What Is True/Slant?
275+ knowledgeable contributors.
Reporting and insight on news of the moment.
Follow them and join the news conversation.

Jul. 21 2010 - 4:58 pm | 13,627 views | 0 recommendations | 36 comments

Retired Top Cops Slam Arguments Against Legalizing Pot

This fall, California will consider repealing marijuana prohibition by way of a voter-sponsored ballot initiative called Proposition 19. If passed, it would stand as a direct affront to federal law, representing the most significant change in a state’s drug policy since cannabis was first outlawed in 1937.

Though marijuana legalization is largely a liberal and progressive cause célèbre, it may be fair to say that the state’s elected Democrats aren’t exactly cuckoo for these coco-puffs.


Prominent California Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein has declared her opposition to Prop. 19, signing a ballot argument against legalization put forward by Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD). Sen. Barbara Boxer and Democrat gubernatorial candidate Jerry Brown were quick to adopt Feinstein’s position, and the state’s Democratic party, while apparently torn on the issue, officially elected to stay neutral fearing their support could damage state-wide candidates.

In spite of Democratic opposition, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), a drug policy reform group made up of former cops, judges and federal agents, seems to stand perhaps the best chance of swaying the state’s drug policy establishment. They’ve put forward a ballot argument in favor of Prop. 19, and three of their most prominent members from California law enforcement have signed it.

In an exclusive interview, the former police chief of San Jose and the former deputy police chief of Los Angeles County — both members of LEAP — took to task those favoring continued prohibition, insisting that both Sen. Feinstein and MADD level an “emotional, unreasoned” argument for keeping pot illegal.

Sen. Feinstein’s press office was contacted multiple times in seeking a response to these officers. Both times a returned call or e-mail was promised, but none were received after several days.

“I know Dianne Feinestein quite well from when she was mayor of San Francisco,” said former San Jose Chief of Police Joseph McNamara. “I’m kind of stunned by her stance on this. It’s contrary to everything she talked about as a politician in San Francisco.”

By contrast, post-Feinestein San Francisco was host this year to the first-ever International Cannabis and Hemp Expo, and the Hemp Industry Association is planning to hold its 17th annual meeting there in November. Last month also saw San Francisco hosting the first ever Medical Cannabis Cup: a competition among growers, to see who produces the best pot.

It’s pretty clear that the city, by and large, has taken a position of favoring Prop. 19.

“[Feinestein's] position [as San Francisco's mayor] certainly wasn’t this law and order nonsense on stamping out marijuana,” McNamara said.

In a ballot argument against legalization (PDF link), Feinstein and MADD argue that Prop. 19 could cost California school districts $9.4 billion in federal funding, as they would no longer be able to meet federal drug-free standards. They also fret that colleges and universities in California will lose out on federal grants, which is a very real threat that LEAP did not address.

The main thrust of their argument is that due to the ballot initiative’s wording, officers or other public officials would not be able to take preemptive action against stoned drivers: they’d have to wait for accidents to happen. Much of the argument focuses on school bus drivers, and how they could be permitted to ingest marijuana and transport children, leaving the hands of authority bound until someone got hurt.

“Their argument is specious and I don’t think it’s based on any emperical evidence,” contended Steven Downing, the former Los Angeles County deputy police chief. “It’s kinda like, we make things up in order to pass laws. Well, come up with the facts.”

He and McNamara insist there is no evidence to support the assumption that officers or public officials could not enforce laws against driving while intoxicated. They argue that Prop. 19 has nothing to do with laws requiring sobriety while driving, and that it’s impossible to say, as MADD does, that legalization would turn California’s highways into a nightmare.

Similarly, though a recent study by the Rand Corporation predicted that usage is likely to go up because prices could plummet if cannabis is legalized, they too admit that estimating the number of stoned drivers is impossible.

“I think one of the strongest points to make is that there were no studies when these drugs were outlawed,” Downing said. “It was religious fervor and prejudice. Fear. We all know that’s how it all got started. That’s how alcohol prohibition got stated. It’s the same today for marijuana, which is kept illegal by emotional, unreasoned arguments.”

