From Gun to Gavel

Ex-cop now pro-cannabis mayor

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Retired police chief Tom Schwedhelm. Credit: City of Santa Rosa

Former Santa Rosa Mayor Chris Coursey, now running for a slot on the county board of supervisors, tells me I ought not be surprised that Tom Schwedhelm, the current mayor and former chief of police, is pro-cannabis.

“Cops knew the war on cannabis was lost a lot sooner than most folks,” Coursey says.

Last December at the Emerald Cup, Schwedhelm suggested that Santa Rosa might become a hub for the whole industry.

In his office—sitting behind a sign that reads, “There’s no place like Santa Rosa”—he tells me, “Cannabis has contributed to our community and economy. It has not created problems, though some citizens think so.”

Born and raised in Oakland, the son of a cop, Schwedhelm knew he wanted to follow in his father’s footsteps by the time he was in high school.

“I saw that policing went way beyond guns and badges,” he says. “I knew it was for me.”

During the last four-and-a-half years of his 30-year career in law enforcement, he served as Santa Rosa’s chief of police, and, while he never worked in narcotics, he occasionally made arrests for cannabis.

“I remember, people went to prison for pot,” he says. “Then Prop 215 passed and medical marijuana became the law. I went to an address where people were trimming marijuana. They had medical-marijuana recommendations and weren’t breaking the law. My whole perspective changed.”

On another occasion, while playing in a golf tournament in Windsor, he arrived at the 10th hole and saw that a CBD-cream company was sponsoring the event.

“That was also an epiphany for me,” he says.

Before last December’s Emerald Cup, Schwedhelm met with founder, Tim Blake, to discuss how to make cannabis more acceptable in Santa Rosa, where many voters rejected Prop 64, the measure that legalized adult use.

“Unfortunately, some people in our community still have the Cheech-and-Chong image of the stoner,” Schwedhelm says. “We need more education.”

He also points out that there are no conflicts between dispensaries, like SPARC, on Dutton Avenue, and neighboring businesses; no rip-offs or violence in the regulated-and-taxed market; and that, thanks to the fledgling cannabis industry, old warehouses have been brought up to code.

“Santa Rosa is a great place to live and work, whether as a cop or as mayor,” Schwedhelm says. “As mayor, I do much of the work myself. It’s a full-time job.”

Jonah Raskin is the author of “Dark Day, Dark Night: A Marijuana Murder Mystery.”

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