ORINDA, Calif. – With the U.S. suffering a severe recession and California in total economic crisis mode, jurisdictions at all levels are looking for ways to make a few extra bucks without raising taxes. The City of San Jose in particular, according to Mayor Chuck Reed, has suffered through 10 consecutive years of deficits. The city is now looking to a revenue source that would be controversial-legalizing marijuana-but totally acceptable to taxpayers. And the impetus for the recent legislation may have started with the city’s former chief of police.
In a SFWeekly.com article, former San Jose Police Chief Joseph McNamara explains his reasoning from both a police and an academic standpoint. McNamara holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University and has been a research fellow at Stanford’s Hoover Institution since 1991.
Half a century ago, McNamara was a rookie cop busting drug users in Harlem. In 1969, he was sent by NYPD to earn advanced degrees at Harvard, where he wrote his doctoral dissertation on “the history of criminalizing drugs and its impact on the police”. When he returned, he was assigned to do research regarding “the cost-effectiveness of the New York Police Department drug-enforcement strategy.”
“We actually lost four to five patrol days handling the evidence and processing the prisoner and going through the court system and so on for every arrest (in Harlem),” says McNamara. “All of us felt the same way about minor arrests for drugs. It was counterproductive in terms of [lowering] crime and even of drug-use itself. …Those arrests stripped the police from the streets of the city. It inundated the courts, and corrections. …That’s the point with the marijuana situation in California, and, in fact, nationally.” McNamara points out that marijuana laws criminalize 10 percent or more of the population, while most related crimes are from users seeking money for the expensive illegal drugs, not from usage itself.
In November of this year, San Jose citizens get a chance to test McNamara’s ideas. Councilman Pierluigi Oliverio, who seems to have a number of revolutionary ideas on solving the city’s economic woes, has proposed a 10 percent tax on the use of medical marijuana according to the San Jose Mercury News. Although clinic operators told the council the tax was too onerous, the council passed it on a 7-4 vote.
The proposal follows closely on the heels of an even more striking issue for state voters to consider: Proposition 19, the Regulate, Control and Tax Cannabis Act of 2010, which would legalize marijuana for recreational use and let cities and counties regulate and tax sales. Prop. 19 also goes before the voters in November.
Backed by the findings of Chief McNamara, Prop. 19 recently picked up the support of the National Black Police Assn., which has about 15,000 members, as the campaign for legalization tries to build support in the black community and among law enforcement officials. The California NAACP has already endorsed the proposition, citing the disproportionate arrest and incarceration of African Americans caught with marijuana.
When prohibition was repealed, many moralists and legislators warned alcohol would destroy America. The government now makes a lot of money from alcohol taxes, and controls get stronger each year. It is argued that marijuana is in the same category, and that its legalization would eliminate much of the related organized crime violence, especially from the “Mexican Mafia,” which is exactly what happened when alcohol was once more legalized. Take it from a Chief of Police with a Ph.D. from Harvard: it’s the better way to go.