This is Mark Gutglueck with the San Bernardino County Sentinel.
I am writing with regard the city’s contemplated change of policy with regard to allowing the commercial sales of marijuana in Barstow. I have sent a similar letter to the city’s spokesman, Anthony Riley. I am writing this to you specifically because of your status as someone who spent his career in law enforcement.
The liberalization of the way in which marijuana and those possessing it, smoking it, buying it, selling it, growing it is not endemic to Barstow but has been occurring in many places in California. My questions would be equally applicable elsewhere. Nevertheless, Barstow appears to be on the brink of an epochal or generational change with regard to not only its toleration of this substance but its own active involvement with regard to it.
For generations, just about anything related to marijuana could land you in jail or prison. If you were caught in possession of a minute quantity you could count on being arrested and going to jail; it would not be unheard of that you might go to prison. If you possessed it in any quantity or possessed it in a small quantity but had it packaged into smaller quantities, you could very well be deemed to be in possession of it for the purpose of selling it and would definitely go to prison. Smoking it would get you into jail or perhaps prison.
The justification for this previous stance was that marijuana is anathema to a civilized society in that it is a pernicious narcotic and those who were involved with it were criminals and moral reprobates.
Even after the voters of California in 1996 passed Proposition 215 to allow the drug to be used for medical purposes, Barstow and its officials prohibited the operation of businesses intent on selling the product as medicine.
Now, the city is contemplating allowing marijuana to be sold, not only for medical use but for its intoxicative effect, what is referred to as recreational use. Moreover, the city is considering involving itself in this commercialization by arranging a taxing scheme on the marijuana trade that will take place within its jurisdiction.
How does the City of Barstow and how do its officials justify this change?
If marijuana possession, use and sales were deemed felonies, punishable by prison, and the city and its officials felt applying corrective action such as arrest, prosecution and incarceration to be morally justifiable, how does it and they now conclude allowing that activity to occur is okay?
If the sale of marijuana was deemed a felony that mandated prison time in large measure because an individual profiting by trafficking in human misery was considered unacceptable, how is it that the city and city officials now stand ready to participate in a financial free-for-all and be recipients of a windfall involving the sale of marijuana? What does this say of the city’s ethics? What does this say of city officials’ ethics? What does this say of the morality of the city and its officials? Does the prospect of revenue generation trump the concept of public morality in Barstow?
If the city’s position is now that a more enlightened age has dawned and the standards applied in the past were wrong such that throwing people in prison for their involvement with marijuana was a misguided exercise of public authority that is now apparent with the current enlightenment, what measures should now be taken with regard to redressing the infliction of punishment on those imprisoned for involvement with it in the past? On this issue in particular, I would like to get your perspective as a former law enforcement officer. You would know better than I the degree to which the enforcement of marijuana laws occupied your attention, time, energy and efforts when you were an active member of the police department. I can only guess. My guess is that arresting people for smoking it, possessing it and selling it was something you did at least a few times during your career. Given Barstow’s geographical position as a major crossroads in California from the central part of the state into the southern part of the state and through which a substantial number of people travel from outside the state into the state or from inside the state to outside the state, a fair amount of illicit marijuana must have passed though Barstow while you were on watch as a law enforcement officer. How now do you justify to yourself having engaged in applying the authority of arrest and initiating the prosecutions of individuals that had the potential or actual effect of subjecting them to incarceration while you are now engaged in arranging for the city to avail itself of revenues to be generated from the sale of marijuana? Do you see a contradiction here? Do you have any sort of personal moral dilemma or feel any qualms with regard to this? If the city moves to allowing marijuana to be sold within its confines and then takes a percentage of that money being spent on the drug through taxes, what would you say to someone you arrested for marijuana use, or marijuana possession or marijuana sales who went to prison who accuses you of hypocrisy? What relationship do you see between the law and morality? When you were enforcing the law, did the morality of the law have any significance to you? That is, did you consider all laws to be moral ones? Did you differentiate between laws you found justifiable and ones you did not? Or did you consider the law to simply be the law, and its morality or lack thereof to be immaterial? Is there, in your view, a correspondence between morality and the law? Do you consider all laws to be moral?
I don’t know whether you are willing to engage with me and the Sentinel on this subject or not. Again, I recognize that Barstow is not unique in its current and past prohibitions against marijuana nor is it the only jurisdiction in California making, or contemplating making, a 180 degree flip on this issue. Nevertheless, there is the perception of a significant contradiction in the public policy now under consideration, and I hope you understand and can respect my effort to have Barstow’s city officials explain and justify their collective action. As a former law enforcment officer, you bring an even more poignant perspective to this issue than many other city officials, and that is why I am endeavoring to deal with you directly with regard to this.
Thank you for whatever perspective you can provide me and the Sentinel’s readership.
Councilman Harpole did not respond.