The same day Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca became co-chair, with Dianne Feinstein, of the No on 19 campaign, he held a press conference to announce the arrest of a suspect in a triple murder case in West Hollywood.
Baca used the platform - and his role as sheriff - to further the goals of the political campaign by railing against medical marijuana dispensaries. He said that they had been "hijacked by underground drug-dealing criminals" and that "it is no surprise that people are going to get killed … drugs and violence go together."
Los Angeles Police Chief Charles Beck has disputed Baca's claim. "Banks are more likely to get robbed than medical marijuana dispensaries," he told the Daily News in January.
Beck's department looked into the assertion made by Baca and others that dispensaries attract criminal activity to neighborhoods. The LAPD subsequently issued a report saying that just wasn't the case. "I have tried to verify that because that, of course, is the mantra," said Beck. "It doesn't really bear out."
Baca also claimed that as many as 97 percent of dispensaries operate as criminal enterprises, and that many buy their marijuana from Mexican drug cartels. According to Thomas Watkins of the Associated Press, "Baca presented no evidence to support his claim." The DEA also said that they could not substantiate Baca's allegations.
In the absence of proof, where is Baca's overheated rhetoric coming from?
Baca, Scientology and Narconon
Baca is an enthusiastic advocate of Scientology's drug treatment programs, which he actively promotes. Baca has close ties to Scientology, and claims to have to trained deputies in his department using Scientology materials. The Scientology website says that it "sponsors" the independent non-profits drug treatment programs Narconon and Criminon, which and are based on "The Fundamentals of Thought" by Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard.
According to a Time Magazine cover story:
Hubbard's purification treatments are the mainstay of Narconon, a Scientology-run chain of 33 alcohol and drug rehabilitation centers - some in prisons under the name "Criminon" - in 12 countries. Narconon [is a] classic vehicle for drawing addicts into the cult.
Revenues for Narconon and other drug treatment programs are generated in large part by court-ordered rehabilitation for drug users, which would be dramatically reduced if marijuana prohibition ended. Much like other elements of the prison industrial complex, Narconon has campaigned aggressively against medical marijuana over the years.
California Department of Education Report Says Narconon Materials "Misleading" and "Inaccurate"
In 2005, California Superintendent of Schools Jack O'Connell urged that all California schools ban the Narconon education program, saying that "this program is filled with inaccuracies and does not reflect widespread medical and factual evidence." He acted after a series in the San Francisco Chronicle reported that Narconon used their presence in public schools to introduce students to Scientology beliefs without their knowledge.
The California Department of Education issued a report, which indicated that Narconon's program materials were "exaggerated" and contained "inaccurate and misleading drug-related information" that would "confuse students and be perceived as designed to arouse fear" - much like Lee Baca's press conference.
Baca's claim that medical marijuana dispensaries "dole out pot to people with no medical need for it" takes a page straight out of the promotional material for Narconon, which state that marijuana has "no legitimate medical use."
View the California Department of Education report on Narconon
Following the release of the report, the Los Angeles and San Francisco school districts banned the Narconon program from their classrooms, as did Hawaii and Boston.
Baca Works With Scientology to Train Sheriff's Deputities and Educate At-Risk Youth
Despite the California Department of Education report disputing the accuracy of Narconon's program materials, Baca says he has used Scientology materials to train deputies in his department –who apparently use them to train "at-risk youth."
In April of this year Baca appeared at the opening of the new Church of Scientology Center in Los Angeles. According to a Church press release, Baca said he is "happy, and more than proud, of our longstanding partnership" with Scientology:
"You have been consistently reliable in helping me to achieve my goal for a safer Los Angeles County. In particular, your drug education means everything to the safety of our schools and neighborhoods. That is why we trained a corps of our own deputies in the use of your unbeatable program, so I want to thank each and every one of you for everything you do in helping me do my job-because today, crime in Los Angeles is at its lowest in 40 years."
But according to a video of the event on YouTube, this is what Baca actually said (3:20):
"You have been consistently reliable in helping me to achieve my goal for a safer Los Angeles County. In particular, your drug education means everything to the safety of our schools and neighborhoods. That is why we trained a corps of our own deputies in the use of your unbeatable program. This joint venture to educate youth at risk is one of the most important initiatives I could undertake as Sheriff of Los Angeles County. So I want to thank each and every one of you for everything you do in helping me do my job-because today, crime in Los Angeles is at its lowest in 40 years."
Baca by his own admission used Scientology materials in a "joint venture" to educate "youth at risk."
The Church of Scientology made extensive use of Baca's statement and presence at the event as LA County Sheriff to promote and legitimize its programs.
