In a survey released this week, Pew Research Center showed that 69% of police officers polled support allowing marijuana for medical or adult use, despite frequent opposition to sensible reforms from law enforcement organizations.
Washington Post reports:
The nationally representative survey of law enforcement, one of the largest of its kind, found that 32 percent of police officers said marijuana should be legal for medical and recreational use, while 37 percent said it should be legal for medical use only. An additional 30 percent said that marijuana should not be legal at all.
Police are more conservative than the general public on the issue. Among all Americans, Pew found that 49 percent supported recreational marijuana, 35 percent supported medical marijuana only, and 15 percent said the drug should not be legal.
Pew also found a generational divide among cops on the marijuana issue, although not as large as the one that exists among the general public. Officers under age 35 were more likely to support recreational marijuana (37 percent) than those between the ages of 50 and 60 (27 percent). Among the general public, those numbers stand at 67 percent and 45 percent, respectively.
Law enforcement groups have often been among the staunchest opponents of marijuana legalization measures. In 2016, such groups made small but significant contributions to oppose legalization measures in California and Arizona, citing concerns over issues such as underage use and intoxicated driving.
This trend is good news for marijuana policy reformers, as support for legalization increases among the people tasked with enforcing prohibition, and as younger cops move into leadership positions.
It should be noted that a Pew survey released in October showed that 57% of the general public supports making marijuana legal for adults, but that study had different sample sizes and methodology than the study just released.
A city ordinance in Portland, Maine went into effect last Friday, December 6th that will allow those individuals who are 21 and over to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. The government passed the ordinance in November, while similar ordinances passed in three cities in Michigan. While residents are still subject to state and federal laws regarding marijuana possession, they sent local law enforcement a clear message about their priorities: voters in Portland do not want penalties associated with marijuana possession. Unfortunately, the Portland Police Department has not listened.
There were only 54 marijuana citations given out last year in Portland. While Mayor Brennan expects the number to decrease this year, Police Chief Michael Sauschuck wants his officers to continue to use their own discretion when deciding whether or not to issue marijuana citations pursuant to state laws, just as they have always done. Even though the police have handed out a modest number of citations in the past, their refusal to change their policies disregards the will of the voters. Furthermore, studies show that police officers arrest minorities at disproportionately high rates for marijuana possession, an inequality that citizens and legislators can combat by actually removing penalties associated with possession.
Although some resistance to implementation of the city ordinance in Portland exists, State Representative Diane Russell is optimistic about the future of Maine’s marijuana policy.
She said it’s inevitable that others will follow Portland’s lead. Already, possession of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington state.
‘‘It sends a message to people across the country that Maine is going to be leading the way developing a more rational policy than prohibition,’’ she said.
At a Denver City Council hearing held on Monday to discuss implementing a 5% marijuana sales tax, Denver District Attorney Mitch Morrissey held the floor to claim that medical marijuana dispensaries are a haven for assaults, robberies, and murder.
“We have had 12 homicides related directly to medical marijuana,” Morrissey told the council. “We have had over 100 aggravated robberies and home invasions. Many of you probably didn’t read about the double-execution-style homicide that we had here in Denver… This is an ugly secret.”
Several council members expressed their shock and concern over the DA’s previously unheard-of claims. When questioned about the validity of his statistics on Tuesday, though, Morrissey clarified that he’d cited “loose figures” and that none of the homicides actually occurred at a medical marijuana facility. In reality, most of the homicides happened during home invasions, and in some cases, it is uncertain whether marijuana played a role.
Mason Tvert, communications director at MPP, spoke to The Huffington Post to help set the record straight:
“Morrissey’s suggestion that the state- and locally-regulated medical marijuana industry is somehow at fault for crimes that occurred entirely outside of its scope is ludicrous and irresponsible. I cannot imagine any other instance in which he would place blame for violent crimes on law-abiding businesses and citizens who have fallen victim to them.”
Tvert’s claim that dispensaries are not causing violent crime is backed by police statistics. In 2009, the Denver Police Department found that robbery and burglary rates at dispensaries were lower than area banks and liquor stores and on par with those of pharmacies. In 2010, police in Colorado Springs found that robbery and burglary rates at area dispensaries were no higher than at non-marijuana-related businesses. Discussing the findings, Sgt. Darrin Abbink said, “I don’t think the data really supports [dispensaries] are more likely to be targeted at this point.”
Of the robberies and assaults that have occurred, industry representatives say that medical marijuana dispensaries may only be targeted because current banking laws force them to deal in cash rather than credit.
Tvert continued, “If Morrissey is truly concerned about enhancing public safety, he should be testifying in support of policies that will eliminate the underground marijuana market and replace it with a system in which marijuana is regulated like alcohol. He should not be resorting to scare tactics and reefer madness.”
A plane crash in Colorado took the lives of one current and one former law enforcement officer on Friday. Pueblo County Sheriff’s Captain Leide DeFusco and retired Pueblo police captain John Barger were both in the plane when it crashed in the San Isabel National Forest. Barger, who was flying the plane, has been described as an experienced pilot and a flying enthusiast. Contact with the plane was lost at about 9:30 a.m., while the wreck was found around 7:00 p.m., and the precise cause of the crash is still under investigation. The crash site, in Custer County, was in rough terrain and difficult for rescue crews to access.
