Eric Sterling is a member of the Just Say Now advisory board, and President of The Criminal Justice Policy Foundation. He released this statement in response to comments made by LA County Sheriff Lee Baca to the effect that the proliferation of marijuana dispensaries has resulted in more crime in Los Angeles:

In the early 1980s, heroin and other opiate addicts were robbing pharmacies around the country because they were a source for pure narcotics of certain dosage. U.S. Rep. Henry Hyde introduced legislation to make robbery of pharmacies a federal crime. I was the attorney who handled that legislation for the House Judiciary Committee, and we developed a bill that passed, P.L. 98-305 (May 31, 1984), 18 U.S.C. 2118.

No one blamed the pharmacies or their customers! No one said, “Pharmacies are a magnet for crime!” Robbers look for opportunities where there is money or valuable property — banks, jewelry stores, fast food restaurants, liquor stores, etc. Criminologists and intelligent observers of crime don’t blame the victims.

Unfortunately because medical marijuana dispensaries are not fully legal — due to federal law — they have trouble contracting with private security services or getting business insurance as other businesses do routinely.

If Sheriff Baca weren’t intoxicated by the money and hysteria against marijuana, he would not be making this kind of rookie mistaken analysis.

Last week, No on 19 announced that Baca would co-chair the campaign along with Diane Feinstein. That same day, Baca held a press conference to announce the apprehension of a suspect in three West Hollywood murders, and used it as a platform to propagandize against medical marijuana dispensaries. Baca said that as many as 97% of the dispensaries had become criminal enterprises, and that many purchased their marijuana from Mexican drug cartels.

The Associated Press reported that “Baca presented no evidence to support his claim,” and Drug Enforcement Administration spokeswoman Casey McEnry indicated they could not substantiate Baca’s assertions either.

Los Angeles Police Chief Charles Beck has also challenged the claim that marijuana dispensaries attract a criminal element.  “I have tried to verify that because that, of course, is the mantra,” said Beck. “It doesn’t really bear out.”“

Beck’s department  studied the matter and issued a report saying that there was no correlation between citywide robberies and the presence of dispensaries.
“Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries,” he told the Daily News in January.

Baca is an advocate of the Scientology approach to drug treatment, and has used their materials to train deputies in his department.  In 2005, the California Department of Education issued a report indicating that the claims made in the Scientology-sponsored Narconon drug treatment program were “exaggerated” and contained “inaccurate and misleading drug-related information” that would “confuse students and be perceived as designed to arouse fear.”  As a result, California Superintendent of Schools Jack O’Connell recommended that California schools ban the Narconon program from classrooms.

More on the controversy surrounding the Scientology claims advanced by No on 19 Co-Chair Lee Baca can be found here.