Local Faith Leaders Speak Out Against Legalizing Recreational Marijuana

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SACRAMENTO -- It's a bright Thursday morning. Beneath a hand-painted plywood marquee that reads "Love Thy Neighbor Church Of God" a coalition of church leaders gathered in Del Paso Heights to rally against legal recreational pot.

"No against 64," shout the group of men in liturgical garb, priest's collars and robes.

Their voices barley carry above the sound of muffler-less cars whizzing by on Sacramento's Marysville Boulevard.

They have gathered in this economically depressed and predominantly African-American community to deliver their message, despite the fact that it is the African-American community in particular who is being locked up for marijuana crimes.

If marijuana was eliminated as an illegal drug, supporters of Proposition 64 argue we could eliminate those arrests.

"That is illusionary thinking. That's not even true. We have proof in Colorado that arrests went up for African-Americans," said Bishop Ron Allen of the Greater Solomon Temple Community Church.

Both sides come to the Proposition 64 debate armed with statistics.

"With due respect, they're misusing the numbers. There's still racial disparity in terms of marijuana related arrests in Colorado. But the overall number of arrests have significantly reduced across the board," said Jason Kinney, a the spokesperson for the drafters of Proposition 64 or the Adult Use Of Marijuana Act.

Kinney said the initiative would bring law and order to what is now a robust black market.

"It completely preserves local control. Our cities and our county, Sacramento County and Sacramento city, are going to have complete authority about what commercial activity takes place within their borders. And right now, those decisions are being made by drug dealers and cartels," Kinney said.

But the group of church leaders say they've already seen pot-based businesses move into their neighborhood in inordinate numbers.

"Do you want to keep your community high and lethargic? Money isn't worth it, my friend. Look at Del Paso Heights. And if you'd have come earlier you could smell the marijuana in this community already. So we need our city council member, and our mayor-elect to do something that's going to be good for the community, and not good for the government," said Bishop Allen.

The city of Sacramento has pledged $5 million in tax revenue from marijuana grow operations to children's programs.

Meanwhile, as the voters of California wrangle with how to regulate marijuana in the state, our state's law enforcement wrangles with how to keep marijuana users from driving stoned.

"We had nearly 1,000 traffic deaths in 2015 related to marijuana in California. Why would we put the citizenry of this great state at risk by legalizing this very dangerous drug," said Sgt. David Dowty of the California Association of Highway Patrolman, the union that represents CHP officers.

Thursday, Sgt. Dowty was on hand, lending his support to that group of faith leaders in Del Paso Heights, denouncing Proposition 64.

It's a major argument for those who oppose the ballot measure: that the legal system isn't as well equipped to handle high driving as it is to handle drunk driving.

"We're going to identify impaired drivers the way we do today. People don't drive with blood alcohol content on the side of their cars. People we pulled over because officers detect that they're driving while impaired," Kinney said.

Dowty agrees. He says his training and his experience in the field give him the ability to tell if someone is under the influence. And field sobriety tests, similar to the tests for alcohol impairment, are good evidence in an arrest.

But he says when it comes to pot, without and objective measure, without a device that generates a number showing how high someone is, conviction is harder.

"Why would we place our citizens at risk by legalizing marijuana before we have all the tools in the toolbox for dealing with someone should they be arrested and prosecuted for killing another person," Dowty said.

Bur Kinney suggests if the initiative is passed, the tax windfall could be used to equip police with just such a device.

"If we can stop arresting people on the street for the possession and cultivation of marijuana, which most people now think is ridiculous, then we can start focusing on the throbs that matter, real public safety issues like impaired driving. Prop 64 is a solution. It doesn't exacerbate the problem," Kinney said.