Whatever the immediate cause of the crash, however, our failed marijuana policies certainly played a part. The sheriff’s office reports that the two were searching for marijuana plants that day. Marijuana grow sites in the Wet Mountains had been raided just weeks earlier, and the two men were looking for suspected additional sites nearby. Flying low over unfamiliar terrain to look for hidden cannabis plants is one of many drug war tactics that put officers in unnecessary danger. This includes not only the hazards of low-altitude flying, but the threat of violence from marijuana growers.
Planes on anti-drug missions have certainly been shot down in the past, presumably by those involved in the illicit drug trade in attempts to defend their investments, and illicit marijuana growers on public land are “typically armed” and connected with organized crime, according to a recent report from the Government Accountability Office.
Perhaps the police should focus on more serious crimes, so that instead of trying to find plants hidden in the mountains, they could simply interview victims and witnesses to track down perpetrators, without resorting to such adventurous spy tactics. If private, peaceful activity like growing marijuana were outside the definition of crime, unfortunate incidents like this would not occur, nor would there be an incentive for dangerous criminals to operate on public lands far from prying eyes.
Last month, I had the pleasure of attending the CATO Institute’s “Ending the Global War on Drugs” conference. The event featured a number of prominent scholars and international leaders who spoke about the impact of the U.S.-led drug war, both here and abroad. One of my favorite speakers of the day was Dr. Harry Levine, professor of sociology at Queens College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. Dr. Levine has been researching the history and sociology of alcohol and drug policies for thirty years, and most recently has been working on the Marijuana Arrest Research Project, which collects and analyzes data on the immense number of marijuana possession arrests that the NYPD has made since 1996. (It should be noted here that possession of small amounts of marijuana has been decriminalized in the state of New York since 1977 — making it a violation, rather than a crime, so long as the marijuana is not in public view.) According to Levine, in New York City, misdemeanor marijuana possession accounts for more arrests than for any other crime, and because of the recent increase in the number of arrests, “it is appropriate to call this a marijuana arrest epidemic, and to describe what the NYPD has been doing as engaging in a marijuana arrest crusade.”
Dr. Levine’s lecture focused on the how and why of these marijuana possession arrests, explaining the various ways in which such arrests benefit police departments. In sum, police departments are pressured to show productivity, and these kinds of arrests are relatively safe and easy, involving “clean,” high-quality arrestees. Moreover, these arrests provide good training for rookies, deliver overtime pay for cops, allow supervisors to account for their underlings, and act as a net to get as many people into the system as possible, all at a cost borne entirely by the victims — the arrestees.
The federal government, according to Dr. Levine, actively supports these practices through the grant funding it provides to police departments. If departments receive these funds, they must justify how the money is spent, and what better, easier way to do that than with hordes of marijuana possession arrests? In short, this amounts to what LEAP board member (and fellow speaker at the conference) Leigh Maddox described as the “prostitution of the police peacekeeping mission for federal drug arrest dollars.” Dr. Levine suggests changing police productivity measures so as not to include small-time marijuana possession arrests. The punch line, Levine contends, is that rather than ending marijuana prohibition to put an end to marijuana arrests, it’s the inverse – by removing incentives for marijuana arrests we can move closer to ending marijuana prohibition.
But the answer of how to transform this tangled web of power, profit, incentive, and corruption remains unanswered. Sadly, such change is unlikely to be initiated by truth-telling law enforcement officers, or at least, active-duty ones. Last week, the New York Times reported on the consequences faced by two law enforcement officers who dared to express dissent with current drug policies. Both Bryan Gonzalez, a Border Patrol agent in New Mexico, and Joe Miller, a probation officer in Arizona, were fired from their positions — Gonzalez for questioning the war on drugs (specifically, the war on marijuana), Miller for expressing support for the decriminalization of marijuana. Fortunately, organizations like LEAP (Law Enforcement Against Prohibition) provide a forum for current and former members of law enforcement to express their frustrations with the harms and futility of our present drug policies and to support a system of drug regulation rather than prohibition. Unfortunately, many active-duty law enforcement members are reluctant or unwilling to speak out, and with good reason, in light of the sanctions faced by Gonzalez and Miller noted above.
On a positive note, the Wall Street Journal reported yesterday that low-level marijuana possession arrests have fallen 13 percent in New York City since a September directive issued from Police Commissioner Raymond Kelly cautioning officers to lay off the wrongful arrests of those possessing a small amount of marijuana concealed from public view. Hey … at least it’s something.
Medical marijuana patients in the Aloha State could be looking at major improvements to their ability to access their medicine. Last week, two proposals were introduced in the state legislature to augment the 10-year-old law.
Sen. Will Espero proposed a bill that would increase the number of plants a patient can personally grow from four to 10. Patients would also be able to designate a caregiver to grow the same amount of plants instead, and each caregiver would be able to take on up to four patients. This bill would also keep patients' names and grow site locations private, and would allow a person with a qualifying condition to get a medical marijuana recommendation from a doctor other than his or her primary care physician.
