Police React to Legalized Marijuana With Concern Trolling, Warnings About Federal Property

Driving while stoned the new moral panic


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Fox Searchlight

Voters in Colorado and Washington legalized marijuana in their states last Tuesday. Jacob Sullum has noted the mechanics of how prosecutors are responding both in Washington and Colorado to pot's imminent legal status. But what about cops? Certainly the drug war's been lucrative for police department and law enforcement budgets at all levels. The drug war is a trillion plus dollar endeavor but hasn't put a dent on addiction rates. That's the goose that laid the golden egg if I've ever heard one.

So naturally, some police departments are going into panic mode. You will still be arrested, of course, if you drive under the influence of marijuana. Washington's legalization law, in fact, set a legal limit for the presence of THC in the system of a driver. That mandate caused the initiative to be opposed by organizations like Sensible Washington, whose goal is the repeal of marijuana prohibition. In a blog post after I-502's passage, the group noted the new DUI law would "ensnare innocent individuals, especially patients, and especially those under 21, for whom it's a zero tolerance policy" and that the DUI law's "limit has nothing to do with impairment." Sensible Washington points out pot smokers could test over the limit (5 nanograms per milliliter of blood) days after smoking.

Nevertheless, as noted on Reason 24/7, police have been warning that legalized marijuana will mean new traffic dangers. The AP quotes a police chief in a suburb of Denver stating with certainty that "we're going to have more impaired drivers."

In Seattle, where voters approved making marijuana the lowest law enforcement priority in 2003, police have taken a less histrionic approach, releasing a useful explainer blog to answer questions residents might have, like whether marijuana seized before it was legalized might be returned to them (no), and includes the helpful note that "you probably shouldn't bring pot with you to the federal courthouse (or any other federal property)," because, well, while voters who approved marijuana legalization may have given Obama a second term, the former pot smoker and the federal government he leads does not approve of marijuana legalization.