By Leo E. Laurence, J.D.; Hillcrest | Law Enforcement Against Prohibition

Many law enforcement officers, through training and experience in the field, develop an extraordinary ability to look at an innocent scene and notice that a crime is actually being committed.

One evening, after dining with members of the Animal Rescue & Protection League at a restaurant on Encinitas Blvd. in North County, we were chatting outside on the sidewalk and drinking coffee. I casually happened to glance across the street at a 7-11 when I noticed three young people running towards the store. My law enforcement instincts told me something was wrong; though, to this day, I don’t know specifically what I noticed that was amiss.

Police Chief William Lansdowne and Assistant Chief Shelly Zimmerman appeared at the Gay Pride parade in Hillcrest. Photo by Leo E. Laurence

“Take my coffee for a minute,” I said to those chatting on the sidewalk with me. “I want to check something out.” Immediately, I walked across the wide boulevard, and by the time I got to a point near the 7-11 entrance, the three kids came running out of the store and took off down Encinitas Blvd.

Seconds later, the store’s manager frantically ran out of the front door and shouted to me: “I’ve been robbed.” Less than a minute after I made a 9-1-1 call and reported the robbery, a sheriff’s patrol vehicle arrived, which was followed by three more minutes later. Two of the young thieves were apprehended a few blocks away “acting strange,” the arresting deputy later reported.

While the trio of robbers was committing no crime when I first noticed them running towards the 7-11 store, something inside me was saying that something was wrong and needed to be checked out.

SDPD’s Chief Lansdowne’s Support
While our county’s district attorney, Bonnie Dumanis, is intentionally exploiting the uninformed, public stereotypes towards medical marijuana in her campaign to get elected as San Diego’s next mayor, San Diego’s police chief is publicly supporting marijuana as medicine.

“My belief is that we need to concentrate on treatment, not arrests and prosecutions,” Chief Lansdowne said in an interview with the Union Tribune on July 10th. “I think we need to revisit this whole issue of drugs and enforcement. The unfortunate part is that I think it’s more of a political problem than anything else. I’m on board with medical marijuana. I think that there’s a place for it.”

“I think it needs to be managed well,” the chief explained, in an interview with me at the Gay Pride parade in Hillcrest. “It’s confusing right now with each city having a different ordinance (implemented state law authorizing medical marijuana). If we all get together and have one ordinance statewide, I think that will work for everybody. Officers wouldn’t be able to use medical marijuana on-the-job because it would impair their ability to operate and function.”

“My support of medical marijuana is not unusual. My father died of cancer. It was difficult and, towards the end, it would have been benevolent for him to have whatever he needed. We need to get everybody onboard. It’s clear in the votes that there is certainly a desire to have medical marijuana. We just have to manage it well,” Chief Lansdowne continued.

Unlike corporate America, law enforcement is a paramilitary profession. Officers in the field on the streets take their cues and guidance from the top, from their chief.

Dispensary owners attending a closed meeting for their Patient Care Association (PCA) on July 13th cheered for their victory in qualifying a referendum on San Diego’s new, medical marijuana ordinance – an evil, de facto ban on dispensaries.

The PCA joined forces with Citizens for Patients Rights and the California Cannabis Coalition to collect the thousands of signatures required for the referendum. After formally receiving the results, the city council had 10 days to repeal the ordinance or put the referendum on the June 2012 ballot, which could cost the city close to a million dollars.

L.E.A.P. Executive Director Major Neill Franklin (ret.) of Massachusetts (right) talks with Randall Welty of the Patient Care Association on July 18th Photo by Leo E. Laurence

The ordinance was approved by the city council in April. It required that the city’s estimated 160 dispensaries shut down and apply for operating permits, which would create a crushing blow to the thousands of medical marijuana patients in the city.

On July 25th, the city council reluctantly voted 6 to 2 in favor of repeal. Council members David Alvarez, Carl DeMaio, Sherri Lightner, Lorie Zapf, Kevin Faulconer, and Todd Gloria supported the repeal. Council members Tony Young and Marti Emerald voted to put the issue on the June 2012 ballot.

L.E.A.P.’s Executive Director Visits
Major Neill Franklin (ret.) of the Maryland State Police and current executive director of L.E.A.P. headquartered in Massachusetts met with members of the board of the Patient Care Association on July 18th in Ocean Beach.

“L.E.A.P. was formed in 2002 by five police officers who realized that their efforts in combating drugs on the frontlines were not working. That it was very similar to alcohol prohibition in the 1920s,” Major Franklin explained. “L.E.A.P. is not just cops; it’s judges, prosecutors, corrections officials, and federal agents. We’re an international organization with over 50,000 members throughout 80 countries. Anyone can join, but we have about four to five thousand law enforcement officers. We don’t know exactly because we want officers to sign onboard, but they are not required to identify themselves as law enforcement officers.”

“However, we do have a select group of law enforcement folks who make up our Speakers Bureau, including Leo here in San Diego. We have one branch in Brazil, one in Canada, and we’re working on ones in the UK and Australia. Poland is next on our radar, as well as México. We believe we can reduce addiction, crime, murder and disease by legalizing, regulating and controlling all drugs, not just marijuana.”

“We realize this isn’t going to happen overnight. We realize that local efforts such as the PCA and Americans for Safe Access in the medical marijuana community are very important to this issue. People need to see that this can be done. It really can work. Unfortunately, too many people have heard about the horror stories in L.A. where some of the dispensaries are really just ways of moving product.”

“We are here to support groups that are doing great things. We totally got behind Prop. 19 last year to legalize the recreational use of marijuana in California,” the executive director of L.E.A.P. explained.

Radical changes in federal, prosecutorial policies towards medical marijuana were disclosed at the July 13th monthly meeting of the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access in La Jolla.

Originally, the “feds” said that persons complying with state laws authorizing the consumption of cannabis for patients – need not fear prosecution by federal agents.

A recent memo from Deputy U.S. Attorney General James Cole to all U.S. attorneys nationwide says that federal prosecutors are to go after anyone involved in medical cannabis distribution, “even where those activities purport to comply with state laws.”  That is a radical change for the Obama administration.

Meanwhile, the ASA newsletter reported that congressmen Barney Frank of Massachusetts and Jared Polis of Colorado urged in a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to let states regulate medical cannabis without federal interference. Medical marijuana is now legal in 17 states and the District of Columbia.

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