“Smoking may even decrease,” McNamara said. “Looking at the reaserch, 85% of high school students surveyed say it’s more difficult to get beer than marijuana. The reason for that is that beer is regulated. You need proof of identity and age to purchase it. That argument, that use will explode, is wrong. It may be exactly the opposite. It will be more difficult for people under-age to get cannabis.”

He adds that “marijuana is already in the mix,” as far as the sobriety of drivers is concerned. The former police chief, now a fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution, calls Feinstein and MADD’s argument on stoned drivers “speculation that doesn’t make any sense.”

Supporting McNamara’s position is the Journal of Psychoactive Drugs, which reported in May that after a double-blind study of 85 drivers tested before and after smoking marijuana, “no differences [in motor control and response time] were found”.

“The laws today prohibit driving under the influence of drugs,” he said. “If they do that, they’re violating the law and can be punished under the present laws. By freeing law enforcement from making so many [marijuana] arrests, this would give them more resources to use against dangerous activities like driving under the influence.”

Downing’s argument was similar, and one of surprise at the lack of support from MADD. He said that fewer marijuana prisoners would mean more drunk drivers serving out their full sentence, thanks to reduced overcrowding in California’s jails.

“When you look at all of it, I think Prop. 19 offers an opportunity for rationality in an area that’s been so emotional,” McNamara said.

Prop. 19 will appear on California’s state-wide ballot this November. Should it pass, individual counties and municipalities would be able to opt in or out of the legalized system; those which opt in would be given additional tax and enforcement options, and residents would be allowed to transport up to one ounce and grow plants in a five-foot-by-five-foot area.

Even if the voters carry Prop. 19, it may not mean anything as it still conflicts with federal law. The Obama administration’s policy has been to not interfere with state-supported medical marijuana initiatives, but the president has said he is opposed to legalization. Whether or not the administration will take a hands-off approach to legalization in California is still an unanswered question.

A recent CBS poll found that while 42 percent of the state’s voters oppose legalization, 56 percent are in favor. Aligned with the majority is the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), which endorsed legalization because of prohibition’s inordinate impact on minority communities. The California Young Democrats also endorsed Prop. 19, along with former United States Surgeon General Joycelyn Elders. The 200,000-member-strong United Food and Commercial Workers union, of the Western States Council, backs it as well.

LEAP’s full ballot argument in favor of Prop. 19 is available on their blog.


Active Conversation
15 T/S Member Comments Called Out, 36 Total Comments
Post your comment »
  1. collapse expand

    Great article.

    I’m always mystified by the arguments against pot. Alcohol is, by far, a more dangerous intoxicant. I bet I could count the number of domestic violence incidents, car accidents, rapes and assaults caused by weed on one hand. Booze, well, we all know how that goes.

    Legalizing weed would provide billions in tax dollars and free up law enforcement to deal with real crimes. You know, like murder and Justin Beiber.

  2. collapse expand

    Great article.

    I’m always mystified by the arguments against pot. Alcohol is, by far, a more dangerous intoxicant. I bet I could count the number of domestic violence incidents, car accidents, rapes and assaults caused by weed on one hand. Booze, well, we all know how that goes.

    Legalizing weed would provide billions in tax dollars and free up law enforcement to deal with real crimes. You know, like murder and Justin Beiber.

  3. collapse expand

    I’ve always felt that one important reason why there was never much real push for pot legalization is that the substance is just not very susceptible to corporate control, as alcohol and tobacco clearly are- nobody grows their own tobacco, and there can’t be many homebrewers out there who brew enough to maintain an alcohol habit. Whereas cannabis grows very prolifically and well, thank you very much. On the day cannibis is legalized, many seeds will be planted in gardens all across America, and three months later stoned gardeners will be giving the stuff away, like zuchinni. Granted, homegrowers won’t be able to produce cannibis lollipops and cannibis breath strips on an industrial scale, but all of these recent (literally) mind-blowing strains are the work of hobbyists without the help of Monsanto. Speaking of Monsanto, although they’ve been able to use genetic patent law to put their boot on the neck of American soybean farmers, they won’t be able to pull that trick on several million widely scattered hobby cannibis cultivators. It should also be noted that these factors will make it very difficult to regulate and tax cannibis growing.

