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Majority of Law Enforcement Officers Support Marijuana Policy Reform

Former cop: the war on drugs changed the very nature of policing for the worse.

Photo Credit: RDaniel / Shutterstock.com


Though not conducted with the methodological rigor of the  Pew poll that came out yesterday showing 54% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana and two-thirds believe drug policy should focus on treatment rather than prosecuting drug users,  Law Officer magazine has provided LEAP a poll of its own showing an even more surprising finding: a majority of law enforcement officers also support marijuana policy reform.

Though some of the provided answers seemed to overlap, the overall effect is one indicating broad support for change among the readership of the publication, 97% of whom indicated they are or had been in law enforcement.  Some of the most surprising results include 66% saying marijuana possession should be legalized, decriminalized, legalized for medical reasons or illegal but only punished with fines, with the largest plurality (37%) supporting legalization. Even more surprising, almost 27% supported legalizing “the sale of marijuana in large quantities” with 36% calling for some form of change from the current model. While support for decriminalizing possession of other drugs was significantly lower, 14% of this population (generally thought to be the most opposed to reform) supported changes in policy.  

Below is a  response by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition’s executive director, Major Neill Franklin (Ret.) addressed to the law enforcement readership of Law Officer :

Before Nixon declared the war on drugs in the early 1970s, policing was a different creature altogether. Police were the “good guys” going after the “bad guys”--the rapists, the murderers, the child molesters--most people could agree society was better without. Since that time, the very nature of policing has changed.

Today enforcing drug laws not only occupies a huge portion of police time, it forms much of the identity of the profession and of individual officers who dedicate their lives to serving the public. That’s why, to me, the finding that more officers support the legalization of marijuana possession than support the status quo is remarkable. Who among us questions such things lightly?  

But in other ways, this finding is unsurprising. I have always believed that those in the trenches were those most privy to the injustice and the illogic of the war on drugs, and, I hope, those most dedicated to righting this wrong. Who better to question its results? That so many officers were brave enough to challenge the prohibition of marijuana–one of the pillars upon which their professional identity is founded–is an act of honor for the love of the profession of which I am so proud to have been a part for more than three decades.

I commend Law Officer for conducting this study, but I find that the questions they didn’t ask are the ones most relevant to the average officer: Will the legalization of marijuana and other drugs lead to a reduction in the power of street gangs and cartels that terrorize our cities? Will it allow police officers to focus greater attention on violent crimes and restore good relations with the communities in which they operate? Ultimately, will it lead to less violence?

I believe that most officers brave enough to be honest with themselves about the answers can only answer in the affirmative to these questions. We are the ones who see--every day--that the prohibition of drugs, just like the prohibition of alcohol, is what provides the tremendous profits to the criminal organizations that provide the drugs on our streets. That picking up the petty drug dealer on the corner--the kinds of arrest that federal grants and asset forfeiture laws incentivize--does nothing to affect the long-term supply of drugs and only causes more violence as rival gangs battle to fill power vacuums. That all of this has caused society generally and our communities of color specifically to look upon us as people to be feared rather than as public servants advancing public safety, and that that distrust, far from being merely an abstract concept, makes our jobs infinitely more difficult as community members shy from cooperating in investigations.

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