The Details: Wherein Lies the Devil

Before we dig into this very sticky, controversial, and emotionally charged topic I want to begin by addressing two things. First, everyone in the law enforcement profession is entitled to his or her opinions, and I believe sentiments are rooted in sincere beliefs. Second, none of us—including yours truly—can read the future. While we may believe our prognostications would be proven if implemented, no one really has a clue, no matter how logical the argument. The future is an enigma.

So as we examine the results of our survey let’s look at the most glaring revelation: Only 33% of the respondent police officers think that the mere possession of pot for personal use should continue to be illegal with the current criminal penalties in place. 

“WOW!” is what some people are going to say.  “See even the cops think throwing people in jail just because they are in possession of a joint is nuts!”  And I agree.

The media will pick up on that and trumpet the cause for legalization and demand that the hundreds of thousands of people in prison—incarcerated merely for smoking a joint—be released immediately. And I’m with them on that one too. Let loose the hordes rotting senselessly in prison for simply taking a toke on a street corner.

Except that there’s nobody sitting in prison for merely smoking a joint.

The most ridiculous myth that’s championed by those (outside of law enforcement) arguing for legalization is that prisons are filled with people who simply had in their possession a small amount of personal use pot. One problem with that emotional argument: It ain’t true.

I can’t speak for everybody and every police department out there, but I started my career in 1980. Even back then we weren’t arresting people for possession of a joint. We wrote them local ordinance citations, which are essentially parking tickets, or we let the pot blow in the wind.

Yeah, we did arrest, cuff, fingerprint, book and file state charges on some. But only if there were extenuating circumstances (i.e., they were wanted on some other serious crimes, were being booked on other state charges and/or were generally noncompliant, combative malcontents).

Enforcement efforts for mere possession of pot isn’t taking copious amount of time from true law enforcement. In fact most of those arrests, I imagine, are almost incidental. So let’s move on to the more sticky issues such as: sale of marijuana and harder drugs.

Drugs & Violent Crime
Some people have argued, quite eloquently, that legalizing pot and other drugs might reduce gang violence. It might even destroy drug cartels, they say. Once the money is gone, the motivation to do violence will gone too. Some of the people making these arguments are people who would know what they are talking about: former drug task force leaders, chiefs of police and so on. The arguments they make aren’t malicious in nature. Quite the opposite: They think that they are advocating on behalf of a saner, more humane policy that will make police work a lot more efficient and less dangerous, and I can’t fault them for that. At all.

But I still disagree. Because, as the title of this article suggests, the devil is in the details.

How would we do it exactly? How would we regulate, tax, monitor and enforce the legal sale of narcotics? 

I can hear it now: “It’s easy, do it just the way they do it with alcohol.  Booze used to be illegal, do what they did when they ended prohibition.”

That argument has been made and delivered as though regulatory and tax policy is easy, something that can be put in place with virtual ease and implemented quickly. They can’t. Moreover, drugs and alcohol aren’t even close to being the same thing. Alcohol was prohibited for 13 out of 250 years in this country.  The legal system was already in place, it just took a 13 year vacation.

Anti-prohibition people honestly and sincerely believe that by legalizing, regulating and taxing, all our problems would go away; gangs would evaporate; criminal enterprises would dry up. Sure there may be more addicts, but they would come out of the shadows and some of that tax money, that would presumably be in the bazillions of dollars, could be used for treatment and counseling. Eventually these programs, run by the government, would wean the victims of intoxicating substances off of the drugs thus resulting in fine upstanding citizens who will then contribute to society.

Yeah. I have my doubts about such prognostication. That devil, again, is always in the details.

Survey Says!
First off anyone, including me, cannot pick and choose the parts of the survey that suits our arguments.

Respondent officers also believe by a wide margin that mere possession (85%) of harder drugs and sale of said drugs (92%) need to be enforced as is. Why? They’ve seen the absolute devastation that drugs like meth, LSD and heroin have done to real human beings and their families. If you’re a cop, you know how ugly this is.

Other findings from the opinions of experienced law enforcement officers are:

57% believe that domestic abuse will occur more often.

78% believe addictions will increase. (This issue crosses political lines. Addiction counselors know that a change in the culture will result in more people being addicted.)

88% of the officers believe that more than 50% of the people currently selling narcotics illegally will continue to sell them illegally in order to avoid both regulation and taxes. 

76% believe there will be more intoxicated motorists on our highways.

So what do we do about the people who decide to ignore the rules? What do we do with those who keep selling meth, LSD, heroin and so on the way they are now? Arrest them? Prosecute them? Imprison them?

Some of the same politicians who believe that if gun control saves one life it’s worth restricting the second amendment are now advocating legalization of narcotics that will unquestionably lead to more intoxicated drivers.

Which brings up another issue: How do you prove that a driver is narcotically intoxicated? Breath test? Nope. Urine test? Nope.  Blood test? Nope. So far no chemical test exists that will prove that a driver is currently under the influence of a narcotic to the point they cannot drive a car safely. In other words, narcotics in the system doesn’t prove intoxication and/or improvement at the time of arrest. (Colorado has a law that says it is a crime for a driver to have five or more nanograms per milliliter of THC in his or her bloodstream.  I’ve read several scientific studies and an article on a legal website that indicate that there’s no science behind it and it won’t hold up in court).

Finally, what does the legalization of pot and statements by politicians expressing their beliefs that pot is no worse than alcohol say to the youth of this country? Our country’s culture is about to change dramatically if we chose to legalize drugs. So while at the same time smoking cigarettes, drinking 20-oz. sodas and selling happy meals are being outlawed, marijuana is being championed as an acceptable form of recreation. 

Sure, people under 21 won’t legally be allowed to possess pot, but guess what? They will, and in greater numbers than ever before as even the president of the United States passively endorsed it as a better alternative to cigarettes. So when the police catch someone underage smoking a joint, what then?  What’s the penalty?  Arrest?  Tickets?  Jail?  And what about those gang members?  They’ll see the new customer base and be the ones selling to minors.

Again, I understand the need to reassess our enforcement of narcotics, but this reassessment cannot fundamentally change the culture of this country.  Remember, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.  And that’s what I’m worried about.

Next article.  Let’s talk about the belief that gangs and criminal enterprises will be neutered by legalization.

Download the full survey results:

Law Officer Drug Survey Full Survey Results 90.67 KB


Key Points Infographics:

Law Officer Drug Survey Infographic 886.45 KB





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