Medical Marijuana News Channel

Medical Marijuana News Channel

Monday, October 24, 2016

Crossing Ethical Lines: How Your Tax Dollars are Funding Cannabis Opponents

This year the pharmaceutical, alcohol, and prison food industries have all weighed in to oppose marijuana legalization initiatives across the country. This comes as little surprise: These industries all have financial interests in keeping marijuana illegal. By funding anti-legalization efforts, they’re simply admitting it.

What does surprise me is that the public is still largely unaware of how government resources—at federal, state, and local levels—are used in the same fashion, in a blatant conflict of interests.

The ways in which the criminal justice lobby uses its power to undermine drug policy reform are well-established, but also complex and sometimes hard to untangle. However, given recent donations by law enforcement unions and associations to campaigns against marijuana legalization in California, where I live, and across the country, I believe it’s important to clarify the unethical way in which taxpayer-funded resources are used in defiance of the proper role of government.

Opponents of marijuana legalization always point to what they term “Big Marijuana’’—and how the new industry uses lobbyists and cash to promote legislation that would be in its own interests. Yet such funding involves accountable, transparent donations with private money.

In contrast, opponents of legalization—including government-funded HIDTA programs, community drug-free organizations, and anti-marijuana nonprofits like SAM—frequently fail to disclose their own funding and incestuous financial connections.

Lobbying by Law Enforcement Organizations

I believe, and was taught during my 20-year police career, that law enforcement, just like the military, should not be allowed to engage in political lobbying. We have always relied on the cliché “We don’t make the law, we enforce it” to define our proper role. The police, like the military, are under the jurisdiction of the executive branch of the US government so that they remain subordinate to their constituents and carry out the will of the civil government.

Yet today, millions of dollars are spent by law enforcement organizations—not only unions but also professional organizations—in order to undermine drug policy reform at the ballot box or in our statehouses.

In California, since the passage of the Compassionate Use Act (Proposition 215) in 1996, legalizing medical marijuana, the law enforcement lobby has undermined many efforts to improve safe access, forcefully opposing any legislation that introduced regulatory models.

During these 20 years, organizations such as the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA) and the California Narcotics Officers’ Association (CNOA) maintained that there was no such thing as medical marijuana and wasted public money—both on lobbying and on arresting patients and providers.

Despite immunity gains made through the passage of Senate Bill 420, the Medical Marijuana Program Act, law enforcement opposition in Sacramento continued until this last legislative session—in which, 20 years after the passage of Prop. 215, and thanks largely to growing pressure from large numbers of stakeholders, Gov. Jerry Brown signed multiple bills to implement the Medical Cannabis Regulation and Safety Act (MCRSA).

Forced to reckon with medical marijuana advocates, providers and the nascent industry participating in a political process they once dominated, those same Californian law enforcement organizations are now acting as opposition proponents and donating funds to oppose Proposition 64, which would legalize marijuana for adult use, and on which California voters will decide on Nov. 8.

To find out more, I researched the five top police organizations in terms of spending on lobbyists in the state capital that have also donated to the current “No” campaign.

These five are the California Correctional Supervisors Organization and the Peace Officers Research Association of California, which are collective bargaining organizations, along with CPCA, CNOA, and the Los Angeles Peace Officers Association, which are professional and training organizations.

According to current California Secretary of State lobbying activity reports, just these five—of course, there are many other law enforcement organizations registered with the state—spent a combined total of $9,552,032.53 of direct and indirect taxpayer dollars on lobbying since 2001. With two more reporting periods left in this legislative session, I anticipate that this number will soon exceed $10 million paid out to lobbyists.

But state-level law enforcement organizations are not alone in doing this.

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