In her job as 3rd District Councilwoman for Long Beach, Suzie Price opposed getting rid of Long Beach’s ban on illegal medical marijuana dispensaries. These illegal establishments – according to Price, in Los Angeles County, there is a 10 to one ratio of illegal to legal dispensaries – consume city resources and take police away from more urgent matters. Price notes because these illegal dispensaries operate without oversight, they attract an unwanted element to neighborhoods. “It’s a quality of life issue,” she says. Patrons often smoke marijuana on the premises or can be found loitering at all times of the day.
Shutting down an illegal dispensary involves securing both police and administrative warrants. Price notes Long Beach as spent millions of dollars in shuttering these businesses, only to see them pop up in a new location. When the city shuts off the electricity, some dispensary owners resort to using portable generators to supply power.
Price is also the Assistant Attorney General for Orange County. Jan. 1, 2018 ushered in the era of the legalized recreational use of marijuana in California. Price says her office, the sheriffs, the police and other law enforcement agencies are prepared for this new reality.
“We have eight prosecutors assigned to prosecuting drug-related driving-under-the-influence cases,” she says. Because marijuana and, more specifically, THC, stays in the bloodstream longer than does alcohol, field sobriety tests to determine if a person is under the influence rely more on pupil reaction, cognitive functions and motor reflexes.
“These [field sobriety] tests are designed to test for impairment,” Price says.
The Orange County District Attorney runs the California Traffic Resource Prosecutor Program. This statewide agency is responsible for training law enforcement personnel on what to look for when pulling over a motorist suspected of driving high. Orange County also has 300 drug recognition experts or D.R.E.s. These are officers who are specifically trained to detect drug intoxication. “They can detect the class of drug someone has ingested,” says Price.
The California Bureau of Cannabis Control has been tasked with processing applications and issuing licenses for marijuana sales. Price says because the situation is so fluid, she does not know how many cities in Orange County have agreed to allow marijuana vendors in their limits (the law allows for cities to opt out of selling). She also notes a city can elect to impose a 180-day moratorium on sales if city leaders feel they need more time to evaluate the situation.