Chronic City: How Much Should We Read Into S.F. Police Chief's Prohibition Reference During Pot Press Conference?

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George Gascon
Did San Francisco Police Chief George Gascon tacitly hint at the benefits of Marijuana legalization during a press conference this week? That's one way to read the, er, tea leaves.

At the conference, held Wednesday to tout the SFPD's recent raids shutting down illegal Marijuana growhouses in the city, the first question from a reporter was whether legalizing Marijuana could help prevent the house fires that sometimes result from illegal grow operations.

Gascon quickly noted that "the thing to recognize is this is not about Marijuana use, this is about public safety." But, later, he noted "I've heard a lot of comments about this thing being an assault on the Marijuana use, it really isn't. it has nothing to do with the merits one way or another, it's about public safety." And, just moments later, he added, "If we go back to the days of Prohibition, when alcohol was prohibited, people found ways to deal with the production and manufacture of alcohol. When alcohol was legalized some of that went away. It's hard to tell."

Was this an acknowledgment by Gascon that his life would be easier if pot was legal? It sure could be taken that way.

Drug policy reform activists often hear that "police don't make the laws; they only enforce them." We are given to believe that police have no interest either way in what laws are passed; they simply want to enforce the laws on the books.

However, numerous public statements recently made by California law enforcement officers like Long Beach Prosecutor Tom Reeves, Redding Police Chief Peter Hansen, and San Diego County D.A. Bonnie Dumanis would indicate otherwise. All three, and many more cops besides, have publicly made stands against realistic implementation of Proposition 215, the 1996 voter initiative that legalized medical Marijuana in California.

Over and over, when you see a news story about medical Marijuana dispensaries being banned, or Marijuana being legalized for adults, law enforcement officers are prominent defenders of prohibition. Sheriffs, police chiefs, or "officer's association" spokespeople tell us we shouldn't be relaxing our pot laws, often giving vague and almost always inaccurate warnings about the dire consequences of Marijuana use.

On the other hand, it warrants mentioning that San Francisco's Sheriff Michael Hennessey has pledged his support for Assemblyman Tom Ammiano's plan to legalize Marijuana. So, locally, we've got that going for us. Which is nice.  

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