With Santa Ana having recently approved several storefront marijuana dispensaries following a controversial lottery—all of which had to pass police background checks—you might have thought Orange County law enforcement had given up its longstanding war on medical pot. You’d be wrong, as evidenced by what took place on the evening of Jan. 7 at the Sheriff’s Regional Training Academy in Tustin, where the Sheriff’s Department and the OC Department of Education joined forces to sponsor an anti-pot conference.
The “Threat of Marijuana Workshop,” as it was called, invited city officials and business leaders to get together over coffee, lemonade, and Costco sandwiches and cookies to spread the word on why legalizing marijuana in California is a terrible decision. But it wasn’t just a presentation on why legalization is bad for our community. Instead, it was an amalgamation of manipulative rhetoric, scare tactics and aggressive instruction on what people should believe about the affects of cannabis. In other words, last night’s anti-cannabis workshop was well orchestrated propaganda, which became apparent within the first 15 minutes of the conference.
As Sheriff Sandra Hutchens kicked off the discussion, she argued that pot is an undeniable gateway drug that needs to remain illegal, as it leads to the use of other illicit drugs. She also took issue with legalization advocates who assert that regulating marijuana will put the cartels out of business. Several chuckles and sighs of annoyance sounded from the crowd, which indicated that there were some pro-marijuana guests in attendance.
“Does anyone here actually believe that [argument]?” Hutchens asked. Before she could even finish the sentence multiple people in the audience raised their hands and several people even shouted “I do!”
“It will not put the cartels out of business,” Hutchens protested. “There will still be an underground economy on the sale of drugs to bypass the taxes.” As Sheriff Hutchens went into what she believed the cartels will begin to sell if pot is legalized, the divide between those who were pro and anti-marijuana became clear— and most of those in attendance were in agreement with Hutchens.
After Hutchens gave her spiel, Dr. Al Mijares, the OC Superintendent of Schools briefly took the stage and picked up where Hutchens left off. “The designer marijuana that’s synthetically driven is more potent than we’ve ever seen before and this does affect the human mind; it affects the entire body…,” Mijares said. “It just kills the innovation, the creativity of human life. It creates listless people when they smoke pot,” he said. “[Pot smokers] are no longer solving problems— they’re creating problems,” he said.
Statements like this were consistent through out the night. The dramatization of what’s going to happen to the future of Orange County schools, businesses and communities was over the top at minimum. “[The] L.A Unified [School District] alone has 6.1 million students. So if California [legalizes marijuana], we’re in trouble,” he said. “In all honesty, if [marijuana] goes legal, I’ll probably consider moving out of state.”
Up next in the lecture was popular anti-pot propagandist Kevin Sabet, the co-founder of Project SAM, or Smart Approaches to Marijuana. In the beginning of his presentation he stated, “I’ve heard a lot that [Marijuana] is God’s herb—of course, poison Ivy is also God’s herb and not something you want to smoke.” After earning the chuckles of even those who are pro-marijuana, he went into an in depth power point about the impact of the legalization of marijuana in Colorado, and stated multiple times that the legalization of pot in Washington State and Colorado have already had drastic impacts on public safety and health.
One of the most notable parts of his presentation was his claim that the marijuana industry has made it’s way into “mainstream newspapers.” He supported this claim by showing a picture of marijuana ads that looked very similar to those in the back of Voice Media newspapers such as OC Weekly.
“The future does not look good for Colorado and Washington,” Sabet said. ” [SAM] really wants to stand with you as we really try and educate the country,” he said. “What you can do is educate your loved ones, educate your neighbors… host a coffee and conversation about pot in your house with your friends— we’ll give you the talking points. Write a letter to your newspaper— we’ll give you what you can use to write. We need more people to stand up.”
Among those in the crowd were activists Diane Goldstein and Steven Downing, and several other members of the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP). When asked how they felt about the workshop and Sabet’s presentation, Goldstein said, “I think that the thing here is that all of us want to reduce the harms and risk of drugs in our society, but we can’t use fear and rhetoric to do it.”
“Being that this is a political issue, added Downing, “I really have a problem with a public institution, a tax-afforded institution allowing a forum like this to take place without the arguments of the other side.”