By Allen St. Pierre
With cannabis legalization becoming such a widespread political and social issue ever since gold-medal machine Michael Phelps’s outing and the election of our first self-proclaimed and unabashed cannabis consumer as president (“I inhaled frequently. That was the point!”), no soothsaying was necessary to predict that the shrillest and most rabid anti-cannabis-law-reform voices would eventually chime in with their familiar chorus.
Frustratingly – and tellingly – law enforcement’s strongest opposition has emerged at the operational level, especially in the state with the oldest, most comprehensive and most politically accepted medical-cannabis program in the world: California.
Despite (or, more accurately, because of) the passage of Prop. 215 in November 1996, legions of law-enforcement managers and officers – joined by some prosecutors – are boiling mad not only that medical cannabis has become widely available and politically acceptable in California, but that the federal government can no longer be counted on to run roughshod over state and local policymakers and citizens.
Refusing to accept the public’s will, the legislation enacted by elected representatives or the scientific truth about medical cannabis’s safety, non-toxicity and utility, the California Police Chiefs Association recently issued a white paper that advocated severely limiting access to medical cannabis. It also insisted that cities and counties should defer to federal (not state) law and implied – if not threatened – that elected lawmakers who favor medical access to cannabis may be subject to federal persecution (sorry—prosecution) for issuing business licenses or zoning permits to patient collectives.
Thoroughly and arrogantly dismissive of medical marijuana, the white paper paints lawful consumers of cannabis for therapeutic reasons (albeit ones that didn’t make the police chiefs’ preferred list of diseases) as irresponsible criminals and refers to patient collectives as “so-called ‘medical marijuana dispensaries’” (emphasis added). Further buttressing this mindset, an article appearing on Officer.com, a pro-law-enforcement Web site, approvingly discussed attempts by local police to roll back the medical-marijuana movement. In it, Scott Kirkland, the police chief of El Cerrito, CA (and one of the people cited in the CPCA’s white paper), proudly asserted his disdain for medical cannabis and seemed to revel in leading the charge to deny it to sick, dying or disabled people in his community.
Chief Kirkland’s interview should finally put to rest, once and for all, the standard claim that cops don’t make laws, they only enforce them. In his role as chief of police, Kirkland opines that “California is a great example of what not to do” and proclaims that law enforcement and government should do “a better job getting the word out about the dangers with marijuana use.” Kirkland also clings to the debunked claim that today’s cannabis is so potent that it represents an altogether new drug, and asserts that law-enforcement officials across the nation must take a stand against the medical-marijuana movement.
Of course, not all cops are so ridiculously misguided and close-minded: Check out Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (leap.cc) and meet a few former Drug Warriors who’ve learned that the only way to win the War Against Weed is not to fight it.
Allen St. Pierre is the executive director of NORML in Washington, DC. For more information, go to www.norml.org or call 888-67-NORML.