    Me, I have no particular dog in this fight, I haven’t smoked the stuff in years. And I don’t miss skunk- that stuff makes you stupid, boring, clumsy, slow, and sleepy; and by the way, smells like something squirted from a weasel’s ass.

    • collapse expand

      MMM, doesn’t make me stupid, boring, clumsy, slow and sleepy.
      Nope – but booze sure does though.
      Just cause you don’t partake any longer, well I don’t think you should dismiss it and not have a dog in this fight. Many people could benefit from having that safer choice of cannabis over booze.
      Just my take…

      In response to another comment. See in context »
    • collapse expand

      Yeah but booze just makes you angry resentful and want to fight, nice choices. Oh, BTW, the operating system you are posting with was CODED BY STONERS. Yes, it’s true. Microsoft coders smoke and they dwarf your brain power considerably and they’re not slow and stupid mmkay?

      In response to another comment. See in context »
      • collapse expand

        Wasn’t advocating booze as “superior” to weed. May I observe that your reply to my comment seems a bit belligerent? Maybe you need a nice bowl. Anyhow, I said I didn’t miss SKUNK- I didn’t say that I didn’t miss HASH. (Damn Euros smoke it all before it gets here…)

        I thimk you’re right about techies and pot- a fragrant, blue cloud seems to follow them wherever they go, even the Christians.

        (And don’t make fun of dwarves, are you some kind of Heightist?)

        In response to another comment. See in context »
  4. collapse expand

    It is interesting that the opponents of CA Prop. 19 call themselves “Public safety first”. And this is when it has been conclusively shown by experts that Cannabis use suppresses violent behavior (as opposed to alcohol), and that Cannabis can even be potentially useful in addiction treatment, that is in helping people stay off booze and dangerous hard drugs or prescription drugs. Mexican drug cartels also oppose Legalization because if Cannabis is legalized all their illegal distribution networks are no longer needed. Recent scientific Conference in LA also stressed that current situation is unacceptable and unsustainable, and that it is supported by “prison-industrial complex” in this country because those are the people who benefit financially from more prisons and more prisoners. The so-called “public safety first” campaign against Proposition 19 is simply not entitled to use this name for their lies and distortions, because if we talk about “public safety”, it is the supporters of Prop. 19 and not its opponents who really care about it. Public safety will be much better served if the Proposition passes, rather than if it fails!

  5. collapse expand

    WoW i never new there was a
    Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP
    thats cool.
    thanks for the post :D

  6. collapse expand

    Its blatantly obvious that regulated and legalized cannabis reduces the amount of users.
    Look at the Netherlands, they have literally half (per ca-pita) of the users that the USA has even after 72 years of prohibition.

    I recently had a conversation with Spokane Sheriff Ozzie Knezovich at the 4th of July Celebration at River Front Park in Spokane.
    I referenced LEAP to him several times. I hope that he takes time to learn the truth as with the rest of these modern day fascist drug warriors.


    • collapse expand

      It has nothing to do with fascist. There are people who want to live in a sober society. That covers all drugs that alter thinking or emotion. The idea that a person should be sober and serious at all times is not foreign to American culture. Entire concepts such as entertainment fall into question. We take things like recreation and entertainment for granted. Yet I believe it was John Adams who remarked that he had never met a worthwhile man who wished to be recreated. We now have a culture that is in decay, failing, and on the skids. It may be time for all people to revert to a much more formal way of life in order for our nation to survive.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  7. collapse expand

    Well its such a stupid fight, prohibition, it started based on lies and has continued based on lies. However its nice to see that the majority in CA 56% have learned the truth. Its a true shame that those that want more of the drug war dont know the true facts, dont see the violence and corruption it has caused, not marijuana. Its sad that they take all the false information and lies and then pass them along like they are facts and that they themselves researched it. Its amazing what people will believe, just like in the 30s when they started all this, they said pot will turn you into a monster that will kill your own brother. Well 104million Americans thats almost half the population have tried marijuana and if it caused all the crap that all the lies say it does dont you think we would see something by now, 73 yrs later? No no cancer no crazy people no deaths, so whats the problem? Ignorance, if these people would look up even one truth about marijuana they may see that they have been lied to and that alone may prompt them to look at all the truth about pot once they do they too will vote for legalization.