Baca Continues to Promote and Legitimize Narconon
Baca has continued to work closely with Narconon on his "Safe Drugs Dropoff Program," which allows the public to drop off expired drugs and controlled substances in boxes at their local sheriff's station. The program was launched on September 29, 2009. According to news reports at the time, the event was hosted by Baca and attended by "mayors and councilmen and women from half a dozen L.A. County townships, joined by Narconon International."
According to the Narconon press release, Baca invited Teddy Chambers of Narconon International to provide a "drug education and awareness back-up" for the program. Narconon also claims that they distributed their educational materials at the launch of the Gardena dropoff box.
Moreover, in 2006 Baca wrote a letter of support for Narconon when local residents of Leona Valley opposed the construction of a Narconon facility in their community. In the letter, Baca said that "Los Angeles County requires effective drug rehabilitation services," and that he is "very familiar with the Narconon program."
"The Los Angeles Sheriff's Department looks forward to working with Narconon," concludes Baca, who recommends that the Regional Planning Commission approve their use permit despite the objection of local residents.
Baca also served as the "Drug Free Marshal" of the 2006 "Say No to Drugs" race. Proceeds benefited both "Drug-Free Marshals" and "Friends of Narconon," which was described to donors as "an international group dedicated to drug prevention for children in schools and has delivered educational presentations to thousands of schools using a unique approach which speaks directly and effectively to children. They produce and distribute videos to school systems nationwide that give children the truth about drugs."
Drug Free Marshals is yet another Scientology-related anti-drug program, according the San Jose Mercury News, who report that "Scientologists promote the Drug Free Marshals program solely as a community service, but critics say it is one of several techniques the church uses to recruit new members and legitimize an organization considered by some to be a cult."
The Narconon Program
According to the California Department of Education report, the Narconon program is a "four-to-six month, drug-free rehabilitation program that includes a detoxification regimen of aerobic exercise, dry-sauna sweating, hydration and nutrition supplements; life skills trainings; and personalized plans for after-graduation living."
The report found that Narconon materials contain the following inaccurate information:
- drugs burn up vitamins and nutrients
- drug-activated vitamin deficiency results in pain which prompts relapse
- marijuana-induced, rapid vitamin and nutrient loss causes the "munchies"
- small amounts of drugs stored in fat are released at a later time causing the person to re-experience the drug effect and desire to use again
Narconon was widely publicized at the time of Anna Nicole Smith's death, when Scientologist John Travolta said "It's so sad. We could have helped her with Narconon but didn't get a chance to." The U.K. Daily Mail reports that at the time of his death, Jett Travola had been taken off the anti-seizure drug Depakote and was being treated by the regimen of "saunas, food supplements, Vitamin B and vegetable oils which, the sect claims, can dislodge toxins trapped in the body's fatty tissues."
Its sister program, Criminon, recently entered the headlines when Sharron Angle, the Republican candidate for US Senate in Nevada, was attacked during the GOP primary by opponent Sue Lowden for urging that Nevada prisons adopt Criminon "Second Chance" program. Harry Reid subsequently picked up Lowden's line of attack.
William Miller, a retired professor of psychiatry at the University of New Mexico who reviewed the program at the request of the city of Albuquerque, says that Second Chance is a "Scientology-based program that has no scientific credibility."
Drug Rehabilitation as a Profit Center
Critics of the Narconon/Criminon programs have accused them of encouraging tough anti-drug laws because it increases their customer base - and their revenues. The Department of Health & Human Services' Office of Applied Studies indicates that 58% of the people in drug treatment for marijuana were referred there by the criminal justice system - a higher percentage than for any other drug, including alcohol. Of those, 36% have had no use in the previous month, and 61.6% have had no previous treatment episodes.
Narconon franchises operate as independent 501-c(3) non-profit organizations in numerous states. A 2008 Form 990 filed by Narconon of Southern California (PDF) indicates that they operate three drug rehabilitation facilities in the region. During 2008, they report that "400 persons completed the program." The treatment facilities generated revenues of $14,515,454 - or approximately $36,288 for every person who completed the program.
Recently, Narconon International applauded the expansion of insurance coverage for "substance abuse benefits" in the health care bill passed by Congress, saying that "one result of these increased benefits has been that more people throughout the country have been able to use their insurance coverage to attend Narconon® drug treatment facilities."
By choosing Lee Baca as co-chair of "No on 19? and offering him a platform to advance the theories of L. Ron Hubbard on their behalf, the campaign has associated itself with claims of dubious legitimacy that serve the interests of a revenue-generating enterprise. Any medical treatment organization that demands the criminalization of is patients in order to guarantee participation in their program should be instantly suspect, as should those like No on 19 Co-Chair Lee Baca who proselytize on their behalf.