1999 – Marijuana activists are pushing the city of Berkeley to stop police from arresting minor pot offenders in violation of the city’s 20-year-old Marijuana Ordinance, which declares that marijuana should be lowest enforcement priority.
Police statistics show a dramatic doubling in the number of marijuana arrests last year following a crackdown aimed at clearing street people off Telegraph Ave. The increase was driven by a near tripling in the number of felony pot arrests, mainly for petty sales or intent to sell..
“It’s one thing to try to clean up the streets; it’s another thing to do so with felony arrests.” argues Dale Gieringer, coordinator of California NORML, which is lobbying to change the situation in coalition with the Berkeley Cannabis Ordinance Oversight League (BCOOL).
The coalition is proposing a new ordinance entitled the “Kinder and Safety Streets Act,” which would clarify the 1979 ordinance and put tighter constraints on how police conduct cannabis enforcement. The proposal would protect Prop. 215 patients by enacting a medical cannabis policy similar to that in Oakland.
Non-medical offenses would be prioritized according to their impact on public health and safety. Sales to minors and driving under the influence would have highest enforcement priority. Petty street sales or intent to sell would be treated like disorderly conduct, that is, as misdemeanors, not felonies, Public consumption on the streets would be discouraged without criminal arrests. Finally, private adult use would be accorded complete toleration. Police would be forbidden to spend money on undercover operations aimed at entrapping persons into marijuana offenses, and would be required to file special reports for all felony marijuana arrests.
The Kinder and Safer Streets Act is being sponsored by Councilmembers Kriss Worthington and Linda Maio. It has been endorsed by the Police Review Commission. It is expected to be heard by the full city council after a review by the City Manager and Police Chief later this year. Volunteers should contact BCOOL: (510) 486-8083.