As law enforcement agencies have come to depend on the millions they rake in from the war on drugs and asset forfeiture laws, maybe it’s no wonder they’re not advocates for change in the state’s drug laws.
SACRAMENTO — As California prepares to vote on marijuana legalization, most of the opposition is coming from major beneficiaries of the war on drugs: police and prison guards.
Twenty years ago, California was the first state to legalize medical marijuana, and the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, which will appear on the ballot in November, would control, regulate and tax adult use of marijuana in the state.
The measure has already picked up a wide range of endorsements. Supporters include Gavin Newsom, California’s lieutenant governor and former mayor of San Francisco, underdog Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, the Los Angeles County Democrats and the California NAACP.
Meanwhile, opponents raised at least $60,000 in the first quarter of 2016 and formed the Coalition for Responsible Drug Policies, which includes “the California Police Chiefs Association, the Riverside Sheriffs’ Association, the Los Angeles Police Protective League’s Issues PAC, and the California Correctional Supervisors’ Organization,” among others, according to The Intercept.
“Roughly half of the money raised to oppose a ballot measure to legalize recreational marijuana in California is coming from police and prison guard groups, terrified that they might lose the revenue streams to which they have become so deeply addicted,” The Intercept’s Lee Fang reported on Wednesday.
Two Democratic lawmakers, Assemblyman Jim Cooper and Sen. Cathleen Galgiani, also signaled their opposition to the bill. Both have “deep law enforcement ties,” according to a recent report from The Sacramento Bee. Cooper is a former employee of the Sacramento County Sheriff, while Galgiani is known for her close relationship with police.
California residents voted down a similar measure in 2010, but support for marijuana legalization has risen nationwide in the years since. A 2015 Gallup poll suggested that 58 percent of Americans support legalization, and that support swells to 71 percent among 18 to 34 year olds.
A survey of 1,000 California voters in February showed about 60 percent of voters were likely to support the measure. And, as with the nationwide Gallup poll, younger voters were more likely to voice their support, with 80 percent of 18 to 34 year olds saying they would vote yes.
Legalization supporters have far outstripped opponents when it comes to fundraising, gathering $2.25 million into their war chest by February. According to The Orange County Register, top donations include “$1 million from billionaire Napster co-founder Sean Parker and $500,000 from the Irvine-based company Weedmaps.”
Fang explained police and prisons have a lot to lose from legalization:
“Drug war money has become a notable source of funding for law enforcement interests. Huge government grants and asset-seizure windfalls benefit police departments, while the constant supply of prisoners keeps the prison business booming.”
Even small cities in Los Angeles County bring in millions through asset forfeiture laws, which allow prosecutors and law enforcement seize vehicles, property and cash that’s suspected of even cursory links to illegal drug sales. Those windfalls dried up rapidly in Washington after the state legalized marijuana, leading to sharp cuts in police department budgets.
The war on drugs is equally lucrative for prisons. One study found that Pennsylvania currently houses 97 people for marijuana crimes in its state prisons, at an annual cost to taxpayers of $2.5 million. And Fang reported that California guards frequently lobby for increased prison populations:
“In California, the prison guard union helped finance the ‘three strikes’ ballot measure in 1994 that deeply increased the state prison population. In 2008, the California prison union provided funds to help defeat Proposition 5, a measure to create prison diversion programs for nonviolent offenders with drug problems.”
A May 19 editorial on marijuana.com, which is funded by AUMA supporter Weedmaps, suggested law enforcement efforts were ultimately doomed:
“With terrible flashes of wild clarity, California’s police and prison guards are fighting to perpetuate their cruel and stupid dogma with little more than pocket change.”