Debate: Pleasant Hill Brass Considers Pot 'Deadliest Drug in the Country'



Ex-San Jose Chief Joseph McNamara and Pleasant Hill Police Chief Pete Dunbar squared off on Prop 19 during a live broadcast on the Internet facilitated by the San Francisco Chronicle on Thursday from 12 to 12:45 p.m. Addressing the "Societal Consequences of Prop. 19," the two offered starkly different takes on the ballot initiative, with McNamara using what he called common sense and referring to empirical studies, while Chief Dunbar mostly relied on his experiences in the suburb of Pleasant Hill and anti-19 talking points. Highlights:

On the subject of usage rates going up after Prop 19:

Chief McNamara — a 1991 research fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University — said he was not sure. Amsterdam has lower per capita usage rates than the US and ending alcohol prohibition in this country led to less use over time.

“Even if there is an increase, is it worth carrying on the incredibly expensive and bad situation that we have with the drug war with marijuana? There are many costs affiliated with this, including violence and corruption and making criminals out of 10 to 30 percent of the population that happen to use a substance that we do not approve of.”

Chief Dunbar — who has a master's in arts from San Diego State — responded that he also does not know if usage would go up, but when Alaska decriminalized pot, rates of juvenile use went up. Dunbar said Prop 19 is bad because the onus will fall on cities and counties to tax pot or ban it.

“This isn't the way you go about raising money,” he said. “I think marijuana is the most deadliest drug in the country because of the violence associated with it.”

Dunbar said cities and counties won't go for it and medicinal marijuana is a joke. He said Prop 19 originators are in it for the money, and that it's hard for cops to tell when people are high, as opposed to drunk.

On the subject of the black market:

Dunbar: As long as juveniles and people without I.D. want it there will be a black market. “If this would end the black market, I would be for it.”

McNamara: Look at alcohol. “How much did the drug cartels make selling Budweiser and Corona this year? The answer is nothing because it's legal and taxed.”

On the subject of freeing up police funds for other things:

McNamara: “This is not the answer to California's fiscal problems, but you have to start somewhere. We should have police concentrating on what the public really wants and not some crusade about people leading immoral lives.”

Treatment is cheaper and better than prison, he notes, and Prop 19 will save money and get new tax revenue.

Dunbar: Marijuana has already become a low priority and “only 1,500 people” are in prison in California on drug charges. People are getting tickets and there's not going to be any extra money.

McNamara responds: Marijuana enforcement has gotten more intense, especially for juveniles where arrests have increased 200 percent. This gives kids criminal records. “If you say it's pretty trivial, that people are just getting tickets for it, why is this proposition so opposed by people who say 'we're not paying much attention to marijuana right now'?

On the subject of whites using more pot than blacks, but minorities suffering the majority of arrests:

McNamara: It's become a civil rights issue. It's related to heavy policing of the low-income crime centers.

Dunbar: “I don't know. I don't see a substantive issue. ... I just don't see it that way.” [Note: Pleasant Hill is 81.77 percent white, according to the Census.]

Dunbar adds: “Prop 19 is not really legalization, because it leaves it up to cities and counties to legalize it or not.”

Then added: “Do we want to legalize a mind-altering product that's just going to add to the current level of problems? It's a morally bankrupt thing to do.... This is just way too much. I can just tell you what I see on the streets and I don't want it out there.”

On the subject of Prop 19's effect on medical marijuana patients and dispensaries:

Dunbar: I don't think it really effects medicinal pot dispensaries. My understanding is it leaves that alone.

McNamara: I don't think it effects medical pot.

On the subject of cannabis as a possible gateway drug:

Dunbar: “It's a gateway. It's where people start.”

McNamara: “The research is overwhelming, marijuana is not a gateway drug to other drugs. There is no gateway drug, but if there was one, it would probably be beer.”

“The University of Michigan found overwhelmingly among high school users and college users, alcohol is a problem more than marijuana. But this issue will not be resolved by empirical studies and the findings of different scientists. It will be resolved by public common sense over, 'should we be handcuffing people, and putting them into cells over a moral issue, as well as establishing criminal identities of young people?' It's a disaster.”

Meanwhile, the latest SurveyUSA Poll Thursday shows Prop 19 up 50 to 40, while the latest Sacto Bee/Field Poll finds 47 percent of Californians support legalizing marijuana with controls like alcohol, plus another 4 percent support legalizing it outright. That poll did not test the wording of Prop 19.