What's that smell in the air, wafting from bus stops, parks, and most any street corner? It's evidence of a cavalier attitude regarding open-air cannabis consumption: This is San Francisco, after all -- feel free to puff away freely.
Or, maybe not.
According to statistics obtained by SF Weekly
, marijuana-related arrests are up by nearly 15 percent. The San Francisco Police Department arrested 1,637 people in San Francisco for pot-related offenses in 2009, according to its own count. This is way up from 1,428 arrests in 2008; that's a 14.6 percent jump (conviction and jailing statistics are sadly absent).
You can read the original document here: Arrests for Marijuana.pdf
Of these scofflaws, 1,054 were busted for felonies (for perspective's sake, offenses like running a massive grow operation in your home and selling pot to an undercover officer are felonies; possession is a misdemeanor).
This is still way down from 1999, however, when nearly 1,500 people were arrested for felony marijuana offenses. Yet the augmentation is there, and it's cause for concern for people like Catherine Smith, chief operator of SoMa cannabis dispensary HopeNet (survivor of a 2005 DEA raid, we might add).
"There was a gradual increase, and now [arrests] have gone up a lot," said Smith, who was quick to add that this has nothing to do with current Chief George Gascon, who assumed the post in 2009 (arrest stats from 2009 weren't available as of press time on Monday).
Along with the hard evidence of an uptick in marijuana arrests, Smith claimed instances of public smokers, particularly minorities, being badgered by police to also be on the upswing.
The numbers also provide some backup for anecdotal evidence Smith hears "all the time" -- usually tales of black or brown people hearing it from police for smoking in public. "I have [non-white] clients who live in Nob Hill," Smith says, "and they can't walk out of their doors at night [to smoke] without getting harassed." No numerical evidence exists to back up this anecdotal claim, however. SF Weekly
faxed over the numbers in question to the SFPD's Media Relations unit in order to get a little more perspective and some comment. We have yet to hear back and we'll update when we do. But, in the meantime, pot activists like Smith wonder if the SFPD hasn't forgotten about "lowest-priority" enforcement for cannabis offenses
, as enshrined in city law by the Board of Supervisors in 1992.
"I think it's pretty obvious lowest-priority is being violated," said Smith, who also sits on the city's Marijuana Offense Oversight Committee (yes, there is such a thing). "I'm guessing a lot of beat cops don't even know lowest-priority exists."
If pot wasn't on Gascon's radar when he took over the SFPD from Heather Fong last summer, it may be now: Last week one of his captains was upbraided by a police commissioner for a possible anti-cannabis attitude. Gascon is expected to present detailed marijuana-related crime statistics -- including numbers to back up Taraval District station Captain Denise Schmitt's assertion that cannabis clubs create crime -- to the Police Commission on Wednesday night.
So: smoke 'em if you got 'em. Just don't be surprised if you land in the cops' doghouse. Or worse, the back of a cruiser.