Are small pot busts taking cops away from "important" work?

The debate on federal decriminalization of marijuana use has been a heated one for more than 30 years, and as HR 5843 moves through the legislative sausage-maker, voices from both opposing camps will again rise up


CNN and other news agencies have recently run stories about an effort presently underway on Capitol Hill which would result in dramatically reduced federal penalties for personal marijuana use. New federal legislation, dubbed “Act to Remove Federal Penalties for the Personal Use of Marijuana by Responsible Adults,” and known to political wonks simply as ‘HR 5843,’ was proposed in the U.S. House of Representatives on April 17th by Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) and co-sponsored by former presidential candidate Ron Paul, (R-Texas).

The website GovTrack.us, an “independent, non-partisan, non-commercial” entity that monitors activities of Congress summarizes the proposed legislation as follows:

• Prohibits the imposition of any penalty under an Act of Congress for the possession of marijuana for personal use or for the not-for-profit transfer between adults of marijuana for personal use
• Deems the possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana as personal use (one ounce or less for a not-for-profit transfer between adults)
• Allows the imposition of a civil penalty under the Controlled Substances Act for the public use of marijuana if such penalty does not exceed $100

The debate on federal decriminalization of marijuana use has been a heated one for more than 30 years, and as HR 5843 moves through the legislative sausage-maker, voices from both opposing camps will again rise up.

On one side, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and the Drug Policy Alliance Network say the proposal would establish that marijuana use be policed in the same as alcohol consumption. They allege that the legal system cannot continue to process a high number of “small, non-violent” marijuana possession cases and the proposal would free up law enforcement resources to apply toward other crimes.

The competing view is offered by entities such as the DEA and the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, which have maintained a steadfast opposition to any degree of marijuana legalization. Among the arguments from this perspective is the fact that every arrest is a meaningful and important step toward the eradication of the drug trade, which must be addressed from both the supply and demand sides of the ledger.

According to various reports and sources, HR 5843 would not affect laws forbidding growing, importing or exporting marijuana, or selling it for profit, nor would it impact any state laws that address marijuana use.

What’s your opinion? Sound off below.

About the author

Doug Wyllie is Editor at Large for PoliceOne, responsible for providing police training content and expert analysis on a wide range of topics and trends that affect the law enforcement community. An award-winning columnist — he is the 2014 Western Publishing Association "Maggie Award" winner in the category of Best Regularly Featured Digital Edition Column — Doug has authored more than 900 feature articles and tactical tips. Doug is also responsible for planning and recording the PoliceOne Podcast, Policing Matters, as well as being the on-air host for PoliceOne Video interviews. Doug also works closely with the PoliceOne Academy to develop training designed to prepare cops for the fight they face every day on the street.

Doug regularly represents PoliceOne as a public speaker in a variety of forums and is available for media interviews — he has appeared on numerous local and national radio and television news programs, and has been quoted in a host of print publications. 

Doug is a member of International Law Enforcement Educators and Trainers Association (ILEETA), an Associate Member of the California Peace Officers' Association (CPOA), and a member of the Public Safety Writers Association (PSWA).

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