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Thursday, May 19, 2011

California DA's Association Is Fighting Bill to Make Pot Growing a Misdemeanor

Posted By on Thu, May 19, 2011 at 8:04 AM

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You don't need to tell David Eyster about marijuana crime. As Mendocino County district attorney, he deals with pot crimes more than anyone else in the state. Yet the prosecutors in California's "Emerald Triangle" pot-producing region all sponsor AB 1017 --  the bill in the state Legislature written by Assemblyman Tom Ammiano (D-San Francisco).

It would change marijuana cultivation from an automatic felony to a "wobbler," meaning DAs could charge it a misdemeanor if they want to.

This makes sense, considering possession of methaphetamine -- a much bigger problem in rural California -- can be charged as a misdemeanor, while pot growing in any amount is an automatic felony. So if law enforcement officials want to save money and court time by changing the way in which their counties' chief crimes are prosecuted, who's to stop them?

Their own Sacramento lobbying arm, it turns out. One of the main opponents of Ammiano's bill is the California District Attorneys Association.

That DAs would face opposition from their own people, as it were, is unfortunate, but not entirely unexpected, according to Quintin Mecke, a spokesman for Ammiano.

"There's a disconnect," Mecke says. "These are the actual DAs who deal with this issue on a day-to-day basis. It's a classic law-enforcement argument: keeping the status quo, when the status quo clearly isn't working."

The automatic felony for marijuana cultivation means that "trimmers" -- the often down-and-out folks who can make a couple hundred dollars by snipping marijuana buds for 14 hours a day (it's not as glamorous as it sounds) -- must be charged with felonies. And that's ludicrous, according to Eyster.

"Making these crimes potentially wobblers would be the most effective means for dealing with these [trimmer] class of marijuana cultivation/processing cases in Mendocino County," Eyster wrote.

Exactly why the state District Attorney Association would want to overrule its own members on the crimes they prosecute most often is a head-scratcher. Messages left at the CDAA's Sacramento office were not immediately returned.

In addition to other DAs, Eyster and Ammiano must overcome oppositions from other Democrats -- and in at least one case, another Bay Area Democrat. Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D-San Mateo), most famous for his bill that would eliminate San Francisco's popular local hire bill, was one of two Democrats on Wednesday to vote against AB 1017. Despite opposition from Hill and other Democrats, the bill cleared the Appropriations Committee on Wednesday. It will go to the full Assembly early next month, Mecke says.

In the meantime, Eyster and others will try to get their own lobbying arm to listen to them, and Ammiano will rally Democrats' support. "We're hoping the Democratic caucus can pull together and make this happen," he added.

Even if Jerry Hill is chair of said Democratic caucus -- and he is.

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About The Author

Chris Roberts

Chris Roberts has spent most of his adult life working in San Francisco news media, which is to say he's still a teenager in Middle American years. He has covered marijuana, drug policy, and politics for SF Weekly since 2009.


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