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Ventura police chief: Prop 64 is designed to maximize pot industry profits

A young woman wearing a paper marijuana leaf on her head marches in support of the legalization of marijuana in Germany.
A young woman wearing a paper marijuana leaf on her head marches in support of the legalization of marijuana in Germany.
Sean Gallup/Getty Images
A young woman wearing a paper marijuana leaf on her head marches in support of the legalization of marijuana in Germany.
Chief Ken Corney of Ventura Police Department, and president of the California Police Chiefs Association
California Police Chiefs Association

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This November, Californians will vote on Proposition 64 and decide whether to legalize recreational marijuana. According to a survey from the Public Policy Institute of California released in May,  60 percent of likely voters say that, in general, marijuana use should be legal. Yet there's opposition to Proposition 64 from politicians, including Senator Dianne Feinstein, groups such as Citizens Against Legalized Marijuana (CALM)  and almost all law enforcement agencies in the state. 

Take Two's A Martinez spoke with Ventura Police Chief, Ken Corney. He's also president of the California Police Chiefs Association. Some highlights from the interview are below. 


What are your concerns about Proposition 64?

This isn't about reefer madness or some jihad against marijuana. This is really about the initiative being very poorly written. It's designed to maximize profits for the marijuana industry  that is hoping to gain a strong foothold in California.  It's a for profit, kind of big tobacco play of the 1950s, to normalize and commercialize marijuana in our communities in California.

What part of it is poorly written or what specific parts do you have an issue with?

What we're gravely concerned about is access to our youth and we know from what we see in Colorado there's been a significant increase in youth access. We think that an initiative is not the way to move forward with something so important as the proper regulation of marijuana in our community. It will be bad for neighborhoods, it will be bad for California and as we're seeing in Colorado it has some tragic results on our youth and our communities.

Do you think people should be arrested or go to jail for smoking pot?

No. Absolutely not. This isn't about arresting people for marijuana. Possession of less than an ounce of marijuana is a 100 dollar infraction. There is nobody in prison for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana. It's a misnomer that that exists. Really the criminal penalties are very minor and it's just not the focus of our position. 

We do have criminal enterprises involved in large scale distribution of marijuana,  including the cultivation and distribution and sale of large quantities of marijuana that we deal with from time to time, for instance organized crime and the Mexican cartels. And what they've found in Colorado is that, that kind of organized crime activity didn't go away, in fact it has increased significantly since marijuana's been legalized.

Wouldn't all of these dangers exist whether there's a legal market or not?

You can say the same thing about meth amphetamine or heroine, but when you normalize and commercialize something and make it more available ... it creates a greater exposure or access to the product that can create greater problems.

Let's just talk about alcohol for a minute. Imagine if alcohol were more difficult to obtain in communities, we'd have less problems with alcohol. There are some advocates who I have heard or spoken to who believe that if we had less alcohol access especially in economically disadvantaged neighborhoods, we'd have less alcohol problems  in those communities. But alcohol is widespread in those communities.  So the idea that we're going to do that with marijuana is something that the voters need to think about and consider the impacts. 

Comments edited for clarity

Series: From Gold To Green

This story is part of Take Two's special coverage on what the legalization of recreational pot could mean for California's economy, criminal justice system and society. 

Read more in this series and let us know your thoughts and questions below in the comments section or on Take Two's Facebook page.