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Lawmen become key voices in marijuana-legalization fight -- on both sides of Proposition 19

November 1, 2010 |  8:08 am


On television, in news conferences, at forums and in phone calls, both sides in the battle over legalizing marijuana in California have turned to law enforcement to pitch their arguments to undecided voters who, skeptical of the war on drugs, wonder if the initiative might be a better way.

The opposition to Proposition 19 has deployed police officers and prosecutors to warn that the initiative would mean more children trying pot and more stoned drivers. Kim Raney, Covina's police chief for the last 10 years, became one of the most prominent opponents by default. When the issue went before the state's police chiefs, he joked, "Everybody took a giant step backwards."

Some of the former officers who support the initiative began to question drug laws while on duty, but have become outspoken only in retirement. "It's not a particular campaign that I really wanted to get involved with," former San Jose Chief Joseph D. McNamara said. "I like cops, and I have been around them all my life."

Proposition 19 would eliminate penalties for adults 21 and older who possess up to an ounce of pot or who grow the plants in plots of up to 25 square feet for personal use. The initiative also takes a step toward legalization, allowing cities and counties to authorize commercial cultivation and retail sales.

Stephen Downing, a former deputy chief of the Los Angeles Police Department, was monitoring a sting operation in 1973 when a cocaine dealer shot and killed an undercover officer. "You say to yourself, 'What is this about?'" he said. "That stirred in my gut for quite a long time."

Read the full story here.

-- John Hoeffel

Photo: Joseph D. McNamara, former San Jose police chief, is one of the faces of the "yes" campaign for Proposition 19. Credit: Yeson19.com