In a piece for the Sacramento Bee, “California Police Have No Interest in Setting Pot Rules,” Peter Hecht discusses the ongoing obstructionist nature of the California Police Chiefs Association (CPCA).
“Cannabis advocates are unwilling to consider law enforcement’s concerns… I have not found those people credible to sit and talk with,” Covina Police Chief Kim Raney, past president of CPCA, stated in the article.
It is the CPCA’s influence with the California League of Cities that has helped to deliberately exclude drug policy reform advocacy organizations and stymie legislative input into establishing a statewide regulatory system that works. And, despite the recent introduction of a bill designed by the Chiefs and the League of Cities, I believe I need to address how this language impacts enforcement on the street.
Although I know contextually that he was speaking about working with marijuana policy reformers specifically, it is the tone, the dismissive nature of his language, and how it marginalizes those not just in the medical marijuana community, but all of our communities, that should cause concern.
I know whom he means when he says “those people” because I have dedicated my life to ending this failed War on Marijuana. I was also a police officer for 21 years.
I’m familiar with the smart, professional community that is the drug policy reform movement. Sure, there are some bad apples, just as can be found in any profession, but Raney would be hard pressed to speak intelligently on the topic because, while he has emphasized his willingness to discuss sensible reform to the media, he has repeatedly declined to meet “those people” who are trying to implement this reform.
“Those people” is a loaded term and what bothers me is how not just the public, but the line level officer, will view those words. I have heard this language before in my career in law enforcement. “Those people” refers to anyone who can be dismissed or marginalized through the power that law enforcement wields. This is not an accusation, but a reality, as we have engaged in actions and behaviors that have stigmatized and violated the rights of minorities, gays, the mentally ill, the homeless and those who use drugs.
So let me remind you, Chief, that as a leader you have a greater obligation to choose your words wisely. Your role in the community and your role as a leader of a criminal justice agency places you in the spotlight.
No different than soldiers or children, your officers look to you as an example of how to treat the community, and when you dismiss diverse professionals representing the law, medicine, education, science, labor and political communities because they disagree with your policy position, it tells them this is an acceptable way to behave. Worse, when you refuse to meet with those leaders to engage in reasonable discussion and then ignorantly disparage them, you validate the public perception that the police are not there as partners, but as occupiers.
You dismiss the impact of the enforcement of drug laws on our communities simply because marijuana has been decriminalized, or under the rhetoric that infers reformers don’t care about our children. It is this belief that ignores the true effect of marijuana enforcement on the communities we serve, and in particular on our minority communities as we strive to protect our kids from many risks, including the collateral consequences of arrests.
In a report issued last year by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) titled, “The War on Marijuana in Black and White,” we can see the collateral consequences of enforcement and its impact on civil liberties.
In California, if you are Black you are 2.2 times more likely than a White person to be arrested for possession of marijuana, despite the fact that Whites consume marijuana at the same rate or higher. But it’s not just the arrest that marginalizes those that need our help most, it’s the damage caused by our zeal to eradicate drug use through other coercive means.
Education, housing, employment and public health are all impacted by an over-reliance on a criminal justice system that imposes dire consequences for even the simple marijuana arrests alluded to in this article. Thus, Chief Raney, your language validates the culture of law enforcement that has long marginalized and stigmatized not just individuals working to change the laws, but the marijuana users themselves. This helps to support and contribute to the thousands of racially disproportionate low-level marijuana arrests that have no measurable effect on public safety but cost taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars.
However, the ongoing attempts to marginalize both the medical marijuana industry and the reform movement is starting to backfire.
Every day you see elected officials refute the policy of marijuana prohibition to discuss outright support for an appropriately regulated medical and recreational marijuana industry. All the while, public polling (most recently a NBC/Wall Street Journal Poll showing 55 percent support for legalization) continues to reflect that Americans support not just the legalization of medical marijuana, but of adult recreational use as well.
Chief Raney, it is not just those people that you and the CPCA refuse to represent, but many others—despite attempts by industry leaders and those representing social justice organizations such as Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP) to build bridges.
I would now extend this invitation to the CPCA and include members of a broader coalition: the ACLU, NAACP, Drug Policy Alliance, LEAP, the faith-based community, student groups, liberty groups, labor organizations, the Hispanic community, political leaders representing both parties, as well community leaders that share the goal of ensuring that public policy and the law are based on science and a respect for human rights. Are those people credible enough for you to sit and talk with?
Should the California Police Chiefs Association work with the cannabis industry? Tell us in the comments below!