  8. collapse expand

    What kind of lickspittling, spineless people would allow government to tell them what they can and cannot put into their (adult) bodies.

    Individualistic and rugged Mrkns, ha! Suppliant, subservient belly-crawlers, eager to kiss the boss’s ass, and take urine tests just to keep a wage-slave job.

  9. collapse expand

    If these clowns could actually come up with a good arguement on why it should NOT be legalized, I’d give them credit but all they have are half truths and propaganda which are mostly lies anyways. There is not an inkling of evidence pointing to car accidents and Cannibus.

  10. collapse expand

    California is the state that started this entire criminalization, so it’s only appropriate that they be the first to END it. Look it up, in 1913 CA made cannabis illegal so they could deport the Mexicans. 4 years later, it was 5 other Southwestern states that did the same thing for the same reason. Racism is NOT a basis for sound law.

    California, you have the opportunity to end a serious wrong you have done to this country. Pull your head out and DO IT. It’s TIME.

    We can’t afford the luxury of making those like Dick Cheney richer by destroying the lives of our own citizens (he owns stock in at least one for profit prison company). It’s time to treat adults LIKE adults and treat ACTIONS as the point behind incarceration.

    If someone beats up someone else, they need to be arrested for assault, NOT because they had a baggie in their pocket. If someone robs someone else, they need to be locked up for the ACT of robbery, NOT because they might have smoked weed at some point in the last 6 weeks. ACTIONS are what matter. Possession is just a ruse, an excuse to put THEIR hands into YOUR pockets.

    If the “conservatives” really WERE conservative, they would want to get gov’t OUT of your pockets. But they LOVE locking up more people than any other country in the world. They are conserving NOTHING, and are, in fact, destroying our entire way of life BECAUSE THEY CAN. It’s time to stop them once and for all.

    Wake up, California. It’s your turn to do the RIGHT thing instead of continuing this sham. YOU OWE THE REST OF US. This was YOUR doing, it’s time that YOU undid it.

    • collapse expand

      It is not a liberal vs. conservative issue at all. I’m as liberal as a person can get and don’t want any form of pot or other intoxicants allowed in society. Why not take all that energy and zeal that is wasted on pot and use it to shelter the homeless or feed the hungry. There is no greater obscenity than some fool spending money for dope while school kids are denied school supplies or people are denied life saving medical procedures over money. The idea that one can spend money on dope is filthy.

      In response to another comment. See in context »
  11. collapse expand

    I’d like to reach out to “soccer moms” and other people who are legitimately, intimately interested in the well-being of children and teens. As a “swim dad” (a near-relative and kindred spirit with soccer moms), I can say that I hope my kids don’t use marijuana, either as teenagers or as young adults, but if they do, I REALLY hope they don’t end up in jail! I hope that all parents will join in the fight to stop putting our own kids in jail over something as silly as marijuana. Yes, it dumbs a person down for a little while (about as bad as a day on the video games) and yes, it has some minor health effects (about as bad as smoking a cigarette, I suppose), but none of those are NEARLY as bad as the effects of being locked up IN JAIL WITH THE SEXUAL PREDATORS, and loss of financial aid, and all of the other bad stuff that comes, not from the marijuana, but from the LAW. It’s time to quit letting the government officials ruin our kids’ lives over a little marijuana! This is a KEY: As parents, we need to consider the harm caused by jail and a criminal record that could happen to OUR KID if he or she got a little off track. The greatest harm marijuana can bring to our children is the potential jail time.
    California parents need to also be on the lookout for the “October Surprise” (some hyped-up scare stories about marijuana), and let’s quit putting our own kids in jail! You can be CERTAIN that the other side is going to mount an October Surprise on this topic, so get your people talking about it NOW so that it won’t be so impressive when it gets rolled out.
    California citizens can register to vote at
    h t t p s : / / w w w .sos.ca.gov/nvrc/fedform/ Just fill out the form and mail it in!
    Other states: Google your state name and the phrase “voter registration” to find out how to register in your state!

