How Do Law Enforcement Officers Feel About Legalization?
By Roger Malespin
Police officers are often forgotten in the conversation about legalization in America. Though they have no legislative power, it would be wise to try to understand how they feel about it because they understand the nuts and bolts of public safety better than any politician. Many of their careers revolve around the real life effects of drugs on people and communities, and while citizens and lawmakers can debate all the points, the police are the ones who have the experience that gives a more practical point of view than most others.
It is difficult to gauge this because we do not have a centralized police force in America. But the Pew Research Center, a D.C. based, nonpartisan think tank, conducted a nationwide survey of about 8,000 officers, and found a more conservative view on legalization among older officers, but more open views among younger officers 35 and under.
According to the survey, 32 percent supported recreational use, and 27 percent supported medical use only. Those numbers jump to 37 percent and 45 percent, respectively, among the younger officers. However, there is more support for decriminalization in the context of the current drug laws, which many feel are outdated. The group Law Enforcement Against prohibition (LEAP) was founded in 2002 and comprised of current and retired officers who openly advocate legalization.
Diane Goldstein, a retired Lieutenant Commander for the Redondo Beach Police Department and LEAP board member, said “Law enforcement continues to represent an outlier view on this issue because police are trained with outdated, unscientific, drug-war-oriented materials.”
Some of the reasons cited by the pro-legalization police include public safety. While marijuana is a low class, harmless drug, the black market created by prohibition is rife with violent crime. The profit incentive attracts dealers of all kinds despite other, more harmful drugs being more profitable.
"During my time on the border, I saw literally tons of marijuana come over the border from Mexico," says Jamie Haase, a former special agent in the Department of Homeland Security's Immigration and Customs Enforcement division. "Competition over the profits to be made from this illicit industry has led to the deaths of tens of thousands of individuals in that country”. While it’s very rare to have a violent crime caused by a person on marijuana, the violence caused by the organized crime involvement can reach epidemic levels in places like Mexico.
There is a lot more to be said about the reasoning behind police supporting legalization - having time to focus on real crimes, being able to serve the community better, and taking practical steps to keep young people off drugs are all cited by LEAP and others. It would also help with citizens trust of police officers, which is at one of the lowest points in recent history right now. Regardless of personal opinions on the use of the drug itself, all evidence points to not only the war on drugs being a failure, but marijuana prohibition doing much more harm than decriminalization ever could.