Californians looking longingly at the legal retail marijuana industry currently flourishing in Colorado and preparing to go online in Washington may be asking themselves, "Why not us?"
One reason why marijuana legalization has failed here, politicians and police like to say, is that the state hasn't yet "gotten it right" on medical cannabis, which still has no strict statewide regulations or Sacramento-level bureaucracy calling shots.
And the big reason why that hasn't happened is the police. In Sunday's Sacramento Bee, the law enforcement lobbyists who for several Legislature sessions in a row have derailed reform and regulation of medical marijuana vow to do it again.
It's worth noting that in the past, cops have complained that California medical marijuana law is too vague. Now, with Colorado "getting it right" -- and with an ex-cop running the show there, no less -- the story is that legal weed is a "sham and a fraud."
This bodes ill for members of San Francisco's delegation to the Legislature, one of whom -- Assemblyman Tom Ammiano, whose last year in office is this year -- has tried for years to get some meaningful reform of medical cannabis passed in Sacramento.
Last year seemed like his best chance yet, with a scheme to put weed under the purview of the state Alcoholic Beverage Commission supposedly supported by Gov. Jerry Brown (who has otherwise been very law-and-order as the state's chief executive). That bill, and a companion piece in the Senate introduced by state Sen. Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg --no political lightweight -- both died following furious lobbying by the California Police Chiefs Association.
Why the aversion to weed? It seems to be in cops' blood: the notion that Proposition 215 has been abused to provide California adults a legal way to get high and that the voters were hoodwinked appears to be the prevailing wisdom among police.
This viewpoint manifests itself in some stultifying ways: the Bee's Peter Hecht notes that the former Colorado Springs police officer in charge of Colorado's legal cannabis sales was roundly mocked at a conference by California cops who chastised him for thinking that anyone could regulate such an industry. Of course, it's a little hard to regulate an industry when you are a powerful political force, and work overtime to kill the regulations.
Where exactly on the political spectrum law enforcement's views in California fall can be hard to pin down. This will be familiar to any state resident trying to explain the state's politics to family members elsewhere: the state is liberal except when it isn't, which can be most of the time and in most of the state.
For example, the Police Chiefs' Association opposed the homeless bill of rights suggested by San Francisco's own Assemblyman Tom Ammiano. It also opposed all regulations around medical marijuana, supported a bill that would have kept guns out of the hands of crazy people, and opposed a Republican-sponsored bill that would have prevented cops from using drones.
Mostly, their political involvement is ensuring that it does not become more difficult to do their jobs -- and treating a drug that for years has been their bread-and-butter for busts as a legal commodity appears just too much to handle.
And as an illegal drug, pot is a big-time commodity: California police have reaped $181 million in cash and property seized as part of marijuana-related busts, the Bee reported.