NBPD Prepares for Legalized Marijuana

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Many California residents have cheered the passing of Proposition 64, the new law that allows anyone over the age of 21 to purchase, possess, transport, or use up to one ounce of marijuana for recreational purposes.

However, it’s sobering news for public safety personnel. New rules must be enforced and potential dangers face the city and the Newport Beach Police Department.

Before California voted to pass Prop 64 in the November election, the states of Colorado, Washington, and Oregon passed similar laws. Deputy Police Chief Dennis Birch visited those states and spoke with officials there to learn from their experiences. He told the audience at former mayor Diane Dixon’s final town hall meeting of 2016 that the Newport Beach police department is prepared for the new challenges.

What the Police Expect to See

When people smoke marijuana and then get behind the wheel of a vehicle, arrests, DUI’s and traffic collisions are likely to go up.

Major cities in states that have legalized marijuana all saw similar statistics increase.

“There isn’t a breathalyzer or field test for pot influence,” Birch said. “Data collection is a challenge. There is not a limit or something like blood alcohol level.”

Police officers have been trained to recognize the symptoms of being under the influence of cannabis, but Birch noted that “it leaves the blood quickly, and stays in the brain.”

There’s also the question of what’s legal and what’s not. Personal use of marijuana at home is legal, but smoking it in public is not. Police have the burden of educating people as well as enforcing new measures.

Other states with legalized marijuana have seen an increase in young people using the drug since passing their respective laws, despite efforts to prevent it. In California, one must be 21 to use or possess marijuana, except in medical cases. Police foresee the same happening here.

Revenue from Marijuana Sales

One selling point of legalization has traditionally been that the state can collect tax revenue on sales, once available, but Birch said that the other states are “not seeing great revenues yet. Illegal enterprises are still alive and well in Colorado, Washington, and Oregon.”

Newport Beach is not likely to pass an ordinance to allow marijuana sales. At this time, it is illegal to sell marijuana as an individual and there won’t be any pot stores popping up at Fashion Island anytime soon.

City Council will discuss the issue in the new year, according to Diane Dixon, but no revenue is expected in Newport Beach without dispensaries or state-regulated personal sales.

“The city is well-positioned,” said Birch, if people are worried about stores appearing in their neighborhood. But, he warns, nearby Santa Ana and Costa Mesa will likely have them as soon as those establishments are regulated.

Birch also told the Town Hall audience that crime increased by 1.1 percent over last year in Newport Beach, but that violent crime was down 3 percent.

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