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Activism and the CPRA: Medical cannabis activists with San Diego Americans for Safe Access use California Public Records Act requests to expose police falsehoods

Activists from San Diego Americans for Safe Access use California Public Records Act ("CPRA") requests to disprove misleading claims made by law enforcement in support of restrictions on medical cannabis. The now-debunked claims, based on deliberately misleading statistics, were being used to support restrictions on medical cannabis in other local jurisdictions.

A recent effort by the San Diego chapter of Americans for Safe Access, described in this story appearing in the Voice of San Diego ("VOSD"), shows how activists can use the public records act to hold law enforcement accountable when it advocates dishonestly for public policy. 

The story was published after SDASA released this excellent info sheet on the data.

In September of 2017, former San Diego Chief of Police Shelley Zimmerman spoke to the San Diego City Council about medical cannabis facilities and crime. From the VOSD article:

Every municipality in San Diego County that limits or bans the sale of marijuana has cited public safety as the justification without much detail.

That’s what made Shelley Zimmerman’s testimony in September 2017 unique.

San Diego’s police chief at the time, Zimmerman urged the City Council against allowing cultivation, manufacturing and distribution facilities. The negative consequences would be “enormous,” Zimmerman argued. She cited 272 police radio calls for “burglaries, robberies, thefts, assaults and shootings, just to name a few,” at medical marijuana dispensaries over a two-and-a-half-year period as evidence of the kind of activity such facilities invite on a neighborhood.

Activists with SDASA decided not to take Zimmerman's claims at face value and submitted a CPRA request.

Under the CPRA, many law enforcement records are exempt from disclosure due to the law enforcement investigatory records exemption in Cal. Gov. Code § 6254(f). However, there is certain information, including information regarding calls for service, that must be disclosed from otherwise exempt records. See Cal Gov. Code § 6254(f)(2)(A).

SDASA requested the information related to Zimmerman's claims. Initially, the City only provided summary information. This release, however, did not include all the information described in § 6254(f)(2)(A). In response, SDASA submitted this follow-up request

In response to the follow-up, SDASA received the relevant information, analyzed it with the assistance of a member of Law Enforcement Action Partnership, and produced this excellent information sheet. 

In the meantime, local politicians in the neighboring cities of Oceanside and Imperial Beach have been citing to the misleading statistics. Now, the information SDASA provided can be used in the effort to secure safe access to medical cannabis for patients in those jurisdictions. 

This is a great example of how medical cannabis activists, and activists in general, can use the California Public Records Act to correct misleading public statements from law enforcement.

If you are an activist and have questions on how to incorporate the CPRA into your efforts, feel free to contact me for more information.

Abenicio Cisneros