Last week on June 27th at the Jackie Robinson Park Recreation Center a meeting entitled “Let’s Clear the Air: Marijuana Smoke & Our Parks” was hosted by DayOne, Rethinking Alcohol and Drugs – San Gabriel Valley, and representatives from the Pasadena Public Health Department, PUSD, and the Police Department. The goal of the meeting was to gather ideas for updating the no smoking policy signs in parks (passed by the city in 2008) to include info about marijuana smoking. This comes in response to the passage of Proposition 64 which decriminalized adult marijuana use and cultivation in California. Unfortunately, the tone of the meeting from some staff and especially the police department, continued the language of the failed War on Drugs and “Broken Windows” policing.
Staff from Day One began the meeting by presenting their findings from 300 surveys done at local parks. While a good start, there is bias in the survey results. Both Jackie Robinson and Pintoresca were overrepresented in the survey data with 200 surveys collected there. While parks outside of the Northwest community had less than 10 surveys each, Jefferson Park having zero. To DayOne’s credit, they had a disclaimer on these slides which stated, “Results may be unreliable, sample size very small.” Overall it provided a first step in looking at this community health question.
Next, participants were asked to create signs that could be placed in parks. Overall the language from residents focused on education and protecting youth and families from secondhand smoke. Residents emphasized that community members should not be criminalized and instead know their rights under Proposition 64 and the city ordinance.
However, this positive view shifted at the end of the meeting when some staff repeated Drug War narratives. Some city staff stated that normalizing smoking marijuana will make children want to smoke and stigmatized marijuana use overall. While this might seem logical, it ignores the research by the Drug Policy Institute and author of The New Jim Crow, Michelle Alexander, who argued that making marijuana illegal has been used to target communities of color and that in cases of addiction, it often comes from trauma rather than normalizing marijuana use.
When the police department shared their stance, they stated that over the next two weeks Northwest parks would be disproportionately policed. Officers will be approaching people they suspect of smoking to give them warnings but after the two weeks, they will start handing out citations. A resident commented on why only Northwest parks are being targeted and the officer did not offer a direct response.
When police crackdown on “quality of life” issues like infractions for smoking in public parks, it’s a tactic called “Broken Windows.” These tactics are shown to do little for public safety but instead lead to poor and people of color communities getting over policed, illegally searched, and put into the system. Furthermore, Pasadena provides no safe adult spaces to use recreational marijuana unlike San Francisco and other cities who have created safe adult smoking lounges. It is a self-fulling prophecy to criminalize park smoking but provide no alternatives.
This policy has little to do with clean air and is more about criminalization. Our city should be using public health resources to reach out to people violating this ordinance, not criminalize them nor only focus on Northwest Parks. Currently, the city is proposing a $3 Million increase in police funding while our Public Health Department is facing a $700 thousand budget reduction.
For those interested, the Jackie Robinson Recreation Center will be hosting a “Pasadena Police Curbside Coffee and Chat” on Wednesday, July 10th at 6pm. This could be an opportunity to express yourself on this issue and others.