Are pot arrests a waste of cops' time?


A question posted recently on Quora asked, “What do police officers think about legalizing drugs?” Former Police Officer Justin Freeman gave his opinion on the topic, below. Check it out and add your thoughts in the comments.

I'll preface by saying that I can only answer as a former officer and as a sitting pastor. 

Let's make what I think is an important bifurcation: Marijuana, and everything else. 

Now, let's get something on the table before the screaming starts. I despise marijuana. Other than meth, it has got to be, on balance, the filthiest drug on the street. If you buy from a typical low level dealer, I can almost guarantee that your product has been inside a sock. Or worse. 

And there is a definite slacker culture which has adopted its use that I have unconcealed contempt for in general. However, if I had a policymaking throw switch, I would legalize, regulate, and tax marijuana. Yes, even for recreational use - let's just skip the charade of faux glaucoma and Generalized Anxiety Disorder epidemics. 

There are tons of reasons for this. I could cite the quality control, the tax revenue, the frustration of networks and cartels, the fact that if we prosecuted actual warfare like the War on Drugs, we'd still be trudging around Vietnam despite the fact we'd turned its entire surface into smoldering glass.

For the sake of our respective sanities, though, I'll focus on the law enforcement angle:

Marijuana Is Undeserving Of Being Treated As Proximal To Other Street Drugs 
It's not just that marijuana is lower grade, or that it can be considered a three or four if meth is a ten. Marijuana isn't on the same spectrum as heroin, cocaine, LSD, or meth. There may be someone out there whose life has been destroyed by marijuana, but it would be a manhunt. Productivity dip? Possibly. Intelligence quotient dip? Perhaps [1]. Life destruction? Only with criminal license taken with the English language, and only upon the lips of the shrillest among us. Don't let me catch you lumping casual tokers with meth users, unless you like being laughed at and lectured. I've seen them both. One of these things is not like the other.

Pot Arrests Are A Monumental Waste 
Of everything. First you find it. Then you secure it as evidence. Then you handcuff. Then you search. Load. Radio. Transport. Drive time. Disembark. Secure duty weapon. Buzz into the jail. Paperwork. Property log. Ticket. Metal detect. 

Then, while the jail is re-searching, fingerprinting, processing, photographing and securing, I'm leaving, going to HQ, into the property room, dime bag into heat seal bag, property form, evidence tape, submission. Then comes the report, with its person tab, property tab, narrative. Then a sergeant reads, sends back, rereads, edits, approves. 

The ticket goes to records to be stamped, separated, forwarded. The marijuana goes to the chronically (pun acknowledged) backlogged forensics lab, which must verify the "green, leafy substance whose smell, based on my training and observation, matched that of marijuana" is, indeed, marijuana. They generate a report which is forwarded to me in the event of a trial. The prosecutor has long since gotten my ticket, and set a court date for the accused. A subpoena is mailed; they bounce back as often as they're delivered. 

Suspect shows, pleads not guilty. Trial date is set. I get subpoenaed. There's a high probability suspect doesn't show. Prosecutor asks for and gets issuance of an arrest warrant. I leave after ninety seconds, but get paid the minimum for a court appearance: two and one-half hours' pay. Six months later I pull a car over; our toker is a passenger, whom I must now arrest because of the arrest warrant. 

And the cycle repeats.

Now, think about the time you spent reading that very condensed version of events stemming from a misdemeanor marijuana arrest, and extrapolate it, across the span of months, into real life. Now you have a glimmer of a hint of the resource suck these represent. 

Compare to the process after legalization: 

See pack of marijuana. Wrinkle nose a bit. Bid driver a good day and drive away.

Correctional Facilities Are Sardine Cans 
At all levels, across the board. I was told more than once as a police officer, at different times, not to process non-mandatory arrests at the jail, because they were beyond overflow capacity. Sometimes, even when an arrest isn't mandated by state statute, somebody needs to go to jail - whether to provide separation from a victim, provide shock value, or just to provide a controlled environment to cool off in. Being told that I could not exercise this option chafed me, and represented a disservice to the community.

Marijuana Has Blood On Its Hands
Every gram of illicit marijuana currently on the street silently screams the lamentations of innocent blood; its smoke currently rises as unintended incense to the god of Chaos. I take back my earlier assertion about marijuana not destroying lives, but only because the supply chain is scuttled underground, and all means of regulation tend to have either blades or triggers.

Police Officers Like Gewgaws
If you chuck the marijuana pie slice of the War on Drugs, you're going to have more money trickling down for things like line-level equipment - not to mention having more to address actual horrors like methamphetamine. That way, we can start kicking in doors that are actually worthy of our boots.

As for other drugs ("hard" drugs, if you will, though I have issues with that term), I can't draw the same conclusions. The effects most or all of these drugs have upon the systems of the body are scourges beyond that which I feel our government can sanction legislatively. There is no way, within the bounds of credulity, to regulate substances like black tar heroin or methamphetamine.

Thus, the idealist within me yearns to usher people unto a life more abundant (in Jesus' sense of the word, not Madison Avenue's) where they wouldn't care to have their senses distorted to the point that illicit drugs distort, while the pragmatist within me realizes that I must instead advocate the greatest good.

This, friends, is not that.

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