Rep. Joe Kennedy III Is Sad that Pot Legalization Will Restrict Cops and Prosecutors
We just may have finally reached the last of the line in this fabled family.
Dan Savage of The Stranger has flagged this awful interview of Rep. Joe Kennedy III (D-Mass.), one of those Kennedys and widely believed to be a big, big star for the Democrats in the years and decades to come. Suffice it to say that rarely has a congressman, even one blessed to belong to the most famous family in U.S. politics, been more tone-deaf and out of touch when it comes to drug policy.
In response to a question about legalizing marijuana from Vox's Ezra Klein, former prosecutor Kennedy responds:
So this one, um, this one's a tough one for me. My views are not do not exactly line up with my own state and it's something I'm struggling with…. [We] decriminalized it when I was in the court system, when I was trying cases, or shortly thereafter, if I remember the years right, in Massachusetts. When we decriminalized it it actually had a pretty big consequence for the way that Massachusetts prosecutors went about trying cases in terms of—because an odor of marijuana was, at last initially, because marijuana was an illegal substance, if you smelled it in a car, you could search a car. When it became decriminalized you couldn't do that. So that was the way that we hadn't—the base case that prosecutors used to search cars for under cover contraband, guns, knives, a whole bunch of other stuff, all of that got thrown out the window. That's not to say that's right or wrong, but that is to say that when that went through a public referendum, which is how that law was passed, I don't think anybody had [given] much though[t] to, you're actually gonna change one of the foundational principles for law enforcement that we use in our court system. [emphasis added by Savage]
Given his age (late 30s), past job, and status as the son of a former congressman and descendant of presidents and senators, Kennedy can't claim he hasn't thought about the issue. If your response at this late stage in the ongoing legalization movement is to start talking about how decriminalization made it harder for cops and prosecutors to search and convict people on non-pot-related charges, you've really got a screw loose. And as much as I'd like to, let's not get ahead of ourselves when it comes to declaring victory in the War on Pot. As Cato's Clark Neily tweeted in an unrelated conversation just yesterday, "There were more arrests for marijuana-related offenses in 2016 than for all violent crimes combined. Low-hanging, irrelevant fruit, and no cost-benefit analysis whatsoever."
Joe Kennedy III sounds like he's channeling Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III here.
What Kennedy is pining for here amounts to a stop-and-frisk program for people in cars—or a stop-and-harass-racial-minorities-in-cars program. Stop-and-frisk on sidewalks was ruled unconstitutional by the courts and has been shown to be ineffective by social scientists. And if it's not okay and not helpful to randomly stop people on the street and search their persons for no reason whatsoever, how can it be okay or helpful to randomly stop people in vehicles and search their cars for a subjective, bullshit, easily abused reason like, "Something smells funny!"?
Kennedy's stock has been rising over the past few months for at least two reasons. First, he delivered the Democratic response to Donald Trump's 2018 State of the Union address (to mixed reviews, at least in part stemming from his "drool mouth" problem that became a Twitter trend for a few days). Second, Democrats are waking up to the fact that the average age of their leading candidates for the 2020 presidential race (Joe Biden, Elizabeth Warren, Hillary Clinton, Bernie Sanders) is well north of 70.
If his answer to the question of pot legalization is any indication, Kennedy is not only out of touch with the 60 percent (and growing) of Americans who want the stuff treated basically like alcohol, he's against it for all the wrong reasons. In Colorado, which legalized recreational pot five years ago and has the most-developed tourism market, past-month use by teens is down; the rates for homicides, burglary, and robbery have declined; and homelessness in the state's biggest city is down. At the very least, we can all agree that "Marijuana Doomsday Didn't Come." Younger voters are both more likely to be in favor of legalization and skeptical of law enforcement, so Kennedy is wrong on two counts with the cohort that owns the future.
Of course, it's not as if any other Democrats, much less Republicans, are rushing toward electoral victory by openly advocating for legalization, either. The first national major-party candidate that does so will get an incredible first-to-market advantage when it comes to running for president in 2020. Yes, they will take many arrows, but those will bounce off easily enough, especially as the country continues to get more OK with legal weed. If it's a mug's game appealing the better angels of politicians' nature, then maybe we should just start appealing to their will to power.
Related: In 2015, Reason looked at how legalization was working out in Colorado. Take a look.