City Council Supports Big Marijuana, Ignores Communities, Mayor, and Police Chief

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman giving an impassioned speech. As San Diego chief of police, she knows that the mess legalization has created will fall on her and other public safety officials to try and manage.

Police Chief Shelley Zimmerman giving an impassioned speech. As San Diego chief of police, she knows that the mess legalization has created will fall on her and other public safety officials to try and manage.

The majority of San Diego City Council members bowed to the influence of Big Pot last Monday, putting profits from marijuana sales above the needs and wants of San Diego residents.  

As the council meeting got underway, Police Chief Shelly Zimmerman said her department visited Colorado to learn about the impacts of commercial marijuana. Colorado officials told our local detectives they’ve seen more crime and homelessness, according to Zimmerman. Then, the chief told the council about hundreds of police radio calls responding to burglaries, robberies, assaults and shootings at San Diego’s existing pot shops – the ones already permitted by the city. Zimmerman urged the council not to allow pot cultivation and manufacturing here.

More than 100 people came to speak to the council. Pot industry consultants, employees, lobbyists and workers called for expanding the marijuana industry. Regular San Diegans - moms, dads, grandparents, youth advisors, teens, and recovering drug users – wanted the council to protect the health and safety of their neighborhoods.

District 2 Council member Lori Zapf was disgusted with the proposal to allow even more accommodation to drug dealing in the city. She urged the council to follow the staff and chief’s recommendation.  Zapf apparently instilled a bit of courage in two of her colleagues. Councilmembers Cate and Sherman also voted against full commercial pot operations. Councilmember Mark Kersey remained conspicuously silent during the meeting.

Amazingly, 6 councilmembers ignored the police chief’s concerns. They ignored the facts and figures from Colorado showing the true cost of that state’s marijuana industry. They ignored the recommendation of their own city staff. Six councilmembers ignored their own constituents, the regular people from underserved communities who took the time off from their jobs and from their families to speak out at City Hall.

Six councilmembers voted to support a local supply chain for growing, manufacturing, transporting and selling of pot and pot products locally. The council majority was led by Chris Ward, whose district probably won’t get any of these new drug businesses. He ignored the needs of poorer communities for a strong public safety policy and message. Five more council members aligned with the marijuana industry lobbyists.

In the past, councilmembers feigned concern for social justice and “patients’ rights.”  However, Monday’s vote was about drug dealing jobs, supply chain, and tax revenues. Drug dealing has always been a job. But until recently most elected officials recognized the harm that it does.

Virtually every problem in our city is exacerbated by drug use: Homelessness, dropout rates, crime, addiction, car crashes, child neglect, and more.

Consider public safety.  Look at the numbers from our local jails.  The San Diego Association of Governments’ latest statistics indicated 52% of the adult males in our county’s jails tested positive for marijuana. That’s the highest percentage in 16 years.  Bear in mind, simple possession of pot may earn you a citation. These men tested positive for pot, but committed far more serious crimes and ended up behind bars. 

Consider public health. A sampling of pot products at a recent convention of “medical” marijuana producers indicated over 80% had pesticides, contaminants and molds.

Remember back in 1996, when backers of Proposition 215 insisted that it would not lead to legalization? When our city council approved medical marijuana stores, we were told it was for safe access for sick people.  Rules were written into the municipal code. However, the pot shops have proven to be lawless and unwilling to follow regulations – even simple rules about signs on their businesses.

Does anyone really believe that these businesses will follow the new rules? Does anyone believe that city oversight of these businesses will be successful? 

Council members recited the pot lobbyist’s sound bites about how a local supply chain will make sure San Diegans who smoke pot are properly supplied. But California currently produces 6 to 12 times more marijuana than the state consumes. Our state has turned into the drug cartel for the whole country.

Council members talked about how growing and processing pot here will eliminate the black market.  Yet more than 40% of pot sales in Colorado are still black market sales. Ironically, the “medical” market that was used to get voters on board is the only market that is going away.

The Union-Tribune’s front-page story on Tuesday quoted Councilmember Barbara Bry: “San Diego consumers are counting on us to provide them a safe product.” Ironically, in the “Crime & Public Safety” section on page B-2, we saw the story of an 18 month old toddler hospitalized after eating marijuana in his home. If we continue to institutionalize and promote drug dealing, these stories will become commonplace. And the city council will be culpable.

San Diego’s elected officials should follow the Poway city council’s example, and protect public health and safety. As Poway mayor Steve Vaus said, “There is no amount of money that would make me vote to support the commercial sales of marijuana in Poway. Period.”