SANTA MONICA, CA. – Voters will decide in November if marijuana should become the lowest police priority in the city, as city council members reluctantly ratified a ballot initiative filed by Santa Monicans for Sensible Marijuana Policy earlier this month.
“This initiative, in short, will remove the handcuffs from our esteemed police and allow them to focus on violent and serious crime, rather than persecuting law-abiding and otherwise harmless citizens,” said Luciano Hernandez of SMSMP.
Signed by over 8,000 residents, the initiative requires police to answer all calls-for example loud music and parking violations-before dispatching an officer to handle a complaint about someone smoking pot. This does not make marijuana legal, however it severely limits how officers can enforce the law.
“From a practical standpoint, it would be virtually impossible for police to enforce…because there would be other calls that are in a pending queue. Officers would no longer be able to develop probable cause based on observations or [smelling marijuana],” an officer representing the police department said at a meeting weeks prior.
Many council members voiced strong objection over details and language in the initiative, one pointing out that officers on the beach would have to cite someone smoking a cigarette before citing someone smoking a joint.
There is no smoking on Santa Monica Beaches.
A month prior, West Hollywood City Council Members bypassed voters and immediately approved a similar resolution. However, that city is without its own police force, and contracts with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department for civil services. They have no legal means of ensuring that sheriff’s deputies follow the policy, because state law only allows the use of marijuana with a doctor’s recommendation.
If voters approve the initiative, Santa Monica will become the first city in Southern California with its own police force to instruct law enforcement regarding marijuana, prompting other municipalities to do the same.
Located 16 miles west of downtown Los Angeles, Santa Monica (Pop. 103,000) is known to be progressive. It was the first city in L.A. county to outlaw smoking on beaches, which is now commonplace in the region, and was the first city in the nation to pass laws protecting workers laid off due to decreased tourism from the September 11th terrorist attacks.
A recent poll found 65% of registered voters in Santa Monica support the initiative, which is expected to meet little resistance at the polls this fall.