakland crime agencies to curtail investigations, citations and arrests for marijuana offenses. It does not change law enforcement policies toward minors or marijuana sellers.

As a catalyst to change state laws criminalizing marijuana, the measure includes a provision for the city to tax and regulate sales of the drug if it’s legalized, an ideological shift DeVries says the measure takes a step toward.

“It’s an evolution of slow, incremental changes,” he said. “It’s setting the whole ball in motion.”

Another provision would require the city to lobby for changes in state laws, insisting that cities and counties should have regulatory control over marijuana.

City Attorney John Russo has called both provisions “unconstitutional” because they don’t enact laws, a requirement for a measure.

The measure would require the city’s law enforcement officials to pursue more “serious crimes,” a move that proponents say would alleviate crowded jails, used improperly to imprison nonviolent offenders for marijuana-related crimes.

Opponents of the measure argue it would create additional conflict in neighborhoods already plagued by drug-related crimes. They fear that emboldened dealers would flood city streets with drugs and incite additional crimes, making Oakland a magnet for drug users and pushers.

But nothing in the measure would limit the city from arresting citing and investigating as long as it’s consistent with the “lowest priority” for law enforcement, Russo said.

Claiming the government has lost the war on drugs, the Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance, the political action committee formed to sponsor the measure, sought to persuade voters before the election.

Without organized opposition to the measure, the committee has dominated the campaign, embarking upon a grass-roots effort to sway the electorate by mailing political pamphlets and calling 10,000 voters, said campaign consultant Susan Stephenson.

The Oakland Civil Liberties Alliance raised $168,062 by mid-October.

Mayor Jerry Brown, Oakland City Councilman Danny Wan, and Councilman Larry Reid are among those who oppose the measure.

Alameda County supervisors Nate Miley and Keith Carson; and Oakland City Council members Nancy Nadel and Desley Brooks have endorsed it.

Measure Z began as an initiative signed by 23,000 Oakland voters, according to a campaign statement.