By Nate Bradley, Law Enforcement Against Prohibition
Yes, I know it sounds scary, but take it from me, a former cop: Talking to police officers about marijuana legalization is easy, fun and rewarding.
Believe it or not, a large portion of law enforcement either supports marijuana legalization or hasn’t made up its mind yet. Look at how few law enforcement unions came out and opposed Prop 19. Only three of California’s 58 Sheriff Department associations and four of more than 200 city police associations actually took positions officially opposing Prop 19.
The Yes on Prop 19 campaign featured many cops, judges and prosecutors who, based on their law enforcement experiences, absolutely and very publicly support legalizing marijuana.
So how do we talk to the police about marijuana legalization? First, here is what not to say. Don’t focus on tax revenues, racial disparities in arrest rates, how marijuana is ‘safer’ than alcohol, or how cops waste their time arresting marijuana users. Those arguments will most likely fall on deaf ears.
Most law enforcement officers who are against marijuana legalization oppose it because they are under the impression that the war on drugs is actually working and is somehow making society safer. They believe that if you legalize marijuana, society will become unsafe.
So, point out how prohibition is making cities and neighborhoods unsafe, and illustrate by politely stating facts the officer won’t be able to refute.
According to the state Board of Equalization, keeping marijuana illegal has created a $14 billion-a-year underground market in California alone. That criminal market regularly uses violence to solve business disputes. That same underground market has killed and injured countless numbers of law enforcement and innocent civilians since we first outlawed marijuana in 1937. If we chose to regulate and control marijuana we could shrink that criminal market drastically.
Most officers believe that marijuana legalization will increase children’s access. That can’t be farther from the truth. In the current illegal market it’s easier for kids to gain access to marijuana than it would be in a regulated market. Why? Because the neighborhood drug dealer doesn’t check ID. He doesn’t care how old your kids are; all that matters to him is if they have cash. And that’s why federal surveys show that teens generally have had an easier time obtaining illegal marijuana than obtaining legal and age-regulated alcohol.
In conclusion, remember when talking with officers about legalization to always be respectful of their opinions as well.
Some of the officers you will speak to have been ‘fighting’ in the drug war for decades. It’s not easy to get people to change their minds immediately, but planting a seed in a conversation now can go a long way toward getting them to look at this issue in a different light next time they catch someone with marijuana or find themselves in a voting booth to decide on a marijuana initiative.