California and National Elections

Oakland Marijuana Measure in the Bag

Updated 11/03/04 12:32 PM
OAKLAND –Oakland voters easily approved Proposition Z, an attempt to legalize marijuana use in the city.

With all 257 precincts reporting, the ballot measure won 64 percent of city vote, while 36 percent were opposed.

Marijuana reform advocates declared their victory as they partied with friends at the Bull Dog Café, a former medical marijuana dispensary.

Measure Z will likely make adult recreational marijuana use, cultivation and sales the lowest law enforcement priority -- a measure police and city officials called an unenforceable waste of time.

Measure Z would take the city a step past the legalization of marijuana for medical use that was approved by California voters in 1996.

More than 30,000 Oakland residents signed petitions to put Measure Z on the ballot. It asks Oakland Police to put all other criminal activity before the prosecution of pot users, requests city officials to advocate legalization of adult marijuana use statewide and establish licensing and taxation of marijuana sales, if state law is ever changed to allow such commerce.

“I don’t know what they were smoking when they wrote this,” said Gil Duran, an aide to Mayor Jerry Brown, who is considering a run for state attorney general. “We might as well pass an ordinance to go to the moon even though we don’t have a rocket ship.”

The city attorney’s office has said two portions of this measure are unconstitutional – the lobbying provision, and the requirement that the city tax marijuana sales when it becomes legal in the state to do so.

But Joe DeVries, manager of Yes on Measure Z, says having a system of taxation already in place is a way of telling the state that Oakland is ready to go of marijuana is decriminalized in California.

He adds marijuana is the most widely used drug in America. “If you stop marijuana prohibition you stop the whole drug war,” he says. Measure Z he said, is modeled after legislation passed in Mendocino County and in Seattle, which the Seattle Times has called “effective.” Seattle’s measure excludes marijuana sales and Measure Z does not, however.

Bob Valladon, president of the Oakland Police Officer Association, Bob said it’s unclear what the authors of this measure mean by making pot use the “lowest priority,” and would not change the way police treat drug users.

“A city council member can’t tell me not to enforce the law,” Valladon said, “When I find that a city council member or anyone else is smoking weed, I’m going to arrest them.”

Supporters like City Council members Desley Brooks and Nate Miley endorsed Measure Z whose backers argue police should ignore non-violent adult marijuana smokers to focus on arresting murderers and other violent criminals. Oakland has the third-highest homicide rate in the state in 2003, according to the FBI.

But some say police already make marijuana offenses a low priority.

There were 564 marijuana-associated arrests in 2003 out of 4,267 total drug arrests, and very few of those arrests were made in private homes, Oakland Police told the Oakland Tribune.

Medical marijuana dispensaries, however, have taken some heat from local city officials. With only two dispensaries left standing in Oakland, Nikos Leverenz, policy analyst for the Drug Policy Alliance, says making marijuana use the lowest law enforcement priority would “reduce the fear and paranoia of medical marijuana users who have to go out on the black market to get their medicine.”