    Register. Vote. Change things.

  12. collapse expand

    Naturally the cops want to see Marijuana remain illegal because it gives cops someone to chase and arrest.What would happen if cops had no tokers to bust? No need for so many cops, thus many would have to find other work. Wow, that would be really sad eh?
    If we legalize drugs we remove the users from prisons and put them in hospitals and rehab where they need to be. A cure for pain is what these folks need, not to be locked up and tormented for the problems that sent them into drug use in the first place. I used pot for migraines for years and it was a great help to me. Sadly I developed an allergic reaction to the active ingredient and had to give it up in favor of just using ice packs and sleep. I am disabled and can not work on account of the pain and I wish like hell I could still get relief with pot. I am super glad I never was arrested for my medical use as it would have been a ghastly thing to go thru. My doctor was amazed that I could no longer use it and tried to prescribe other drugs to help, but none succeeded.

    To continue the war on drugs makes no sense at all. Those folks that are terrified that their kids will start using if drugs are legal should spend a bit more time getting to know their kids. My sons grew up in Chicagoland and did not use drugs in High School even tho they were offered many types many times. They were a bit more focused on succeeding in their academic and social lives and did not succumb to peer pressure.
    Liquor is legal and it is a much bigger problem for families than pot. The biggest issue with pot is the problems kids have when they are arrested, not when they smoke up and get a little silly now and then. I believe we should legalize it and sell it in liquor stores same as booze and cigarettes. Actually, cigarettes are more harmful to the lungs than pot, no matter what the government mouthpieces say. I smoked cigs and had constantly congested lungs and sinuses, and when I quit smoking them it all cleared up. Pot never made me congested and I never hacked up tar balls…it just finally stopped working for my migraines and I had to give it up.

  13. collapse expand

    I can think of one reason that legalization in CA would be a bad thing:

    The neighboring states.

    I am for legalization, but can’t help imagining all the trouble caused by cartels moving product into nearby states.

    I also think that the ‘tax revenue’ argument is bull. Weed is a weed and regulating/taxing it will be impossible.

  14. collapse expand

    dear haw are you ?i am fine .my name is ABRHAM KASSA GAREMAMO from Ethiopia please i am university student i have no money please you send money for me i want your helping if you send my bank cheek number is 18907 what is your idea tell me soon

Log in for notification options
Comments RSS

Post Your Comment

You must be logged in to post a comment

Log in with your True/Slant account.

Previously logged in with Facebook?

Create an account to join True/Slant now.

Facebook users:
Create T/S account with Facebook

My T/S Activity Feed


    About Me

    My name is Stephen. I am a News Junkie and an assistant editor at RawStory.com. My work has appeared in publications both printed and online, including The Dallas Business Journal, the cover of Fort Worth Weekly and in the pages of The Dallas Morning News, Austin Monthly, Envy Magazine and others. I also covered the rebirth of the U.S. peace movement first-hand for The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, starting with the city's first public screening of 'Fahrenheit 9/11' all the way through the end of Cindy Sheehan's stay. I've seen my reporting discussed in publications such as Time, Wired, Reason, The Washington Post, D Magazine, The Guardian UK, Media Matters, ThinkProgress, Alternet, Cannabis Culture, 1-UP, Destructoid, Kotaku, GameSpot, G4TV and many others. I am currently open for freelance assignments and actively seeking a literary agent. You can follow me on Twitter @StephenCWebster, or from Facebook.com/StephenCWebster.

    See my profile »
    Followers: 77
    Contributor Since: September 2009
    Location:Austin, Texas

    What I'm Up To

    I am an associate editor at Raw Story, a popular political news nexus currently ranked as one of the top 2,500 Web sites in the United States.


    Got any “change”? If you enjoy my work, please consider making a donation.

    Freelance or media inquiry? Let’s talk.