A bill that would set up state-licenced compassion centers was also introduced by Sen. J. Kalani English. While the licensing fees and taxes for these businesses would be large, this proposal would be the first of its kind to allow dispensaries to provide marijuana to non-Hawaii residents who are legal medical marijuana patients in their home states.
Of course, the police are fighting this tooth and nail, and are trotting out the same old predictable arguments. According to Sen. Espero, Hawaii lawmakers aren't buying it anymore. And neither is the new governor.
UPDATED: Shocking. That's the only word that comes to mind when seeing the video of Todd Blair, 45, gunned down by armed police storming his home on a no-knock raid in Utah last September. Blair, no doubt surprised by the sound of yelling and having his door kicked in, emerges from an interior doorway holding a golf club over his head. Before Blair can react, Sgt. Troy Burnett shoots him three times and Blair slumps to the floor dead.
No "drop the weapon," no "get down on the ground," just bang!, bang!, bang! It's a chilling scene that's over before it started, and all the police found was a small amount of marijuana and an empty vial alleged to have contained other drugs.
This type of raid won't come as a surprise to regular readers of our blog, of course. We see these stories all the time because they're playing out every day in this country at an alarming rate. Lives are ruined and lost, and for what? A few grams of marijuana? It's just another—albiet outrageous—example of how prohibition has failed as a policy at every conceivable turn. If videos like this aren't a sure sign that it's time to end marijuana prohibition and adopt sensible polices like taxation and regulation, then I'm not sure what is. (originally written by John Berry, with updates by Dusty Trice)
Check out this great video from LEAP, in which executive director Neill Franklin explains how prohibition has destroyed the relationship between law enforcement officers and the communities they police. "When I talk to young people, they say the only reason you come into our neighborhood is to search us for drugs," says Franklin, a 33-year law enforcement veteran. "I want us -- cops -- to be the ones that kids can come up to in the streets when they have an issue or a problem. Not run in the other direction."
We’ve all heard the rhetoric, trotted out again and again by law enforcement and paranoid city officials, that dispensaries and other marijuana facilities cause crime wherever they are. They focus on a horror story and blame the dispensary regardless of the facts at hand. They point to media coverage of similar incidents and say that all dispensaries are blights on the community.
Now, the media and the authorities are very good at using scare tactics, but what they consistently lack are statistical data to support their claims. This is because there is no such data.
Yesterday, the Denver Post reported that neither Colorado Springs or Denver police could find any data to support a correlation between dispensaries and increases in crime. In fact, such locations were the targets of crime at rates comparable to any other business. Criminal acts in the surrounding areas did not rise when the stores opened.
This is surely disappointing to many prohibitionists, most notably Kevin Sabet, a special advisor to the Office of National Drug Control Policy. Over the summer, Sabet was so desperate to prove the negative effects of dispensaries that he started an intensive search for anything that could provide statistical support for the wild claims of law enforcement.
Looks like he came up short.
In a shocking series of events that is still under investigation, Las Vegas police on Friday shot and killed Trevon Cole, 21, while serving a warrant that claimed Cole was selling marijuana. According to reports, Cole’s 20-year-old fiancé, Sequioa Pearce—who is 9 months pregnant—was forced to kneel and held at gunpoint in the moments just before Cole was shot.
A police spokesman told the Las Vegas Review-Journal that undercover officers had bought marijuana from Cole three times before the warrant was served, and investigators reportedly took an unknown amount of marijuana and digital scales from his home. Pearce, his fiancé, says Cole, who has no criminal record, “did smoke marijuana from time to time,” but was not a drug dealer.
The officer who shot Cole is a 10-year veteran who the Review-Journal reports has been involved in other questionable shootings. Police said he fired his weapon on Cole after Cole made a “furtive movement,” which Pearce denies.
While police investigate the incident, Cole’s family remains shocked and in desperate need of an explanation. Writes the Review-Journal, “They had been preparing for a birth, not a death.”
"We were mentally prepped to know in June we were coming to Vegas to see the baby, to be here for the birth of the baby," said Cole's aunt, Kimeryn Williams. "Not for this."
I don’t need to tell readers how horrifying this episode is. As with other notorious drug raids that have come to light, there are obvious questions here that need asking:
• Did Cole pose such a threat to public safety that officers had to break through his door with guns drawn?
• Why were such forceful tactics used to arrest someone that police claim—at the very best—was a smalltime marijuana dealer?
• How much money and police resources were spent to raid Cole’s home and murder him in front of the mother of his unborn child?
• Were there no murders, rapes, robberies or more serious crimes occurring in Vegas on a Friday night that these officers could have been working to prevent or solve?
The message people need to take from this stomach-turning incident is the one MPP broadcasts over and over again: Marijuana does not kill people, but prohibition does. If marijuana were sold in a legal and regulated market, tragedies like this would cease to exist and police could better spend their time dealing with crimes more serious than the possession of a substance safer than alcohol.
There should be many developments on this story, so please stay tuned to the blog for updates.