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West Hollywood to consider easing enforcement of marijuana laws
By: North County Times wire services -
WEST HOLLYWOOD -- Pot smokers wouldn't have to worry about possessing small amounts of marijuana in West Hollywood -- or smoking it in private -- if the community's City Council adopts a proposed resolution on Monday.
The resolution would instruct the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department, which patrols West Hollywood, not to target adults who possess small amounts of marijuana or smoke the herb in private, city officials said.
Minors and drug dealers would still be subject to arrest, and smoking in public would still be prohibited.
The council has already voted to allow dispensaries of medical marijuana under the state's compassionate care law approved by voters in a statewide initiative, said Councilman John Duran.
Several dispensaries that sell medical marijuana to patients with a doctor's prescription for the drug have been operating in the community for more than a year.
The community also has a large gay population, some of whom are living with HIV, and Duran said some patients use marijuana to relieve side effects from AIDS medications.
"Council was unanimous earlier on in supporting medicinal use of marijuana," he said. "This goes a step further. As far as I know, we're the first city in Southern California to attempt to do this. A couple of my colleagues are somewhat conservative -- not sure what they'll do -- but I believe it'll pass."
Duran said he believes the resolution will get the three out of five votes needed to pass. If approved, the new rules would go into effect "immediately," he said.
The council decided to take up the issue to avoid a costly ballot initiative regarding marijuana use being pushed by a local marijuana advocacy group called the West Hollywood Civil Liberties Alliance.
If the council approves the resolution, the group has agreed to drop its initiative, which would save the city thousands of dollars, Duran said.
The policy change was initially proposed as an ordinance, but was changed to a resolution to avoid conflicts with state and federal laws, Duran said.
An ordinance is a law, while a resolution would merely send law enforcement the message that they should "focus on more serious crimes," he said.
"Under state law, possession of marijuana is still illegal under the California Health and Safety Code," Duran said. "We cannot pass laws that contradict state or federal law, but we can give direction to our sheriff's department that we consider marijuana for personal use to be a very low priority and that (officers) instead focus on more serious crimes in the city of West Hollywood."
Duran noted that after the council passed another resolution recommending that officers not arrest couples engaging in sex acts in cars that the number of such arrests went down.
According to Duran, the city asked law enforcement to merely "tap on the window of the car and say `go home,"' instead of arresting couples found having sex in cars, which legally constitutes lewd conduct and a crime.
He added that if deputies ignored the council's resolution, the city could opt to not renew the sheriff's contract to operate in West Hollywood and contract with another police department such as Beverly Hills, or start its own police department.
Although a resolution regarding small amounts of marijuana would not be binding on the sheriff's department, Duran said he expects deputies would comply.
"I think, deep down, they really feel the same way we do," he said.