Cloudy Future

The Contentious Reality of Measure P

by Ethan Stewart

Flying in the face of federal drug laws, nearly 17,000 Santa
Barbara City residents hit the polls last week and voted to make
marijuana-related offenses the “lowest priority” of the Santa
Barbara Police Department. Thanks to this effort, the appropriately
named Measure P passed with a resounding 66 percent of the popular
vote. Strongly opposed by local law enforcement, however, the
measure seems destined for at least one more showdown before it can
become a reality, as the City Council has requested a closed-door
meeting with City Attorney Steve Wiley to discuss the various legal
implications of the pro-pot directive and the possibility of an
appeal. When asked what a Measure P reality will mean for our local
cops and residents who indulge in the occasional toke, Lt. Paul
McCaffrey commented this week, “We don’t know how it’s going to
affect us, and I’m not sure anyone in Santa Barbara knows

But residents of other parts of the country know full well, as
similar measures have been passed in such places as Seattle,
Oakland, and Columbia, Missouri, since 2003. According to Seattle
City Attorney Tom Carr — who is an outspoken critic of the
initiative — the measure has made “very little difference” for city
residents, as adult pot-related infractions were low both before
and after Seattle’s Measure I-75 passed. However, the numbers
indicate that pot arrests were reduced by two-thirds, going from
178 citations in the year before the measure passed to 59 the year
after. Where Carr feels the measure has left its mark is in the
“administrative headache” involved in monitoring the

McCaffrey predicts a similar fate for Santa Barbara cops should
the measure stand as it is currently worded; it now requires
officers who cite adult offenders to submit a memo justifying their
actions to an oversight committee. But of even greater concern to
Santa Barbara cops is the worry that the measure might hamstring
their policing duties and prevent them from fulfilling their
obligations to local residents. McCaffrey pointed to situations in
which criminal activity is reported, but the only incriminating
evidence on the scene is marijuana. McCaffrey has “concerns” about
what officers will now be able to do to curb the reported illegal
behavior in these situations, which frequently involve homeless
people in public places. But San Francisco narcotics Captain
Timothy Hettrich had a different view, testifying recently before
his City Council — which is set to vote on a similar measure this
week — “This [lowest-priority initiative] does not tie our hands at
all” since it does not change any existing laws.

Policing aside, to the folks at City Hall — including Mayor
Marty Blum and City Attorney Wiley — the biggest potential problem
with Measure P is one of “constitutionality,” as it directly
conflicts with state and federal law. However, the 2003 initiatives
of other cities have all survived, and on last week’s election
night similar measures passed in Santa Cruz; Santa Monica;
Missoula, Montana; and Eureka Springs, Arkansas. “The city has no
obligation to enforce federal law at all. Besides, the measure
doesn’t say you cannot enforce a specific law,” explained Bruce
Mirken, spokesperson for the Marijuana Policy Project, an
Oakland-based nonprofit that provided substantial funding for our
local pro-Measure P movement. Mirken added that while the
initiative does give adult pot smokers a small amount of
protection, it “certainly doesn’t provide an absolute guarantee
that you aren’t going to be arrested or cited.” After all, no
matter what the fate of Measure P may be, smoking ganja is still
against the law in Santa Barbara unless you have a medical

With city councilmembers and Wiley slated to have their private
meeting in early December, both supporters and opponents of Measure
P seemed resigned to a wait-and-see attitude. Lara Cassell, one of
the chief organizers of the petition drive that got Measure P on
the ballot, said her group has not met with the City Council since
election night but added, “We think the voters of Santa Barbara
sent a pretty clear message, and we look forward to working with
the council [in the future].” For the SBPD’s part, McCaffrey said
the issue ultimately is for “the city and their attorney to
decide.” Despite the department’s concerns, McCaffrey vowed, “We
are going to follow the laws and what we are told to do.”


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