Marijuana

Drug War Propaganda Counts as State Police Training in Missouri

Sworn law enforcement officers fulfill state-mandated training requirements by learning the latest Reefer Madness talking points.

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In Missouri, sworn law enforcement officers are required to take 48 credit hours of Peace Officer Standards and Training (POST) continuing education every three years. While some specific courses are required for all officers, such as mandatory firearms classes, the majority are elective courses that simply must add up to a minimum of 48 credit hours. The only other restriction is that a minimum of four credit hours of courses must be taken from each of the four different course categories: legal studies, interpersonal studies, technical studies, and skill development. To fulfill these requirements officers can choose from dozens of courses offered at law enforcement training sessions and conferences across the state.

One of the most highly attended training conferences each year is hosted by the Missouri Narcotic Officers Association (MNOA). Hundreds of cops from across the state make the trip to Lake Ozark, Missouri, on the taxpayers' dime, and most of the state's narcotics officers are in attendance. Several of Missouri's 26 multi-jurisdictional drug task forces cite this conference as their only chance to receive training each year, and one even requires all officers to attend the MNOA training as a condition of their employment. This conference offers several courses that fulfill different continuing education requirements.

As it turns out, some of the classes offered aren't exactly what you might consider official law enforcement training. At the annual conference this past March, one course was titled, "Marijuana Legalization: The Issues." It was taught by Tom Gorman—a drug cop from Colorado who travels the country on what seems to be a never-ending anti-legalization crusade. He's been called a "drug-war soldier," and his role as both a federal drug cop and a lobbyist has been repeatedly criticized. Gorman is perhaps most famous for his recent comments on marijuana regulation; he accused entire state legislatures of criminal conspiracy, declaring, "Everybody that has anything to do with this is engaged in a criminal act." Gorman lists books he has written as part of his qualifications to teach the "Marijuana Legalization: The Issues" training course, including The Myths of Drug Legalization and Marijuana Is Not a Medicine. Despite his claim of expertise on the medical value of marijuana, Gorman does not have a medical degree. He has a bachelor's degree in criminology from San Jose State University. 

In March, Gorman traveled from Colorado to the Show-Me State to help train Missouri's finest at the MNOA conference. His course was certified by the state's training program and was counted as two credit hours (half of the four required) in the "technical studies" category. The state training program defines this category as training that "focuses on specialized studies or activities which directly relate to the job description, including first aid and CPR training." Instead of learning first aid or CPR, they had the chance to learn about "Marijuana Legalization: The Issues" in a presentation that could have been taken straight out of Reefer Madness.

The syllabus and course materials for state-certified training courses are public records under Missouri's Sunshine Law. A look at the content from Gorman's "Marijuana Legalization: The Issues" course is, admittedly, laugh-out-loud funny in its absurdity. (You can view the course content in its entirety here) However, it's genuinely concerning that this passes as actual police training in Missouri:

The table of contents for the main handout for the course reads like an exercise in drug warrior logic. Tom Gorman originally prepared this handout in 2012 for a group called Healthy and Drug Free Colorado. The table of contents provides a snapshot into the alternate reality in which the course instructor resides—a world where alcohol prohibition was "relatively successful" and the "theory" that drug laws have a racial component is "not supported."

In this course, police were actually taught that alcohol prohibition was quite a success, and that "those people who claim prohibition didn't work have watched too many movies." Officers are told "crime during prohibition did not skyrocket" on the grounds that the murder rate climbed "only 30%." To top it off, they're taught that prohibition didn't change the role of the mafia, because they "existed as a criminal enterprise before prohibition."

The course also includes a nice lesson on prisons. It teaches that "pro-legalizers disregard facts and exaggerate statistics" because "the truth is not on their side" when they claim more than 800,000 nonviolent marijuana users are arrested each year. Officers are informed that, "in fact, our prisons are packed with individuals who use drugs and commit [other] crimes while under the influence." Consider for a moment the way this lesson shapes the mentality of an officer interacting with either a casual user or a person struggling with addiction. This lesson is counterproductive to the recent (and much needed) pushback against the dehumanization of drug users.

Perhaps most concerning, the course tells officers they have nothing to worry about when it comes to racial disparities in arrests. It repeatedly affirms that drug laws and police practices have no racial component whatsoever, in what appears to be an attempt to reassure officers who fear they may be contributing to systemic racism. After all, according to the course, "it's not that difficult to go through life without committing a felony" and implies that if you do, you're basically scum and you got what you deserved. The lesson goes on to explain that drug laws can't possibly be racist, because black people also get arrested at disproportionate rates for other crimes. Officers are taught that they shouldn't worry about the role race plays in policing, because it's a made-up problem propagated by legalization activists. Teaching officers to be deliberately ignorant of racial issues makes for terrible police practices. This course was taught less than five months before the tragic events in Ferguson, Missouri, and the odds are high that some officers present in the disturbing aftermath of the shooting had attended and received credit for this lesson on how to avoid confronting difficult racial issues. 

Of course, Tom Gorman has every right to hold those opinions. He has every right to travel the country sharing those opinions. But he is doing so at the expense of the taxpayers, and attending one of his propaganda sessions counts as actual law enforcement training.

The Missouri Department of Public Safety has a Peace Officer Standards and Training division, which oversees law enforcement training and certifies classes as deserving of police training credit hours. I reached out for comment, and they couldn't provide an example of a course that had ever been rejected as law enforcement training. When asked if the Department of Public safety considered Gorman's course appropriate continuing education, the Communications Director for DPS responded, "Yes, this course falls into the technical studies area and is approved for two hours of continuing law enforcement education credit."

Further research reveals a similar course was certified and taught at the MNOA conference in 2012. Sgt. Jason Grellner, past president of the MNOA and local drug task force commander (Missouri's own Tom Gorman) taught this course, in which he argues that we need to go to extraordinary lengths to decrease drug use and says "drug testing should be done at all security checkpoints" (full course content is available here). This seminar was also a two-credit-hour course in the category of "technical studies," so officers could fulfill the four-hour technical studies requirement entirely by attending anti-legalization propaganda seminars.

Taxpayers should be troubled by the notion that their money, allocated for the important task of training of our law enforcement officers, is used to fund political propaganda. Missourians should be troubled by the notion that learning the latest anti-legalization talking points counts as training hours for law enforcement. Cannabis policy reform activists should be troubled by the fact that dismantling an 80-year-old marijuana-prohibition complex, already an uphill battle, becomes even harder when we are forced to fund political training for our opposition with tax dollars.