Telling the Good Guys From the Bad Guys in Atlanta

Oct 14, 2008

drug war, drug warriors, law enforcement, raids, victims

Reading this Atlanta Journal Constitution story revealing that more than half of the city's police academy graduates used marijuana, and a third of them have criminal records, two thoughts occur to me.

First is the hypocrisy of a situation in which some people use marijuana and get arrested while others use marijuana but go on to lead productive lives – as police officers for heavens sake. Who decides which fate befalls a particular marijuana user? If marijuana use isn't terrible enough to disqualify a person from the responsibilities of law enforcement, including the responsibility to arrest marijuana users, then how much sense does it make to arrest marijuana users in the first place?

The second is that these candidates are apparently making the cut because the city, desperate to increase the size of its force, has lowered its standards – at least in the minds of city officials. But what if the responsible, adult use of marijuana weren't a crime? What if its manufacture and sale were regulated like alcohol rather than controlled by often-violent criminals? Atlanta's need for law enforcement would almost certainly decrease, and they could recruit fewer, higher-quality officers to pursue violent crimes.

Actually, that reminds me of a third, terrible thought: Does lowered standards mean more bad cops on the street? The job is too important, and the consequences of making mistakes are too dire. Atlantans ought to recall the shooting of 92-year-old Kathryn Johnston two years ago next month by narcotics officers who mistakenly raided her house and then planted marijuana on her to try to cover their tracks.

We don't need more bad cops, and we don't need to waste good cops' time chasing marijuana users – especially if they're marijuana users themselves.