An increasing number of law enforcement personnel are supporting marijuana legalization – and some are paying for it with their jobs. As reported by the Huffington Post, in Mohave County, Arizona, deputy probation officer Joe Miller was fired in December because he added his signature to a letter that supported legalizing, regulating and taxing cannabis and linked prohibition to deadly gang and cartel violence. There were 32 signatures total on the letter sponsored by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP), an international consortium of law enforcement personnel that have come together to openly advocate replacing drug prohibition with a system of regulation and control with appropriate age restrictions.
Part of the text of the letter read:
As police officers, judges, prosecutors, corrections officials and others who have labored to enforce the laws that seek to prohibit cannabis (marijuana) use, and who have witnessed the abysmal failure of this current criminalization approach, we stand together in calling for new laws that will effectively control and tax cannabis.
As criminal justice professionals, we have seen with our own eyes that keeping cannabis illegal damages public safety – for cannabis consumers and non-consumers alike. We've also seen that prohibition sometimes has tragic consequences for the law enforcers charged with putting their lives on the line to enforce it. The only groups that benefit from continuing to keep marijuana illegal are the violent gangs and cartels that control its distribution and reap immense profits from it through the black market.
The LEAP letter was in support of California’s Prop 19 that sought to legalize marijuana for adults, but lost at the polls in November. Allegedly the majority of the letter signers waited until they retired from law enforcement to add their name to the letter, a telling comment on the pressures law enforcement personnel are under to maintain the illusion of the War on Drugs. Miller was informed by the Mohave County Probation Department (MCPD) in November that he was under investigation for not issuing a disclaimer that the letter he signed represented his (Miller’s) personal opinions and not those of the MCPD.
Actually, the signed letter did have such a disclaimer, but Miller said that his superiors weren’t satisfied with it and by December he was fired.
Unfortunately, Miller is not alone in suffering for speaking his mind – in September 2009, U.S. Border Patrol agent Bryan Gonzalez of El Paso, Texas was fired for allegedly telling a fellow agent the previous April that legalizing drugs would help curb cartel violence from Mexico along the U.S southern border.
Gonzalez’s mistake wasn’t having such an opinion but that he voiced the opinion to the wrong colleague – fellow officer Shawn Montoya, who went to internal affairs and told them Gonzalez advocated legalization, which is bad for the business of law enforcement.
Despite receiving top-notch performance reviews on a consistent basis for almost two years, Gonzalez was axed; his letter of termination stating his comments ran “contrary to the core characteristics of Border Patrol Agents, which are patriotism, dedication, and esprit de corps.” The Border Patrol’s response was chilling, as they placed a priority on conformist thought over individual merit.
There has been one happy ending in this otherwise discouraging development – as reported by KOMO News of Seattle – in January 2009, Jonathan Wender, a member of LEAP, successfully sued the Mountlake Terrace (Washington state) Police Department (MTPD) after being fired for advocating legalization. Wender was canned three years earlier allegedly because he lied about the details of a marijuana grow bust he was involved in, but Wender maintains it was because his MTPD superiors knew he belonged to LEAP.
MTPD had to reinstate Wender’s full back pay and benefits, some $800,000; he was willing to go back on the force, but MTPD put him on paid leave for two years, which will take him into retirement. Wender gets paid and doesn’t have to work, not a bad gig if you can get it and a reminder that justice still prevails on occasion.
Perhaps Wenders’ case can set a precedent for Gonzalez, who filed a joint lawsuit with the New Mexico ACLU against the U.S. Border Patrol this past January.