Feds oppose Calif.'s move to legalize marijuana

October 15, 2010 7:15:28 PM PDT
The war of words is heating up over the state ballot proposition to legalize the possession and growing of marijuana. U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Los Angeles County Sheriff Lee Baca say they will continue to enforce existing marijuana laws even if Proposition 19 passes.

Reaction was swift from the Yes in 19 campaign. Spokesperson and former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara, now at the Hoover Institution at Stanford, said politicians in Washington should not be telling Californians how to vote.

"I'd remind the attorney general of the words of Abraham Lincoln, we're government of the people, for the people and by the people, we're not a government of Washington to tell the California people how to vote," McNamara said.

Proposition 19 will be decided by voters on Nov. 2.

The potential conflict between federal and state laws, McNamara says, should promote a national debate about legalizing marijuana. Holder, in a letter written to former chiefs of the Drug Enforcement Administration, said that legalizing marijuana in California would be a "significant impediment" to law enforcement crackdowns on drug traffickers who may also be dealing in cocaine and other drugs.

Cal-Med Wellness Collective Centers is one of an estimated 80 medical marijuana dispensing facilities in San Jose. There were no customers on hand when ABC7 visited the O'Toole Way site. Its president, Nicki Bock, expressed concern that a possible conflict of federal and state law will have unintended consequences on patients who have doctor's prescriptions for pot if stepped-up raids result.

"If they are saying that they're going to still enforce their federal marijuana laws, that makes me more nervous that my patients aren't going to be protected; they could end up, whether it's recreational or patient, getting into trouble with the feds because now they do want to crack down," Bock said.

The passage or failure of Prop 19 will also complicate plans by some cities, including San Jose, to levy a tax on medically dispensed or recreational marijuana sales. Measure U in San Jose would authorize the City Council to set the tax rate up to 10 percent. While the City Council voted Oct. 5 not to support Prop 19, its ballot measure would help fill the city's coffers at a time it's facing a serious budget deficit. Exactly how much revenue the tax would generate has not been determined.

"It will be a test case and we're the lab rats; we'll get the experiments performed on us because the 80 dispensaries we have in San Jose are all illegal today because of federal law and under the local zoning codes," Reed said.

Others say conflict in federal and state laws might be beneficial.

"Prop 19, if it does pass, it will send a political statement that the federal government should re-address their policies and allow states to choose what's best for them," marijuana advocate Lauren Vazquez said.


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