OAKLAND — City Attorney John Russo last week endorsed the state's ballot initiative to legalize marijuana, and the City Council seems poised to do the same soon.

Californians this November will vote on a measure that would legalize adult use and personal cultivation of marijuana. Russo called it an overdue change in the state's policy on marijuana.

"What we've been trying to do is fight a raging fire with a watering can," Russo said. "The better way is to cut off the oxygen."

Marijuana remains outlawed by the federal government. But Russo and others compare the ban on the drug to the country's failed prohibition against alcohol, saying it emboldens criminals dealing California's largest cash crop.

"You don't see anyone running across the border with a six pack" of beer, said Mauricio Garzon, a campaign coordinator working for the passage of the initiative. "You don't see people shooting people (over alcohol) in Chicago like you did during Prohibition."

Garzon said Russo is the state's first city attorney to back the measure publicly, though he said the campaign expects others will come forward soon and do the same. A number of retired law enforcement officials also support the measure.

Opponents are making the exact opposite argument on public safety, saying legalizing marijuana would make it easier for those controlling the marijuana trade now to create havoc. Tim Rosales, spokesman for Public Safety First, an organization formed to oppose the initiative, said law enforcement would stand overwhelmingly against legalization.


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"They see the problems from a public safety standpoint," Rosales said. "They see the problems that can arise from this. You would virtually give the Mexican drug cartels a way to operate in this state without having to deal with federal border patrols. "... That's a much easier hill for them to climb."

Organizations that have announced their opposition include the California Police Chiefs Association, the California Peace Officers' Association and Mothers Against Drunk Driving. All the major gubernatorial candidates have come out against the idea of legalizing marijuana, though Democratic candidate Jerry Brown, state attorney general and a former Oakland mayor, has not commented on the specific ballot initiative because as attorney general he was responsible for writing the title and summary of the measure, said spokesman Sterling Clifford.

Support is strong in Oakland, however, where former state Sen. Don Perata and Councilmember Jean Quan (Montclair-Laurel), the two leading mayoral candidates, support the measure. Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan (at-large), who is considering a mayoral run, supports it as well.

Kaplan said she particularly liked the control the initiative would give to local governments.

"Cities can choose not to allow cannabis sales and production or can choose to allow it," Kaplan said. "And if we choose to allow it, we can choose what controls and regulations are put in place to control it."

Most Oakland council members already have endorsed the initiative as individuals. A council committee is scheduled to decide May 13 whether to forward a resolution in support of the measure to the full council later this month.

Women's summit

Mayor Ron Dellums will host his annual Model City Summit on Women on Monday. Dellums and his wife, Cynthia, announced on Thursday the winners of the summit's Women of Greatness Awards.

They are: Maeve Brown, an economic rights and housing advocate; Elana Metz, co-founder of Girls Moving Forward; Dahlia Moodie, president and CEO of Energy Conservation Options; Barbara Morrison, president of TMC Development Corporation; Jacqueline Rushing, founder and executive director of the Young Scholars Program; and Lateefah Simon, executive director of the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights.

Two others will receive honorable mentions: Dee Johnson, executive director of the Lend A Hand Foundation, and Carolyn Thomas-Russell, executive director of A Safe Place.

Registration for the event is $75. It runs from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Oakland Marriott. For details, visit www.oaklandnet.com.