Capitol Alert

Police chiefs say GOP congressman’s pot comments ‘offensive’

When Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher endorsed the California initiative to legalize recreational marijuana, the one-time speechwriter for former President Ronald Reagan railed against a justice system that spends billions “to try to take care of someone who wants to smoke weed in his backyard.”

“How many women have been raped or people have been murdered by distracting our law enforcement?” Rohrabacher asked last week in San Francisco.

The Orange County congressman’s comment didn’t sit well with Ventura Police Chief Ken Corney, president of the California Police Chiefs Association, a leading opponent of pot legalization.

In a letter to Rohrabacher, Corney said the statements were misleading and inaccurate, noting that marijuana possession in California has been decriminalized since then-Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger signed Senate Bill 1449. “Considering that the possession of nearly $300 worth of marijuana in California is a non-penal infraction, I am perplexed by your statement,” he wrote.

“I have never heard of a sexual assault or murder occurring due to the fact that our officers were responding to an individual consuming marijuana on his or her personal property, and to make such an assertion is insulting to the brave men and women who risk their lives to keep Californians safe.”

Corney said California’s Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation “currently spends zero dollars annually incarcerating persons found in simple possession of marijuana.”

He went on to contend that the California legalization measure is not about social justice, criminal justice savings, granting people the freedom to smoke marijuana on their personal property or protecting public safety.

“It is about the commercialization and normalization of marijuana,” Corney said.

Reached by phone, Rohrabacher said his comments pertained to the federal criminal justice system, not California, where the initiative would apply.

“I don’t read the word ‘California’ in my quote,” he said. “Anybody that complains that I am being ‘misleading’ and ‘inaccurate’ better be accurate in what they are saying. And they are not.”

“The fact is we have, as part of the war against weed, or the war against marijuana, we are spending billions of dollars. And it is part of a criminal justice operation at the national level.”

Even in California, he said, it’s counterproductive. He again questioned how many officers might be distracted from their beats of patrolling neighborhoods for “real criminals” by having to give citations to someone with a joint in their pocket.

Rohrabacher also noted that the Police Chiefs Association was one of the organizations that originally opposed the SB 1449 cited in its own letter. “I think there’s a contradiction there.”

He concluded: “I guess the cops have every right to grandstand on this issue like everybody else does.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago