Police, Marijuana and South Africa

Back to Introduction and Contents

Berkeley Marijuana Initiatives

The 1972 California Marijuana Initiative to decriminalize marijuana use was a very popular measure in Berkeley. After getting the Berkeley City Council to endorse the statewide initiative on March 28, 1972, Loni Hancock tried for immediate implementation. She moved that it be the city policy not to enforce the laws against possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana and that the Berkeley Police therefore make no arrests for any of the above actions. The motion lost, but the California Marijuana Initiative, state measure 19, received 71% of the Berkeley vote on November 7, 1972. The CMI lost statewide by 2–1.

With such an overwhelming mandate for marijuana decriminalization, a few of us decided that Hancock’s losing motion for local implementation would make an important and popular statement as an initiative ordinance. I drafted one of the shortest initiatives ever. The key operational clause stated that:

“The Berkeley Police Department shall make no arrests for the possession, use, and cultivation of marijuana without the authorization of the Berkeley City Council.”

I hoped this 1973 Berkeley Marijuana Initiative would increase turnout in the campus and counterculture communities. The initiative’s ultimate legality was not a major concern. This was intended to be a fun initiative in support of the principle of local control of a city’s police department.

No ballot argument was submitted against BMI and things could have gotten dull. However, Tom Accinelli came up with an idea to match l97l’s DeBonis Door raffle. Tom’s “Win a Kilo” raffle, “First Prize – 1 Kilo of … Take a Guess!?”, a dollar a ticket, was a benefit for the BMI/April Coalition campaign. The money poured in.

No ballot argument was submitted against BMI and things could have gotten dull. However, Tom Accinelli came up with an idea to match l97l’s DeBonis Door raffle. Tom’s “Win a Kilo” raffle, “First Prize – 1 Kilo of … Take a Guess!?”, a dollar a ticket, was a benefit for the BMI/April Coalition campaign. The money poured in.

[The initiative passed by a majority of Berkeley voters. However], the measure was quickly challenged in court and was never implemented as intended.

David Mundstock

Measure C (1979)

Steve Bloom unilaterally decided to mount a full-scale encore performance in 1979. Steve Bloom had escaped from the Navy in the mid l970s as a conscientious objector. Steve drafted a new Berkeley Marijuana Initiative, collected nearly all the signatures, conducted his own “Win-a-Kilo” raffle, promoted the initiative by giving away free joints, and convinced Berkeley Community Action to support the effort.

The initiative, which became Measure C, directed the City Council to ensure that the enforcement of marijuana laws became the Berkeley Police Department’s “lowest priority.” The Council was further instructed to cut off funds for the enforcement of marijuana laws, try to stop arrests, and receive reports of all marijuana law enforcement activities in the city.

City Clerk Edythe Campbell claimed that Steve turned his petitions in one day after the deadline for placement on the April ballot. Technically, it became a Council measure, not an initiative. The Yes on C ballot argument was signed by Guy Jones, John Denton, Florence McDonald, and Steve Bloom. As had been the case in l973, neither a ballot argument nor a campaign challenged BMI’s triumphant march towards passage.

David Mundstock

Community Control of Police

In September 1970 the “community control of police” measure qualified for the spring elections—an unprecedented proposal to replace the citywide police force with three independent “neighborhood” departments, under civilian governance, and a requirement that police officers live in Berkeley.

poster by Steven Levinson

Berkeley had seen major law enforcement struggles during the 1969 fight over People’s Park, where the primary problem was behavior by the Sheriff’s Department and involvement of federal agencies, including the FBI.  This measure addressed persistent local concerns with the Berkeley police and served as a model for grassroots organizations around the country struggling against police racism.

Democratic Congressman Ronald V. Dellums pointed out that there had been numerous incidents of racist behavior by the police, which had only six Black officers in a department of over 200.

Voters on April 7, 1971 approved three members of the progressive April Coalition slate but rejected Proposition One by a large majority.   

In 1973 Berkeley voters rejected police reform measures including a local residency requirement and “demilitarization” of the force, but approved a civilian-run review commission, one of the first in the country. A 2002 U.S. Justice Department study of such commissions noted that Robert Bailey, former assistant city manager in Berkeley, testified that the Police Review Commission “saved the city at least $100,000 from one potential lawsuit alone.”

Divestment from South Africa

poster by Malaquias Montoya, 1979
poster by Doug Minkler, 1985

Can a city influence social justice in a far-away country? This was the impetus behind the 1979 divestment initiatives, when Berkeley became the first city in the United States to support the dismantling of apartheid in South Africa.

According to Mundstock, “Concern about City of Berkeley investments that supported white-ruled South Africa had been voiced for years, leading to various unsuccessful City Council motions.”  In 1979, a group of UC Berkeley students and the Berkeley Citizens Action (BCA) supported an initiative to divest from South Africa. The initiative condemned apartheid and required the withdrawal of City of Berkeley funds from banks doing business with South Africa. A Citizens Committee would be formed to help the City Council implement this policy. 

The initiatives passed and were implemented enthusiastically by the new mayor, Gus Newport.

Other cities and universities followed with similar divestment measures. Eventually, international pressure undermined South Africa’s apartheid system. Nelson Mandela was freed on February 11, 1990, and negotiations to end apartheid formally began that year. 

By Lincoln Cushing

%d bloggers like this: