Camilla Norman Field at (415) 713-2388
On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors voted 8-3, to approve an ordinance deprioritizing low-level marijuana offenses by adults. The decision is pending the formality of a second reading next Tuesday.
With Tuesday’s approval, San Francisco has sent a clear message that our country’s marijuana laws are ripe for real reform. The county is not the first to pass such a measure. Berkeley, Seattle, Denver, Oakland, West Hollywood, and–as of last week–Santa Cruz, Santa Monica, Santa Barbara, Eureka Spring, Arkansas, and Missoula, Montana, have all passed measures making marijuana the lowest priority of local law enforcement.
The San Francisco legislation was sponsored by Supervisor Tom Ammiano, co-sponsored by supervisors Mirkarimi, Daly, and McGoldrick, and was supported by the San Francisco Police Department, the Public Defender’s office, and other drug policy reform organizations, including the Drug Policy Alliance, Marijuana Policy Project, California NORML, Californians for Civil Liberties, Axis of Love SF, the Harvey Milk LBGT Democratic Club, and Hempevolution.org.
“There are many better ways that we can be using our tax dollars and empowering our law enforcement than wasting money and resources on marijuana offenses,” said Supervisor Ammiano in the San Francisco Chronicle.
Camilla Norman Field, Deputy Director of Drug Policy Alliance San Francisco, who was deeply involved in the effort, said in response to the vote, “By urging our law enforcement community to ignore adult marijuana offenses, our police officers can focus on battling the increase in serious and violent crime, much of which is ironically directly related to our failed prohibitionist approach to drugs. This vote represents one small, but significant, step toward making our communities safer.”
Similar to Oakland, West Hollywood, and Santa Cruz, this ordinance deprioritizes the investigation, citations, arrests, and property seizures for marijuana offenses by adults (including possession, distribution, and sale), with a few exceptions: driving under the influence, involving minors, on or within view of public property, and when public safety is jeopardized.
The measure also creates an oversight committee that can review cases in which individuals feel they were wrongly targeted. The ordinance also directs the Board of Supervisors’ Clerk to annually notify state and federal governments that, “the Board of Supervisors of the City and County of San Francisco has passed an ordinance to deprioritize marijuana offenses by adults, and requests that the federal and California state governments take immediate steps to tax and regulate marijuana use, cultivation, and distribution and to authorize state and local communities to do the same.”
According to the FBI’s annual Uniform Crime Report close to 800,000 Americans were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2005 — 88% for possession only. This number exceeds the total number of arrests in the U.S. for all violent crimes combined, including murder, manslaughter, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault. In California, over 1,400 people are in state prison serving sentences for marijuana felonies, over ten times as many as in 1980. While many feel this measure is largely symbolic and doesn’t change existing policy, Public Defender Jeff Adachi’s comments at Monday’s committee hearing that 5-10% of his caseload currently involves adults prosecuted with marijuana-related charges, demonstrates the very real need for this ordinance.
“There are a range of counterproductive policies for people who are convicted of a marijuana offense,” continued Ms. Field, “Students lose federal financial aid, and families get kicked out of public housing. It is time to be ‘smart on crime,’ not ‘tough on crime’.”