Does a police advisory council have any business in the medical marijuana debate? [UPDATE]
trawin / flickr
-- Updated at bottom with comment from Dodge County Sheriff Jim Jensen --
Last month, the Violent Crimes Coordinating Council did something odd.
Members decided to make their "strong opposition" to medical marijuana known by sending a letter to the bill's chief legislative proponents, including State Rep. Carly Melin (DFL-6A). It asserted that the chronic pain of individuals did not outweigh the interests of public safety.
In response, Melin solicited the nonpartisan House Research Department for background information on the VCCC. She asked specifically about whether the council had the authority to issue opinions on pending legislation.
In other words: Does the council have any business being in the legislative debate over medical marijuana? The House Research Department concluded that it probably does not.
You may not know the VCCC, but chances are you've heard of its predecessors -- the Gang and Drug Oversight Council, and the disgraced Metro Gang Strike Force. Those were the guys who had trouble explaining how seized property -- $18,000 in cash, 13 vehicles, and a flat-screen TV -- went missing on their watch.
The task force was eventually dismantled. And in 2010 came the VCCC with new rules and oversights, part of which restricted members from making formal comments on anything other than the investigation and prosecution of gang and drug activity. They were tasked with developing strategies to lessen the harm caused by gangs and drugs.
But the responsibility of advising legislators falls on the commissioner of public safety -- a point Melin fired back at the VCCC in a letter of her own.
State Rep. Michael Paymar, the chairman of the public safety finance and policy committee who oversaw the creation of the VCCC, understands Melin's frustration.
"It was never the intent to create an oversight committee that would debate public policy and make recommendations to the legislature," he says. However, "there's nothing that says they can't."
These last few words were echoed by Dodge County Sheriff Jim Jensen, chair of the VCCC, though he declined to comment on whether his council had overstepped its boundaries, if not legally then at least in spirit.
"We discussed that," Jensen says, "and we didn't feel that needs to be commented on."
However, the sheriff did say he considers the council's job to be advising the public on potential threats.
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