Barney’s On the Beat

Free the Evil Weed? When I was a young court reporter here in the early 1960s, I covered a trial where a middle-aged man was accused of (gasp!) possessing half a joint. His old lady ratted him out and cops — North County, as I recall — found a half-smoked marijuana cigarette in his robe. The jury found him guilty and the judge sent him to prison.

Santa Barbara cops would raid pot parties — people sitting around smoking dope. Professional couples would pull down the shades, turn off the lights, and huddle in the bedroom to sneak tokes.

But how the world has twirled. These days in Santa Barbara if you’re found with less than an ounce you’ll get a citation and $175 fine, police say. No jail. Police will tell you that sniffing out dopers isn’t a big deal to them. Not with all that devilish meth around. “We don’t spend a lot of resources,” Lt. Paul McCaffrey told me.

So things are cool. If so, how come there’s a measure on the City of Santa Barbara ballot “mandating that the Santa Barbara police give state and federal marijuana laws the lowest law enforcement priority possible”? Cats in trees, barking dogs, littering, loud parties — anything — would apparently take precedence over someone’s complaint that the homeless were puffing in De la Guerra Plaza near City Hall or people were lighting up outside Santa Barbara Junior High.

And if an adult got busted for possessing or smoking, he or she could file a grievance complaining that somewhere in town there was a greater need for enforcement, even if it meant watching for red-light runners at State and Carrillo or graffiti artists on the lower East Side. “We always have something to do,” Lt. McCaffrey said.

Does it surprise you that police, even in laid-back Santa Barbara, are vehemently against the measure? While backers of Measure P say it will “allow police to focus their time and our tax dollars on solving murders and violent crimes,” police tell me that it’ll lead to increased marijuana use. It could also make Santa Barbara something of a tourist Mecca for those wanting to lark about sharing a joint, turning downtown into a kind of red-tile version of Reefer Madness.

“What if your bus driver lights up?” asked Lt. McCaffrey. “Or your teller?” Teller? Would Mike Towbes of the Bank of Montecito really let his people get zonked while cashing our checks? But backers say it might not do much to change the status quo, but would send little Santa Barbara’s message that the war on drugs is a failed disaster and that the country needs to change.

Pot Healthy? Marijuana not only gives you the munchies but may also guard against the onslaught of Alzheimer’s, according to new research by the Scripps Research Institute. The active ingredient in cannabis may help wipe out that dreaded disease, according to Scripps.

Suing the News-Press: As if the paper didn’t have enough on its plate, Santa Barbara attorney Bruce Anticouni says he’s filing a class-action suit against the NP on behalf of about 300 current and former employees who have worked there during the last four years. He’s claiming violation of labor laws. The paper, he contends, has failed to pay employees properly, failed to keep accurate records for hourly workers, failed to pay overtime when required, and didn’t provide proper meal and rest breaks. And, he claims, a number of editors and assistant editors were improperly “misclassified” as exempt from earning overtime.

Mission Nuptials: On the heels of a lawsuit filed against the Old Mission claiming that a wedding was disrupted by Mission personnel allegedly enforcing rules, Pastor Dan Barica told the congregation Sunday that the rules governing Mission weddings will be eased.

Estate Sells: Oprah will be getting some new neighbors. According to Montecito sources, the four-acre Abercrombie estate on East Valley Road, a couple of doors from Oprah, just sold for about $12 million. It offers views of the mountains and ocean.

Taxing Proposal: David Strauss is launching a letter-writing campaign alerting fellow residents of the Cold Spring School District to a $14.5 million bond proposal on the November 7 ballot. “This measure was put on the ballot by the school district without sufficient notification and discussion with those of us who would be required to pay for their wish list,” he said.

Adios Acapulco: The Acapulco restaurant in La Arcada Court has closed, certainly at no loss to the culinary scene. I hear that a downtown Italian restaurant is among candidates to move in.

Empty Bowls: The ninth annual Empty Bowls lunch at the Rockwood Woman’s Club will take place Sunday, November 5, 11 a.m. – 2 p.m. A $25 donation will get you a choice of one of hundreds of handmade bowls donated by local potters and filled with hot soup from two dozen top area restaurants. Empty Bowls is a reminder of those who go hungry in the county and who are helped by the Foodbank of Santa Barbara County. For reservations, call 967-5741, x104.

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