Everyone knows the average cop hates the stereotypical dope head and the wacky ‘baccy packing their pipes and spilling out of their herb grinders. But recent survey results collected by the Pew Research Center are calling those judgments into question. After examining the answers of 8,000 law enforcement officers, researchers discovered that a staggering 2/3 of responders favored marijuana legalization for either medical or recreational use. While this statistic still puts cops firmly below the average American in his/her openness to marijuana legalization, it also forces us to re-evaluate our perspectives on cops and marijuana use. This can be easier said than done for any of us who have been prosecuted for marijuana-related “crimes” in the past. Yet, between these results and the number of states that legalized marijuana over the past few years, we can also view the results as a sign of hope that the truth about the benefits of marijuana is fully saturating the American consciousness.
The Young vs. The Old
What’s less surprising is that the younger officers were more likely to show favor for recreational marijuana legalization than their older peers. While the majority of police still aren’t feeling recreational legalization, 37% of cops under the age of 35 favored it while only 27% between the ages of 50 and 60 agreed. This isn’t to necessarily say police officers are set in their ways but a large portion of the careers of older officers was devoted to upholding anti-marijuana laws built on years of prohibitionist propaganda that often went unquestioned. America’s awakening to the real benefits of marijuana and, maybe more relevantly, the relative harmlessness of the plant, probably seems very alien to career cops who spent decades regarding cannabis users as the enemy. Admittedly, it can be difficult to shake that kind of conditioning.
Police Unions Backed Anti-Marijuana Groups in States That Legalized Marijuana
The impression that police hate marijuana, though a generalization, is not unfounded. Police unions have frequently contributed donations to anti-marijuana initiatives during crucial moments leading up to a vote in states that legalized marijuana and some that failed to pass initiatives. Just a few months ago, it was noted that police unions had made sizeable donations to marijuana opposition groups in California ahead of the state’s vote on Prop. 64. California’s Prop. 19 was dealt a crippling blow by a police union lobbyist and a nearly $50,000 contribution in 2010. In the wake of these actions, the survey results are frankly refreshing.
Why Would an Officer Oppose Legalization?
But what about the 1/3 of officers surveyed who still oppose marijuana legalization and the police unions throwing thousands of dollars into anti-marijuana efforts? Wouldn’t legalization free up funds and resources so that the police could focus their attention on more pressing criminal matters? Initially, I assumed that police viewed the enforcement of marijuana laws as busy work. But it now seems more likely that, when the law pays your bills, crime is your job security. More than likely, police unions aren’t clinging to outdated propaganda with an almost religious fervor; they’re clinging to their jobs. This opens a whole other can of worms that the MPP explored back in 2010. An imperfect system is financially rewarding law enforcement officers for pursuing archaic marijuana laws due to a gross misallocation of funds. But as the MPP article points out, the taxation and regulation of marijuana can realign the system so that police can focus on real crimes instead of someone’s grandma trying to self-medicate with a harmless plant.
It makes it that much more inspiring that 2/3 of the thousands of surveyed cops, despite the uncertainty of taxation and regulation, supported progress when given the option. Whether this is a sense of altruism or simply an adherence to logic and reason is unclear but it does give us pause as to how we regard the average police officer and his/her opinion on marijuana. Despite the current political climate, we can still look to states that legalized marijuana already and promising survey results like this one to assure us that the future of marijuana legalization in the U.S. is still bright.