In what would appear to be a surprising action, Contra Costa District Attorney Mark Peterson sent a letter dated July 25th to the City Council of Richmond advising them that the medical marijuana dispensaries they approved are illegal and are in violation of State and Federal laws. In addition the DA warned those who facilitate these actions may be liable as well. Copies of this correspondence was sent to city governments throughout the county.
Included in Peterson’s lengthy 4 page memo was a quote from Alameda district Attorney Nancy O’Malley’s letter of December 8th, 2010 which stated, “It also remains an open question whether public officers or employees who aid and abet or to violate state or federal laws in furtherance of city ordinances, are exempt from criminal liability.”
In effect were this veiled threat to be carried out, city council members and government employees could be prosecuted by law enforcement should they support medical marijuana programs.
It is understood that in carrying out his oath of office, DA Peterson is not running in a popularity contest. However, is attacking cannabis clubs the best use of his resources to make the streets of Contra Costa a safer place for its citizens to reside?
Taking the issue first from a standpoint of public safety we have to ask is medical marijuana use responsible for violent crime, being a gateway drug to more serious substances, or causing addiction to those who use this product? The answer to this question is a resounding “no”. Unless one subscribes to the theories of the cult classic Reefer Madness, the vast majority people (most of whom inhaled} don’t believe weed use will lead to much more than a bad case of the munchies.
With this being the case it must be asked why is the DA making medical marijuana a major law enforcement issue and threatening public officials who endorse its use? In Richmond where Peterson sent his poison pen letter, the city has a long history of homicide, violent crime, gangs, and streets that are not considered safe for its citizens to travel. These are the hard-core concerns that Richmond’s highly regarded Police Chief Chris Magnus must deal with on a daily basis. Pot clubs are the least of his problems.
Should not Peterson be more worried about the big picture than a red herring such as medical marijuana use? The same holds true for other parts of the county. As an example Meth amphetamines use or the popular descriptions “crank” or “speed” provides law enforcement with a grave challenge as the use of this substance is a major factor in the commission of serious crimes. Due to sleep deprivation, addiction, and cloudy judgment, meth users comprise a policing nightmare.
In a similar vein, the mentally ill and homeless pose problems for all levels of law enforcement and social welfare services. Should not individuals of diminished capacities and desperation be on the DA’s radar long before those who consume cannabis to reduce pain? The same thing goes for domestic violence , burglaries, white-collar crime etc..
Setting appropriate law enforcement priorities is even more important today as Peterson’s office, like virtually all county agencies, have seen their budget cut in recent years. This is why the DA’s office should concentrate on criminal activities that most affect the populace.
Outside of snipping at officials in his letter to the Richmond City Council, Peterson’s message also poses serious ramifications to local office holders and those employed by municipalities to carry out the law. Is it fair for City Council members throughout Contra Costa to be looking over their shoulders to see if sheriff’s deputies are going to knock on their doors with an arrest warrant and hand cuffs to haul them away? Should those entrusted to carry out the will of the people do so while at the same time being threatened by the DA?
While making these assumptions is somewhat Draconian, the essence of American democracy is the ability of government to carry out their duties without the interference of outside pressures. If this environment should be altered, is our system of government any better than totalitarian regimes we so detest? For this reason alone, the DA’s actions should seriously taken.
We have to ask the question what politically Mark Peterson can gain by throwing kerosene on the medical marijuana issue? As with gay marriage and abortion, the country is divided on the best way to handle medical marijuana use. The situation exists where Federal, State, and local governments conflict with one another. This is definitely not a healthy situation.
Because of this stalemate, most politicians and selected law enforcement agencies have adapted a version of the “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” approach until a more permanent solution can be found. As so many otherwise law-abiding citizens consume pot or have done so in the past, it has proven wise for elected officials to back off supporting strict enforcement.
Until the Supreme Court rules on the matter, it is probably best to avoid major confrontations on medical marijuana use. As occurred with prohibition of alcohol in the 1920′s with the Volstead Act making ordinary people into law breakers, such a scenario did not work out very well. It can be argued that marijuana use falls into the same category.
So what is the next step for Mark Peterson’s crusade against the use of medical marijuana? Probably nowhere. Unnamed sources in Richmond said they were not concerned about the letter that they consider to be political posturing by the DA to impress the Feds or curry support from anti-drug zealots. As a practical matter, it would be next to impossible to impanel a jury to convict anyone let along city council members on charges of aiding or abetting medical marijuana use.
As such we can probably dismiss Peterson’s letter as merely a “tempest in a tea-pot” so to speak. Hopefully in the future he can focus his attention on jay walkers and litter bugs when his attention to important law enforcement matters wanes.