Two State Police Groups Now Back Legal Weed

Two groups representing police officers in California and Oregon have backed legislation to legalize cannabis nationwide.
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Two West Coast police groups have changed their positions and now support federal cannabis legalization efforts, marking the first time that a statewide police officers organization has called for an end to the nation’s prohibition of marijuana. In a recent announcement characterized as a “historic shift,” the Peace Officers Research Association of California (PORAC) and the Oregon Coalition of Police and Sheriffs (ORCOPs) expressed support for federal legislation creating a legal pathway for marijuana to be legalized from coast to coast.

“The ship has sailed,” PORAC wrote in a policy position paper cited by SFGATE announcing the group’s call for legalizing weed at the federal level, “and for the vast majority of Americans, cannabis is legal and accessible.”

The two groups represent thousands of law enforcement officers working for police and sheriff’s departments across California and Oregon. In an announcement from the Coalition for Cannabis Policy, Education, and Regulation (CPEAR), a cannabis policy group funded in part by interests in the alcohol and tobacco industries, the two police groups expressed their support for the Strengthening the Tenth Amendment Through Entrusting States (STATES) Act. If passed, the legislation would amend the federal Controlled Substances Act to exclude cannabis activities undertaken in compliance with state or tribal regulations. 

“The STATES Act does what every federal bill should do –help all 50 states succeed in the policies they choose,” CPEAR executive director Andrew Freedman said late last year when the group endorsed the STATES Act. “Whether you are pro-legalization or anti-legalization, we can all acknowledge the current federal posture of having its head in the sand is not working.” 

“This bill will create the commonsense guardrails that will protect our youth, protect our roads, battle against addiction and psychosis, and keep cannabis out of communities that do not want it,” he added. “This legislation does not aim to open new cannabis markets. Instead, it simply aligns federal policy with state policy so that existing cannabis markets are safer, and federal efforts can be focused on keeping cannabis out of states where it remains illegal.”

California Cop Group Opposed Prop 64

PORAC, the largest police officers professional organization in California and the largest statewide group in the nation, opposed Proposition 64, the 2016 ballot measure that legalized recreational marijuana in California after receiving more than 57% of the vote that year. But as cannabis became normalized in the state following legalization, the perception of many members has changed, leading the professional organization to change its stance on legal weed.

“A fair amount of officers patrolling the streets nowadays know nothing other than legalized marijuana in the state of California,” PORAC president Brian Marvel told San Francisco Bay Area online news source SFGATE. “They are much more receptive to conversations on marijuana.”

Marvel said that the STATES Act would allow federal agencies to coordinate their operations directly with local law enforcement to support legal cannabis farms while working to reduce unlicensed cultivation.

“We’re not making a moral judgment as to whether you should smoke it or don’t smoke it, but we want to make sure [legal cannabis companies] aren’t being drowned out by the illegal market,” said Marvel.

“We really need to do everything in our power to eradicate the illegal grows in California,” he added.

Marvel said that the policy shift made by the two police officers groups is also relevant to the ongoing conversation regarding psychedelics policy reform. He noted that many of the group’s members are more concerned with how the drugs can be used safely rather than focusing on the continued prohibition of psychedelics.

“Let’s not … bury our heads in the sand and just say ‘No no no, we’re going to be doing pure enforcement,’ when the reality is we should be focusing on violent crimes and making our communities safer,” Marvel said.

The policy change by PORAC and ORCOPs was praised by leaders who are working to reform the nation’s cannabis policy. Republican U.S. Representative Dave Joyce of Ohio, a supporter of an updated version of the federal bill known as STATES 2.0, thanked the two police groups for supporting the legislation.

“As a former prosecutor, I know firsthand that our law enforcement officers are already stretched thin – forcing these public servants to walk a discrepant line between state and federal policy not only defies state’s rights but is an inefficient use of precious law enforcement resources,” Joyce said in an announcement from CPEAR about the police groups’ endorsement of the legislation. “Most importantly, it does nothing to enhance public safety and, in many cases, works against it. The STATES 2.0 Act would address this confusing discrepancy and empower law enforcement in their efforts to enforce cannabis law and address the unique needs of the communities they represent.”

The move by the two police groups to back federal cannabis policy reform was also welcomed by representatives of the regulated pot industry. Lex Corwin, the founder of California-based cannabis brand Stone Road Farms, said the “development is indicative of the changing ideological landscape surrounding cannabis.”

“The California police group is right– the ship has sailed. More Americans are in favor of legalization than ever before and a majority of Americans live in a state with recreational or medical access,” Corwin wrote in an email to High Times. “It’s time for America’s law enforcement to focus on the actual crimes plaguing society. Violent crime is up across the nation and the sooner we shift our law enforcement resources from eradicating a harmless plant to solving real crime the better.”

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