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Ken Corney against legalization in California

Meet the Chief Opponent of Legalization

You probably wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the man leading the drive to stop marijuana legalization in California is a cop. But you may not know much more than that.

Ventura Police Chief Ken CorneyMeet Ken Corney, chief of police in Ventura and president of the California Police Chiefs Association. He is in charge of the largest statewide campaign to keep cannabis criminal.

If he fails, the drug will be legalized by way of the Adult Use of Marijuana Act, a proposed law that would allow adults to possess up to an ounce of marijuana for recreational use. It would also regulate and tax the cultivation and sale of that pot.

Support for legalization is strong

Recent polling suggests the idea is likely to pass. But that isn’t enough to dissuade Corney and his fellow anti-reformers.

Among his other complaints against the measure, Corney says the AUMA would allow people with “serious drug felonies to have a license to run a marijuana shop. These are people who have already demonstrated poor judgment in this area.”

The allowable felonies are limited to non-violent drug offenses. Without the experience of people who have dealt with cannabis on the black market, it would be almost impossible to build a new, legal market for the drug. But Corney says the state shouldn’t take the risk.

Corney points to flawed studies

He also points to recent studies showing an uptick in emergency room visits by patients high on marijuana. Those results, pulled from hospitals in Colorado, are likely skewed by changes in how willing patients are to report marijuana use now that the drug is legal there.

Corney likewise cites two new studies that suggest cannabis-related traffic fatalities have doubled in Washington since legalization there. But again, those studies are likely skewed by unreliable statistics.

“Communities need to understand that this isn’t about the legalization of a green, leafy substance that people pass around at concerts,” says Corney, referring to claims – urban legends – that modern pot strains are hugely more potent than those smoked in the 1960s.

Corney and his fellow police chiefs have launched a campaign they call “Public Safety First: Against the Legalization of Marijuana in California.” As president of the police chiefs association, Corney is spearheading the anti-reform effort.

The Ventura chief fits the mold of his roots as a conservative Texas lawman opposed to any kind of drug policy reform. He has been with the Ventura department for the last 30 years.

Legalization expected to pass

California Sheriff's Deputy ChargedThe AUMA has already been cleared to appear on the November ballot. With more than $2 million raised to support it, the measure has the backing of major figures, including Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom and the California branch of the NAACP. Corney and his group have raised far less money.

Medical marijuana is already legal in California, but the drug remains banned for recreational use. If voters legalize in November, the state will join Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia in allowing it for any adult use.

Corney and his law enforcement colleagues are relying on tired myths and inaccuracies about marijuana and its legal use. But their old playbook may not be enough anymore. Recent polls show 60 percent of California voters want to legalize cannabis completely.

About Matt Brooks

Based in San Francisco, Matt is a journalist who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than five years. He provides regular news coverage on and

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