Drug Legalization

Police Union Says No One in Law Enforcement Supports Legalizing Pot

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Jim Pasco, executive director of the Fraternal Order of Police, claims in a recent ABC News story that "the law enforcement community is universally consistent in its opposition to legalizing pot." Which is true, if you don't count Indiana State Police Superintendent Paul Whitesell, former San Jose Police Chief Joe McNamara, U.S. District Judge Robert Sweet, former Orange County, California, Superior Court Judge James P. Gray, or the members of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. You'd also have to overlook King County Sheriff Steve Strachan, former Seattle Police Chief Norm Stamper, former Seattle FBI Special Agent in Charge Charles Mandigo, and former U.S. attorneys John McKay and Katrina C. Pflaumer, all of whom publicly supported legalizing pot in Washington. Plus former Colorado Assistant Attorney General Sean McAllister, former Denver police Lt. Tony Ryan, former  Deputy Town Marshal Jason Thomas, former Polk County Sheriff's Deputy Lynda Carter, former Travis County Senior Patrol Deputy Griffin Lott, former Municipal Judge Leonard Frieling, former Denver Senior Deputy District Attorney Lauren Davis, and former deputy district attorneys Ann Toney, Titus Peterson, and Robert Knepel, all of whom publicly supported legalizing pot in Colorado. Not to mention the National Black Police Organization and the National Latino Officers Association, both of which endorsed legalizing pot in California, Colorado, and Washington.

It's true there are a lot of former law enforcement officials on those lists, and maybe Jim Pasco does not consider them members of "the law enforcement community." But criticizing the drug laws can be risky for judges, prosecutors, and police officers whose jobs still include enforcing those laws, and it is safe to assume that for every open dissenter there are many other quiet ones.

How many? In a 2011 online survey by Police One, more than two-fifths of the 1,700 respondents said pot should be legal. The sample is not necessarily representative, but active-duty cops who support marijuana legalization clearly do exist in significant numbers. Even among top police officials, there are dissenters, as a 2005 survey of police chiefs and sheriffs indicates. Sixty-two percent of the respondents opposed legalizing marijuana for medical use, while 69 percent did not think that "the decriminalization of 'soft drugs' would allow more resources for violent and property crime management." Assuming that "no opinion" does not account for all of the rest (the survey report does not say), that suggests significant minorities of people running police departments support medical marijuana and think pot busts are a waste of resources. Furthermore, 82 percent of the sheriffs and police chiefs said the war on drugs has not been "successful in reducing the use of illegal drugs," which makes you wonder what the point is. It seems like there may be a bit more diversity of opinion about drug policy within the law enforcement community than Jim Pasco allows.

[Thanks to Richard Cowan for the tip.]