Several Humboldt County law enforcement heads and an education official have come out against California’s marijuana legalization measure Proposition 64 this week, claiming that it would endanger children and drivers, increase drug-related crime and proliferate mental health issues.
“Let’s be smart, wait on legalization, and allow time for California to watch and learn from other states’ post-legalization woes,” the officials wrote in a joint letter. “If we were to brand Proposition 64 after a popular cannabis strain, we’d dub it ‘Trainwreck.’”
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The letter’s claims have come under scrutiny by the Yes on Proposition 64 campaign, which states the arguments are unsubstantiated and misleading scare tactics that have been used over the past four years.
“Fortunately, every public poll shows that the vast majority of voters see through that,” Yes on Proposition 64 spokesman Jason Kinney said. “They have figured it out that these are groups that care about perpetuating the system of criminalization. What they don’t like about Prop. 64 is it decriminalizes nonviolent offenses. I wish they would be honest with the voters about what their motives are.”
THINK OF THE KIDS
The letter released Thursday night was signed by county Sheriff Mike Downey, Undersheriff William Honsal, Eureka Police Chief Andrew Mills, county Chief Probation Officer William Damiano, Ferndale Police Chief Bret Smith, Eureka Police Department captains Brian Stephens and Steve Watson, and Eureka Public Schools Superintendent Fred Van Vleck.
The group states it opposes Proposition 64 because of the impacts of marijuana on children and teenagers, lack of established DUI standards for marijuana intoxication, its “hypocritical” countering to California’s efforts to reduce smoking, and a predicted increase in violent crimes and deaths.
“As marijuana becomes more normalized, there is going to be an increase of abuse and use by the youth, children and teens, and that’s concerning,” Watson said.
Proposition 64 would legalize the use, possession, cultivation and sale of recreational marijuana to adults who are 21 or older.
Watson pointed to Colorado as an example where a study led by an associate professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine found that marijuana exposure to young children increased by about 150 percent since 2014 when recreational marijuana sales became legalized in the state.
Kinney said Proposition 64 learns from the mistakes of other marijuana-legal states by implementing prohibitions on packaging, advertising and marijuana products that would appeal to children. Kinney said that the measure also gives the state power to limit the potency of marijuana products allowed to be sold.
“Right now, there are no potency restrictions and no labeling restrictions,” Kinney said. “If you care about restricting potency, you should be supporting Proposition 64.”
A portion of the estimated $1 billion of the measure’s annual tax revenue is also mandated to be used for youth programs, Kinney said.
But Damiano said he does not see how those programs will be any more effective than complete prohibition and existing programs that work to prevent kids from being exposed to and using marijuana.
“If you have a very psychoactive substance like that affecting brain development, that is going to have impacts later on down the road,” Damiano said. “There are typically anti-social and criminal behaviors. I think anything that is interfering with an adolescent’s brain is a bad thing.”
The letter then states that Humboldt County health professionals have “noted a rise in acute disorders among children to which some ascribe to marijuana exposure.”
It then quotes Humboldt County’s Superintendent of Schools Garry Eagles who stated that 20 percent of children in Humboldt County are receiving some form of special education support, which is about double the state average, according to the letter. The letter does not state whether this is attributed to marijuana exposure or other factors.
One problem that has become pervasive in states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana is how to detect drivers who are impaired by the drug. As marijuana’s psychoactive component THC can stay in a person’s bloodstream for several weeks after smoking or ingestion, methods of marijuana DUI detection have come under scrutiny.
Proposition 64 seeks to find a standard for DUI detection by allocating $3 million in marijuana tax revenue to research it while also providing additional tax funds toward DUI prevention programs.
Local law enforcement heads disagree with this approach and state that a DUI standard should be developed before marijuana is legalized.
“I think that a legalization bill in California needs to do more to protect the public’s interest and not be so profit-driven,” Watson said.
Kinney states that law enforcement agencies have done nothing to push for the development of marijuana DUI standards in the past and said that Proposition 64 is now offering a “constructive solution” to the issue that will provide funding to law enforcement to prevent DUIs and make roads safer.
“You can’t be both the problem and care about the solution,” Kinney said.
The opposition letter cites two studies from Colorado and Washington state to back up its claims that marijuana increases the chances of fatal vehicle crashes. The first is a AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety study from May which found that the number fatal vehicle crashes by drivers who tested positive for THC in their blood doubled from 2013 to 2014 in Washington state from 49 deaths to 106 deaths.
However, the study notes that it cannot determine whether these deaths were directly tied to Washington’s marijuana legalization measure that took effect in 2012.
“Also, results of this study do not indicate that drivers with detectable THC in their blood at the time of the crash were necessarily impaired by THC or that they were at-fault for the crash,” the study states.
A September 2015 report by the Rocky Mountain High Drug Trafficking Area — an organization that openly opposed Colorado’s legalization measure — also showed a 32 percent increase in marijuana-related traffic deaths in Colorado in 2014 compared to 2013. The increase was from 71 deaths to 94 deaths, according to the report.
Kinney said there is no “credible study that shows an increased crash risk.”
“There is no evidence to support it,” he said.
CRIME AND RESOURCES
Humboldt County has experienced a record of 19 homicides so far this year preceded by three high homicide years. Local law enforcement officials like Downey have repeatedly stated that the underlying causes of the deaths primarily revolve around drugs.
“But one has to look no further than the cannabis capital of the country, Humboldt County, to recognize the violence inextricably intertwined with the pot trade,” the joint letter states.
The letter again points to Colorado stating that prosecutors there have been seeing in increase in marijuana-related crimes, including the last 10 of 15 drug-related murders in Aurora, according to a May 2016 report. A Colorado Department of Public Safety report from March states that property crime rates have decreased by 3 percent in the state between 2009 and 2014 and violent crime has decreased by six percent during the same time period. The number of marijuana-related court cases also dropped by 81 percent between 2012 and 2015, according to the report.
Watson states California will not have the resources to be able to properly regulate a large-scale recreational market, stating that it will be “too big to enforce” and that many people in the industry will remain in the black market.
“The actual application is going to be far more challenging than they are willing to admit and there is not going to be enough money to do it right,” Watson said.
Kinney said that the illegal market is already well-established throughout the state and that Proposition 64 would provide more funding to combat illegal operations while establishing a regulatory program for the legal market that will track products from seed to sale.
Kinney said he found it interesting that the California Police Chiefs Association supported California’s new medical marijuana regulatory program last year, stating that Proposition 64 just adds adult use to the program.
“Their own argument defeats itself because they say this violence already exists but that we shouldn’t have a regulated system so we can have more funding for law enforcement,” Kinney said. “It underscores that their argument is not based on policies; it’s based on the political views of their political leadership.”
Will Houston can be reached at 707-441-0504.